Cerebral Khan through the lens eye

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Aamir Khan has something indefinable about him: He is intense and highly involved with what he is doing, and I knew from the beginning that writing a book on him was never going to be easy. But like the actor himself, I too was not looking so much for success, as long as one enjoyed what one was doing. Throughout the two years of hard work, I enjoyed thinking 24×7 about Aamir. As the book progressed, changes kept happening; like Satyamev Jayate (SJ) happened. In my first draft, I wrote 1,000 words on SJ, but in the final draft, it went much beyond 3,000 words.

When I first attended the press conference of SJ and we heard the song Oh ree chidiya, nanhi see gudiya, we all loved it. And by the time I saw a couple of its episodes, I could not believe that a film actor would even think of such themes. Aamir was featured twice on the cover of Time magazine. I think Aamir was also the only Indian actor who, during the period the series was telecast, had the guts to stop doing commercials and lose nearly 100 crore while running a crusade against the hidden, inherent ills in society.

I started photographing Aamir at quite an early stage. I went for the muhurat of Qayamat se Qayamat tak (QSQT) and also the premiere, which was attended by stalwarts like Dilip Kumar and Raj Kapoor. Aamir’s father Tahir Hussain made a few good films, but wasn’t too successful in his career. Initially, he tried his hand at acting in films like Jab Pyar Kisi se Hota Hai but couldn’t make a career as an actor either. Indeed, he looked the happiest man at the premiere, posing with his son for photographs.

When Aamir made his debut as an actor two decades ago, the film industry was quite different from what it is now. During my own early days, like when I was working with (the nowdefunct) film magazine Super, my editor Om Gupta used to say that since I was going to Filmistan and Jeetendra was shooting there, I should talk to him, fix an appointment for an interview and, if possible, a day-shoot. Rauf Ahmed often used to tell me, “Manmohan Desai and Amitabh are shooting in Andheri. Go and get some mood shots.” One only had to tell the director/actor that it’s a shoot for Filmfare, and that’s it — one got what one wanted.

With Aamir Khan, whether he was shooting for QSQT, Love Love Love, Tum Mere Ho, Daulat ki Jung or Aatank hi Aatank, in which he had a very different look, there was never a problem taking his pictures on the sets. In fact, the directors were pleased that we had come to the shoot. Mahesh Bhatt, who was a big director then, also used to happily pose with Aamir and his daughter Pooja. What’s the fuss about? Want a picture, take it. Only during the final take would we be told not to click since the sound would affect the recording of the dialogue and the actors could get distracted too.

I remember the film Ghulam. One night, as I was walking out of a studio with a friend, I saw Aamir doing some close shots with director Vikram Bhatt. I just took out my Nikon FM2 from my bag and shot a few frames. One only had to make sure not to use a flash when the film was being shot.

Unlike his superstar contemporaries, Aamir’s thought process is not confined to being an actor — he thinks like a director, an actor-director in the league of Raj Kapoor and V Shantaram, someone who refuses to compromise on his own standards in his projects , always focussing on cinematic quality rather than charisma alone. As Vikas Sinha writes in my book, Aamir may have stood aside in the race for numero uno, but he has maintained a commanding position in the film-goer’s mind as ‘Mr Perfectionist’. That is why filmmakers keep returning to him with challenging projects, despite his reputation as a difficult artist to work with. His association with a project guarantees quality.

Aamir Khan: Actor Activist Achiever Pradeep Chandra Niyogi Books 272 pp; Rs 1500
Aamir Khan: Actor Activist Achiever
Pradeep Chandra
Niyogi Books
272 pp; Rs 1500

Aamir keeps being written about as someone who is often very serious, but he insists he is just another normal guy, who likes to have fun like anyone else. He can talk on a range of topics. He is also very considerate. In one of my meetings with him, I requested for a poster of Ghajini and asked him to sign it, which he immediately did. Then he asked, “What will you do with it?” I told him I wanted to paint it in a different way. He said, “Arre, you paint? I want to see that!” and promptly gave me his email id.

Once when I wanted to shoot him having vada pao and chai while reading a book, he happily agreed but said, “Vada pao tum lekar aana (You get the vada pao)”. So I took a few vada paos and borrowed that special tumbler in which you get roadside chai and went for the shoot.

Aamir met me at Famous Studios. We decided to shoot on a staircase. He sat having vada pao, a book in his hand and the chai kept beside him. I asked him to look into the camera. He promptly answered: “How can I do that while I am reading?” So first I shot the pictures as he suggested and then for one photo, requested him to hold the book but look into the lens.

Aamir is also very thoughtful. Once he had invited photographers while celebrating 25 years of QSQT. He was supposed to cut a cake, but before doing that, he looked at us and then called for a photographer, saying, “Tu aaja… let’s cut the cake together!” He told me he was happy that I had been shooting him for so many years. These are the things that make him different.

I remember once when I was sitting with renowned painter-photographer JP Singhal at China Garden, Aamir noticed him and walked across the table and said, “Singhal saab, today I have been blessed with a son (Junaid, who now assists Raju Hirani) and you are one of the first persons with whom I am sharing this good news.”

I have often shot him without any make-up man or even a mirror. He has had no hang-ups. Once I had to do a fatherson shoot at Tahir Hussain’s home. Tahir saab said: “Let’s have tea. He (Aamir) will come in a few minutes.” Aamir was there in less than five minutes and immediately asked where we would click the photos. I took some photos at their residence. I then asked him whether we could go down to the street and he immediately agreed. A little girl came to him for autographs and he happily obliged her. He also asked me to take a picture of him with the little girl and send it to her.

That’s the real Aamir — simple, straight and sweet. Someone who keeps his word. I once had a late appointment for a Mangal Pandey photo shoot. Lots of journalists and photographers were waiting and I too was sitting in one of the transparent cubicles. He kept looking at me and gestured that I would have to wait until past midnight. Then he came and told me, “I am all yours. Tell me where we have to shoot.” Even at that late hour, he was cooperation personified.

I only hope that I have been able to do justice to the actor everyone loves and respects. I can only say: Thank you Aamir Khan for giving me the opportunity to do the book.

letters@tehelka.com

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