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The hero, the hysteria
- On the Aamir Khan trail, from Mangal Pandey musings to mall madness

It took him four-and-a-half hours to rise from his slumber and emerge from his private domain. But when he finally did invade public spaces in Calcutta, the star of Mangal Pandey ' The Rising rose to the occasion like very few can.

Saturday the 13th belonged to Aamir Khan, on screen and off it.

'This city is very special for me,' said Aamir, dapper in his black-and-white traditional outfit, before stepping out of ITC Sonar Bangla into the lap of popular adulation at Forum and City Centre.

'I remember I had come down during the release of Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak and also when it celebrated a silver jubilee,' he smiled, having specially asked for a plate of char-grilled bekti and a pot of Darjeeling tea for lunch.

'The last time I was here was for Dil Chahta Hai (four years ago). The people of Calcutta have always been favourable to my movies and I find them very emotional, very hot-blooded' very much like Mangal Pandey.'

A little too hot-blooded is what he would discover hours later, when frenzied fans at Forum nearly caused a wardrobe malfunction for partner Kiran Rao.

But that was later. In the cool confines of the Bypass star address, after being brought to the city by The Telegraph, Aamir spoke of the star's bonding with the sepoy, a character he had given two-and-a-half years of his life to.

'I found Mangal a very realistic character. That's what appealed to me. His heroism is very much there, the fact that he is ready to sacrifice his life, the fact that he is ready to face death head-on and fight for what he believes in. What makes him even more heroic for me was the fact that he was ready to question' himself also. He started out as a loyal sepoy but then he asks himself, 'Am I doing the right thing by working for the Company'

Given his closeness to the character, how hard was it to get rid of the famous moustache' 'I am close to all my characters. It was as difficult to say goodbye to my goatee in Dil Chahta Hai as it was in bidding goodbye to the moustache of Mangal Pandey. Characters take so much of your life that they stay as memories,' he confessed, face shaved clean and gelled hair immaculately in place.

True to character, the star tried to distance himself from the sepoy. 'It's extremely important for me to become the character. People must see Mangal Pandey on screen, they should not see Aamir Khan or they must see Bhuvan (Lagaan) or they must see Akash (Dil Chahta Hai). That for me is my real success if it happens' My star power is something which should come into play to bring audiences into the theatres and then I should become the character.'

On Saturday, that star power brought thousands to two multiplexes screening Ketan Mehta's Rs 40-crore epic, INOX (Forum) and then INOX (City Centre).

Aamir! Aamir! Aamir!

For Mangal Pandey, the first rising he ran into in Calcutta couldn't have been better ' or worse. A crowd of more than 5,000 just went crazy at the Elgin Road mall on Saturday evening as Aamir stepped out of his black Mercedes, holding Kiran Rao's hand.

A security cordon enabled Aamir and Kiran to reach the base of the escalator from where the star waved and blew kisses to a Forum full to the brim.

The shrieks grew louder and the crowd inched closer as the couple proceeded towards the first-floor elevator. Hands stretched out from all sides ' some to touch the star, some armed with camera phones.

One hand from the mob managed to reach Kiran, in a sea green chiffon, and all but yanked off the strings of her spaghetti-strap blouse. As she dropped to her knees, Aamir lunged forward to shield her. The pair was immediately whisked away in the elevator.

Twenty minutes later, a composed Aamir reappeared in the INOX lobby, with director Ketan Mehta and co-actor Toby Stephens in tow, but without Kiran.

'Aamir, Aamir Aamir' they cried. He waved, he smiled, he blew kisses' Then, finding the passage to the auditorium ' where he was to have addressed the audience and cut a Mangal Pandey cake ' blocked by crowds and cameras, he beat a hasty retreat.

Outside, hundreds had lined the road for a closer glimpse of their hero. And no sooner had Aamir taken a turn towards the exit, a bunch of girls and boys made a dash towards his Merc, some trying to shove in a hand, others trying to clamber on to the bonnet.

Aamir! Aamir! Aamir' Next stop, City Centre.

Kaun hai kanha' Kaun hai radha' Kaun hai samjha' Kaun hai jaana'

When Aamir exercised his vocal chords at the evening show of INOX (City Centre) at screen 4, packed with winners of The Telegraph Ticket to the Stars SMS promotion, the frenzy resembled the chaotic Holi celebrations in The Rising.

But that was quite thanda compared to the thunderous reception that Aamir received from the fans waiting outside the Salt Lake multiplex. The man reigning all around town in red uniform and flowing hair did oblige for a jharokha darshan, standing at strategic junctions on the escalator for a sneak peek.

Aware of the arrival of Aamir, audiences from other screens left their respective films to catch a glimpse of the man of the moment and to capture his latest look on mobile cameras. Flashing a smile here and there, Aamir led co-actor Toby Stephens (also in black) to the theatre where Mangal Pandey was being screened.

'Sorry to have interrupted your film,' said Aamir, killing them softly with his charm. 'We can't wait for four years' we want more of you,' was the public demand, to which he divulged his newly-adopted game plan ' 'one film at a time for four months, take a break for four months and so, a release every eight months'.

One last request: 'Aamir please say something in Bengali.'

The actor in him took a pause, recalled the line and said: 'Aami tomai ke bhalobashi' there's something wrong' Aami tomake bhalobashi.'

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