On Sunday morning, Aamir Khan embarks on an emotional roller-coaster ride with Satyameva Jayate. In the final countdown to his TV debut, Aamir had an exclusive, free-wheeling chat with Suman De, the executive producer of STAR Ananda, in Bandra, Mumbai. Excerpts...
Aamir, welcome to the world of television. Why did you decide to get into TV?
I never thought I would actually do television but about three-four years ago, Uday Shankar, who is the head of the STAR network, offered me a game show. I declined because I wasn’t really interested in hosting a game show. I felt that TV is a very powerful medium because every home has a TV set. It’s a great way to get into people’s homes and I wanted to use that. Slowly, a thought started forming in my mind. I discussed my thoughts with a few friends of mine like Satyajit Bhatkal, Swati Chakraborty and Lancee. They got very interested and we formed a small team and started working on the idea.
We have heard that you researched for two years…
For the first six to eight months, we just worked on it. I didn’t even tell Uday Shankar about it. I told my team: ‘Let’s work on it for a while without telling anyone. Kya pataa chhey mahine baad mazaa nahin aaye’. We wanted to experiment with a new thing… learn something. After a year, when I felt that we had come up with something that was worth putting out there for people to see, I called Uday and discussed the idea with him.
What will you give the audience that they haven’t seen before?
I don’t think such a show has come on TV before… on a general entertainment platform. When you see the show you will know what it is about (laughs). I really don’t want to say much about it because the telecast date is close. You will get to see it on Sunday, May 6.
Big stars make four films in two years. You took the same time for one TV show!
(Laughs) Some of my friends make fun of me. In fact, Uday told me: ‘You could have done the game show I offered you. You would have spent less time and earned some money also.’ (Laughs) But I can only do the work I am passionate about. I met such amazing people during the making of this show. This show has given me the platform to connect with so many different regions, different people and different thoughts. It’s been a journey of personal growth for me. It’s been a very emotional journey… a roller-coaster ride. I am hoping that when people watch this show, they are equally moved emotionally. I hope the show touches them at a very deep level.
It is being said that this is Aamir Khan’s third step towards activism. First was the Narmada movement, then Anna Hazare’s platform and now Satyameva Jayate…
I am not a social activist and I can never be one. That’s a full-time job of people who have been passionate about a single cause and have spent all the hours of the day and all the days of the week working on that cause. I am an entertainer… I make people laugh and cry… I touch their hearts and their emotions. I narrate different stories and I love it. I am a storyteller, I am an entertainer. When I support Medhaji (Patkar) or Annaji, that’s in the capacity of an individual, an Indian. When Annaji says that there should be a strong law against corruption, I agree with him. I would like to support him as an Indian. That is not activism because activism is much more… you have to be much more involved to be an activist. But because I am a celebrity, it gets so much attention.
You are so passionate about your TV show that you have pushed back the release of Talaash and have not allotted dates for the shoot of Dhoom:3…
(Smiles) It’s true. That’s because this show has taken over my life completely. We are working on a very ambitious project. This is not only being beamed on one channel, but on some eight or 10 other channels on the STAR network. It’s on Doordarshan as well. There is more work involved in this show than on any other TV show. We are dubbing it in four languages and subtitling it in two languages. The post-production work is extremely heavy…. Talaash is a film that is close to my heart. I am a co-producer too, so I want that when it releases it should get my full attention. That’s not possible at this point of time. I requested the team to push back the release. They were a little disappointed, but now we have got a good date… November 30 is a good date…. I will get time to do justice to it.
Will Calcutta find a place on your show?
It’s a show for every Indian. West Bengal is an important region with which we have connected through this show. If I am showing you the story of someone from Andhra Pradesh or Maharashtra or Punjab, it will apply as much to the people in Bengal. Throughout the 13 episodes, we have gone to different places and in one way or the other, coincidentally, every state has been covered. We hadn’t really thought about it consciously, but it has happened.
When Rakesh Sharma went to space and Indira Gandhi asked him what India looked like from up there, he said: ‘Saare jahaan se achchha’. Do you feel the same way after doing Satyameva Jayate?
Why should we compete with some other country? We should think of ourselves and try and better our own lives. There is this Rabindranath Tagore poem which is a favourite of mine, Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high. It’s a very embracing and inclusive poem and that’s my approach to life… very inclusive. Kisiko defeat karna… kisise compete karna are negative thoughts. I don’t believe in that. What is the last line of the poem…. (thinks) Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.... So, this is something that we hope our country will follow.
Kiran (Rao, wife) has a very strong connection with Calcutta. Have you learnt any Bengali from her?
Right now, I am learning Marathi.... Bengali is a very sweet language and I like listening to Kiran when she speaks Bengali. Sometimes I think that if I start understanding the language, it may not seem as sweet (laughs). Shaayad woh gaaliyan de rahi hai! But the sounds are very sweet… round sounds.... But Kiran is very attached to Calcutta because she spent the first 18 years of her life there. Schooling… college was there. You can almost call her a Bengali.
With a huge TV show and two films, are you finding it difficult to give time to (son) Azad?
Actually, ever since Azad’s birth, I have been spending a lot more time at home. That’s because all meetings with regard to my TV show are happening at home.... On the days I shoot, luckily when I reach home, it’s time for him to wake up. He is a wonderful kid… touchwood… good-natured.
Does he look like mom or dad?
I think 50-50. The lower half of his face is like Kiran’s and the rest is like mine!
Who is the more responsible parent?
I think Kiran is a fantastic mother. She is with him all the time. She is completely a hands-on mother. A lovely relationship is developing between them. I feel she is a far better parent than me.
Do people’s reactions to your films bother you?
Yes, very much. Because I make my films for the audience. I get sleepless nights. I am always worried whether people will like my film or not. It’s like when a housewife makes food for her family and waits eagerly for their reaction.
During the promotion of 3 Idiots, you befriended an auto driver called Ram Lakhan and you just went to his son’s wedding. Was that a way to connect with people or as your detractors would say was it a publicity gimmick?
People will say a lot of things. I met him three years ago and I haven’t organised or fixed the date for his son’s wedding (laughs). It’s a coincidence that he came to Mumbai and invited me. I felt so moved that he spent 30-35 hours in a train just to come and invite me. I felt that I should be a part of his happiness. I was very happy that I was able to be there.
Other stars portray a larger-than-life image while you strive for a common man image. Is that conscious?
Not really. I am like this only. You have to be yourself and people will like you or not like you. Sometimes, people don’t like what I say or do but I do only what my heart tells me to.
Talking of TV, you were a guest on Kaun Banega Crorepati with Amitabh Bachchan…
I was also on Dada’s (Sourav Ganguly) show. I like being on these shows. I like answering the questions. It’s an exciting thing. I like to watch and take part in game shows, but I am not as excited about hosting one. It’s a personal thing. Amitji does it very well, Dada also did a very good job.
National Award or Oscar?
Neither. I prefer to stay away. For me, the response of the audience is the biggest reward.
Aamir the person or Aamir the actor?
Person, I think.
Director Aamir or actor Aamir?
Well, at this point actor (laughs). Maybe later it will become director. I have just directed one film (Taare Zameen Par). Hopefully, there will be more.
Father Aamir or husband Aamir?
Oh, that’s a tough one. I would prefer family person Aamir. Father and a husband and a son. I am close to my mother, children and wife. I am a family person.
What do you watch in your leisure time — sport or films?
Sport. Actually, I read a lot of books. That’s my number one passion apart from my work. I like watching football… the World Cup or the cricket World Cup. Wimbledon… I stay up nights for that.... I watch important films….
Any character you have played that is close to Aamir the person?
There have been some like Nikumbh sir in Taare Zameen Par. There is a little bit of me in every character and the character also gets a little bit of me.
Shah Rukh or Salman?
(Laughs) So many people ask me this and they must be asking both Shah Rukh and Salman the same. But they are both huge stars and hugely talented and extremely well-loved by audiences all over. Salman is a close friend of mine but not that Shah Rukh and I are fighting. Shah Rukh and I have a very warm and comfortable relationship. We bond very well emotionally… there is a lot of warmth. It’s grown over the years.
Will you and Shah Rukh act in a film together?
Yes, why not? It has to be a good story. In fact, all three of us should act in a film together! (Laughs)
Raj Kapoor or Guru Dutt?
They are both legends. My personal preference leans towards Guru Duttji. Pyaasa is one of my favourite films.
Biryani or dal roti?
I would say dal chawal. My favourite food is dal actually.
Rang De Basanti or 3 Idiots?
I find it very difficult to choose between my own films. Both are very close to me.
A.R. Rahman or Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy?
They are all immensely talented. I can’t choose between them… they have their individual styles. Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy have given beautiful songs in Taare Zameen Par and Rahmansaab is a genius composer.
Farhan Akhtar or Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra?
Again I won’t be able to choose between them. They are both hugely talented. And now Rakeysh is even directing Farhan in that film… Milkha Singh [Bhaag Milkha Bhaag]. Farhan is really looking like an athlete.
A for Amitabh or A for Aamir?
Amitji is someone who I hold in very high regard. He is a very big actor and there is no question, I will always choose him.
Finally, what is that one question that if I had asked you at the beginning of this interview, you would have got angry and walked off?
There is no question like that actually. I don’t get angry with questions. When I ask a question and I get a wrong answer, I may get angry. But I don’t get angry with questions.