I got scared and grabbed Amitji’s hand while watching Wonder Woman: Aamir Khan

While shooting Thugs of Hindostan, Aamir took lessons on how to smoke around Amitabh Bachchan

By Karishma Upadhyay
  • Published 7.11.18, 10:44 PM
  • Updated 7.11.18, 11:22 PM
  • 7 mins read
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Thugs of Hindostan brings together Amitabh Bachchan and Aamir Khan on the big screen for the first time Image: Wikimedia Commons

It’s a known fact that as the release date of his films approaches, Aamir Khan turns into a bundle of nerves. But this Sunday, when t2 met the 53-year-old superstar at his sea-facing apartment in Mumbai before Vijay Krishna Acharya’s Thugs of Hindostan, Aamir was as calm as the proverbial cucumber.

The period drama, that brings together Amitabh Bachchan and Aamir Khan on the big screen for the first time, is touted to be one of the biggest cinematic spectacles of the year. Set in 1795, the film revolves around the power struggle between Firangi Mallah (Aamir) and Khudabaksh (Bachchan). The cast includes Katrina Kaif, Fatima Sana Shaikh, Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub and Ronit Roy.

Dressed in a maroon kurta and black churidar, Aamir spent most of the 40 minutes he chatted with t2 filling and lighting his smoking pipe. “A friend introduced me to smoking a pipe about three months ago and I really liked it. Now I can’t smoke a normal cigarette,” he says.

With a box of Dunhill’s Blue mixture, a lighter by his side and the lit pipe in his hand, Aamir shared his experiences of (finally!) facing the camera with Bachchan, what his son Azad thinks of Thugs of Hindostan and his love of gambling.

Karishma Upadhyay:

Since this film was announced, you’ve talked about how excited you were about sharing screen space with Mr Bachchan. What was it like to work with him?

Aamir Khan:

It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I’ve always wanted to work with him, and for years I’ve waited for this. A film had been announced before (Indra Kumar’s Rishta) and the mahurat happened, but the film never got made. That was disappointing, but now I finally got the chance and I made the most of it. I never left him alone and would sit next to him on the set, asking him a thousand questions.

When we were in Malta, I would go and sit down in his hotel room. One day I said to him, ‘Let’s go watch a film,’ and he gave me this look and asked, ‘What film?’ I told him that we’d never get another opportunity like this to go and watch a film in the theatre. I kept insisting and then he agreed. Then he said that we’d need to call for a car, and I told him we’ll walk there. Then he gave me that look again. Our security guys had left because pack-up had happened for the day, but I told him nobody knows us in Malta, so we don’t really need it.

Fatty (Fatima Sana Shaikh), Amitji and I went to watch Wonder Woman. I’m a very reactive audience member; I get excited, I start cursing, I cry, I laugh and I even speak to the characters and get very involved. At one point while watching Wonder Woman, I got very scared and grabbed Amitji’s hand and shouted. He also got scared and then I apologised (laughs).

Karishma Upadhyay:

What did you learn from him during this experience?

Aamir Khan:

He rehearses a lot. I thought I rehearse a lot, but he does it way more than I do. He does his lines 50-60 times before every shot, and continuously till he hasn’t been called for the shot. I would be sitting next to him and he would suddenly start saying his lines. I would then realise that he wants to rehearse, so I’d give him the cue and then he’d do the scene. After two minutes, he’d start again, and again I’d give him the cue. 

Karishma Upadhyay:

What was your first shot with him like?

Aamir Khan:

I was very stressed for the first shot with him. I wasn’t sure what would happen if it didn’t go well for me, but was okay for him — how would I ask him to do it again? All these thoughts were running through my head. The first shot is actually in the trailer, when we look and circle around each other, and I salute him. I was very nervous, but it came out well. He didn’t even realise it when I congratulated him and said it was our first shot. 

Karishma Upadhyay:

I believe you asked Shah Rukh Khan about smoking in front of Mr Bachchan?

Aamir Khan:

(Laughs) Yeah. I was very worried about that. When we started shooting, Shah Rukh was there shooting close by, so I went on to his set and asked him whether he smokes in front of Mr Bachchan. He told me that he’s cool, and that I can smoke in front of him. I asked him whether I needed to take his permission, and he assured me it’s cool and if he starts scolding me, I should move away.

In fact, when we were walking to the theatre to watch Wonder Woman, he said, ‘I met Avinash (Gowarikar, photographer). I believe you and Shah Rukh were having a discussion on how to smoke in front of me?’ But he was cool, though he would tell me not to smoke because it’s not good for me. 

Karishma Upadhyay:

There’s a famous story about the first time you interacted with Mr Bachchan… 

Aamir Khan:

Yes, I was shooting for Jo Jeeta (Wohi Sikandar) in Ooty when the hotel receptionist said that he had called. I thought someone was playing a prank on me, but later at night he called again. All I could say after that to everything was ‘Yes sir’. He was calling me to join him for his ‘Jumma Chumma’ show in London.

Another person I was completely awestruck by was Sridevi. I was a huge fan and had a major crush on her. When I just started acting, some magazine had kept a photoshoot for her and me. I was so excited and I remember shooting at Juhu Centaur. I had to pose with her and I just couldn’t look at her eyes because I would get stuck, and she’d get to know that I have a crush on her. I couldn’t talk to her.

I always wanted to work with her, and had once told (Mahesh) Bhatt saab as well. There was an old film called Roman Holiday, and I had asked Bhatt saab to remake that film with Sridevi and me, because their relationship never consummates. They only spend a few weeks together, so she can be an older person. Bhatt saab then picked up the screenplay of It Happened One Night from his shelf and asked me to read it, because that’s the film that inspired Roman Holiday. That’s how we eventually ended up making Dil Hai Ke Manta Nahin. 

Karishma Upadhyay:

Your character Firangi is a thug, a small-time con man in the film... 

Aamir Khan:

My character has no honour or code, and is the kind who would sell his mother for money; he’s totally unreliable. And that is why this is such a big risk for me, even though the film is mainstream. I don’t think we’ve ever had such a negative hero on Indian screens before. When we’ve had actors playing negative roles in the past, they’ve been completely negative roles, like in Darr, Baazigar, or even my role in (1947) Earth. It’s a very unlikely hero here, because he’s very selfish and doesn’t have emotional connections to anyone except himself. 

Aamir with wife Kiran Rao and son Azad.
Aamir with wife Kiran Rao and son Azad. The Telegraph
Karishma Upadhyay:

Was it fun to play someone who’s not bound by morals?

Aamir Khan:

It was great fun and I really enjoyed it. When I heard the script, this character attracted me so much that I just had to do it. Mainly because he’s got no morals at all, no conscience at all. 

Karishma Upadhyay:

Firangi’s look is quite interesting. Is it true that you designed the nose ring you wear in the film?

Aamir Khan:

Yes. When I was in school, a new boy had joined in Class II and he had a large nose ring that was studded with stones. I remember being very curious about him, and he became a close friend of mine. When we started working on the character, one of the things we decided was that apart from his dhoti, everything should be appropriated from somewhere or someone else. The jacket, the hat, the spectacles, the shirt, the shoes were all stolen from different people. I thought about adding the nose ring to give the look a little more edginess. So, I called up that friend of mine and asked him if he had any childhood pictures where he’s wearing it. He couldn’t find any pictures, so I had to design it from memory. It was like a flower, with red rubies and green emeralds. I drew it and showed it to Rushi-Manushi (the film’s costume designers). They had shown me a lot of designs before that, but I hadn’t liked any of them. 

Karishma Upadhyay:

Do you miss that look now after sporting it for over a year?

Aamir Khan:

Long hair actually annoys me. I prefer keeping my hair short, so I’m happy to have got rid of that but I’m missing the nose ring. I had my ears pierced as well and the earrings in fact troubled me a lot more. I couldn’t take them off, and I couldn’t sleep properly because it would hurt as soon as it touched the pillow.

Karishma Upadhyay:

Has your son Azad seen the film?

Aamir Khan:

He’s still too young to watch entire films. The first film of mine he’s seen is Thugs. He’s seen the first half of the film, and he really liked it. He normally doesn’t like watching action and violence, and he wasn’t coming to watch at first. But I asked him to, and I told him to shut his eyes during the action sequences. He was sitting next to Kiran, and she would put a dupatta on him during the action sequences. He asked me, ‘Papa, why’s he called Azad (Bachchan’s Khudabaksh is also known as Azad in the film)?’ And when I said ‘Because of you’, he was very thrilled.

Karishma Upadhyay:

Azad’s seven now. Does he have a sense of who his father is?

Aamir Khan:

Now he does. Earlier, he would look very confused. Whenever we’d go out, people would peer into the car windows and he’d be wondering what’s happening. He would ask me why people are coming to me and I told him it’s because they see my films and they like my work. Now, he understands.

Karishma Upadhyay:

This is your first Diwali release since Raja Hindustani 22 years ago...

Aamir Khan:

Really? Yeah… only two films of mine have been released on Diwali, that one and Andaz Apna Apna. I hope we’re as lucky this time as we were with Raja Hindustani

Karishma Upadhyay:

What are your childhood Diwali memories?

Aamir Khan:

Diwali, for me, has always been a period in which I gamble. I’m a compulsive gambler, and that’s why I gamble only once a year. It’s not about winning for me, it’s about playing the game. I’m not very good at it because I’m reckless, and I don’t normally win. I started gambling at a young age, probably 16 or 18. On Diwali, all the kids of the building would gamble along with the elders. My budget used to be Rs 1,000 and we used to play one rupee blind and two rupees chaal. Now, we play poker. Once you play poker, you can’t go back to teen-patti because it’s such a brilliant game. Luck plays a role but it is a strategy and mind game.

Karishma Upadhyay:

Are you doing Mogul?

Aamir Khan:

Right now I’m not doing any film, the only one I’m doing is Thugs. There’s something in the pipeline… I want to tell you about it, but I can’t (laughs).