I can’t deny Aamir is the most adventurous performer in India. Unlike the other 2 members of the Khan triumvirate Aamir has taken risks, gone against the flow and generally been more than just a mega-star.
What’s more, I’ve always found him to be extremely true to his word. If he had ideological differences with Ram Gopal Varma and a fellow-journalist no amount of reasoning would convince him to the contrary…..if he thought popular awards were rigged, he didn’t change his mind about boycotting them even when Lagaan and Aamir won a truckload of trophies. (Incidentally, Varma and Khan disagree on everything except on the issue of awards: neither attends awards functions).
At one point of time I was actually close enough to Aamir to reason with him. He seemed to listen to what I had to say, though I suspect he made his own decisions independent of extraneous opinion.
Aamir was too polite to argue back. But I knew he was capable of fighting back when pushed against the wall. Here was a man who would stand by his convictions. And my admiration for these qualities spilled over into my writing….until The Image and The Man decided to part ways….
But oops, we’re jumping the gun. I got to know Aamir 17 years ago. It was the night of Diwali when the phone rang. An alien voice introduced itself. “Hi. I’m Aamir Khan…had to call because Asha Aunty asked me to.”
He was referring to my dear friend Asha Parekh, a close friend of the Khan family, whom I had asked for an introduction.
I am proud to say I introduced Aamir to the Nightingale Lata Mangeshkar. She happened to mention to me that Aamir had sung the hit Aati kya khandala in sur. When I conveyed the compliment to Aamir he sounded genuinely zapped. I arranged for them to meet up. Lataji presented him with an expensive watch. Aamir was overwhelmed. “I’ve to find some way of repaying her kindness,” he told me, mantel-piece - proper to the end.
Later while he was shooting for Sarfarosh in Kashmir , he bought her a shawl. I never got know if the gift reached Lataji….Aamir gradually faded out of my life …..and needless to say , Lataji’s too.
For Lagaan he recorded a beautiful Bhajan with her. “I get goosebumps every time I hear it,” he told me. A few months later he re-recorded a portion of the Bhajan in another voice without Lataji’s consent and paid her a courtesy visit along with his director to inform her of the “technical necessity” for doing what he did.
Aamir and I hit it off instantaneously. I liked his straightforwardness , his artless candour, I loved the way he put every incident in his life in perspective , dissected every dimension of his career graphically and made every professional decision appear to be matter of life and death.
I also liked the way he would defend even the indefensible films in his oeuvre, for example the films of Indra Kumar like Dil and Ishq which, Aamir argued, were targeted at a different audience from the one that watched 1947—Earth (in my opinion, his best performance to date, though Aamir being Aamir had quibbles with that one too) . Even the reprehensible Mela got Aamir’s full respect. He even defended a sequence where his boisterous character tricks a character into drinking urine. Pee pressure, I guess.
I liked his conviction, his passion and his commitment to bettering the quality of Indian cinema, and never mind the aesthetic atrocities in his oeuvre like Pyar Pyar Pyar, Tum Mere Ho and Isi Ka Naam Zindagi.
Aamir could always look at the bigger picture. He always seemed to go beyond selfinterest. Most important of all he was extremely candid. During an interview he called Kajol and Salman Khan undisciplined actors whom he ‘d never work with .
“Are you sure you want to say that?” I asked him anxiously. “Yes,” replied the man with convictions…and moved on.
I met him for the first time at his family residence in Bandra where at the point of time, he stayed with his wife Reena and two children. His parents stayed in another apartment in the same building. Out of the one hour that he could spare me half an hour was spent narrating a script that he wanted to make with Sridevi in the lead. The other half an hour Aamir told me ‘the truth’ about an actress who, he said, was more than casually interested in him. Aamir described how he put her in her place.
I had no reason to disbelieve him. I had met his courteous softspoken wife Rina and son and his rather-nice parents.
After the meeting I told him I was happy to have him as a friend. “How can you use the term ‘friend’ so loosely?” he harangued me. “It takes a lot of time and effort for me to become friends with someone.”
To our misfortune—or was it just mine?— our rapport never reached that stage of evolution.
I still haven’t figured out why he chose to move away completely. If Aamir wanted his personal life to be kept out of my writing, all he had to do was ask. He knew I would comply. He knows I am not into peeping-tom journalism.
Then what prompted him to act so taciturn all of a sudden? I’ve no clue. All I can venture in the way of a sensible guess is , Aamir like a lot of his colleagues uses the press and specific mediapersons to his own advantage. To imagine any ties beyond the obvious is the biggest mistake we press persons make.
I made that mistake with Aamir. I thought we shared a special rapport that went beyond the standard star-journalist equation. He never said no to me. Aamir would go out of his way to give me interviews.
Yet he chose to turn away when matters near to his home got uncontainable. So here’s the explanation for why Aamir turned into a media hermit: perhaps the breakup and the other uncomfortable occurrences lowered Aamir in his own esteem. He couldn’t really face those in front of whom he created an image of an idealistic family man. Now of course he is the media's darling, sharing his birthday cake with journalists, cracking jokes with them and treating them as friends.
I cannot claim we are friends. But I watch Aamir's progress with pride.
Happy Birthday, wish-friend.