“This is a false allegation [that I interfere with directors’ work]. This is very unfair. I am not interfering at all. I do ask questions which some people may not be very comfortable with but I have a right to find out details about the role I play. Don’t I? Some directors may not know their job well and put the blame on poor actors. ”
His perfectionist tendencies and his unusual work habit — shooting only one film at a time, in an industry where most actors bounce back and forth between several sets — once made Aamir Khan a controversial curiosity. But now his debut production and star vehicle LAGAAN has garnered an Oscar nomination, Khan’s example may change the way Bollywood works.
Not that Aamir is a stranger to success. His first leading role, as the doomed Romeo in 1989’s Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak, shot him to instant fame. The film also singlehandedly pushed Bollywood from a decade of action-packed thrillers into the romance-heavy 1990s. But not all has been fairy tale in this actor’s life.
On the personal front, Aamir has suffered public estrangements from his nearest family members. In December 2002, he and his wife of sixteen years filed for divorce, lending credence to persistent rumors that Aamir had become romantically entangled with Preity Zinta after starring opposite her in the 2001 hit Dil Chahta Hai. Former rumored liaisons had included Pooja Bhatt, his co-star in Dil Hai Ke Manta Nahin, but previously few had credited such stories.
In July 2000, Aamir also became estranged — in a very public way — from his father, director Tahir Hussain Khan. Aamir’s lawyer posted a notice in several trade magazines severing any professional ties between the actor and his father. The notice warned that “Mr. Aamir Khan, a cine artiste, is not associated with the business of production of cinematographic films of his father Mr. Tahir Hussain Khan…” and that anyone who got involved in Tahir’s company “shall do so at his own risk and my client shall not be liable for any such dealings.” (B4Utv.com) The rumor mill said the break came due to Aamir’s disapproval of his father’s involvement with Divya Palat, a much younger actress whose work Tahir intended to showcase with his production company. Others claimed Aamir was reacting to news that his father had been raising funds by trading on his son’s name and reputation. Either way, the notice did little to help father-son relations.
On another front, Aamir has also endured flak from directors with styles incompatible with his own. It is widely known that Yash Chopra, the legendary director and producer of dozens of Bollywood blockbusters, originally preferred Aamir over Shahrukh Khan for the role of villain in 1993’s smash hit DARR. But as Aamir recalls in an interview with India Bollywood, “I didn’t do Darr because Yashji was playing games. He was narrating one thing to me and quite another to Sunny Deol, which I got to know. I knew all along that it was Sunny and not me who was being taken for a ride. I didn’t want to be party to the whole thing.”
In an April 1997 interview with Rediff, Aamir elaborates on the issue in response to the journalist’s comment that “Yash Chopra accuses you of wanting to know exactly how many punches you would give Sunny and vice versa when you were supposed to do the role Shahrukh Khan eventually did in Darr.” Aamir explains, “In the first narration [Yash Chopra] told me that Sunny (Deol) and I would fight but it would be Juhi (the woman whom I was obsessed with and harassing) who would kill me. That was poetic justice. Then I came to know that he had narrated a different climax to Sunny in which Sunny would kill me. So I asked for a joint narration. I was concerned about my screen image. I was certainly not going to be beaten up by a regular hero in a regular commercial film. See, I didn’t mind being beaten up by Deepak Tijori in Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar because that was a different kind of film. But if you have a casting coup like Sunny and me then I certainly don’t want to be beaten up by him or even Arnold Schwarzenegger for that matter. Is there anything wrong with that? When Yashji told me it would be an equal fight in the climax I asked him what he meant by that and he said both of us would have an equal number of punches. These were his words, said in the presence of cameraman Manmohan Singh and scriptwriter Honey Irani. In any case it made more sense to have a heroine who has been terrorised all along killing her tormentor. Yashji has also said that I had second thoughts about playing a negative role. Far from it… in fact, I would not have glamorised the role the way it was done in the film if I had done it. The character had a mental problem and it should have been played accordingly.” (Hmm, maybe Aamir has a problem with Shahrukh, too?)
Mahesh Bhatt, another powerful director, also rubs Aamir the wrong way.
Q: Mahesh Bhatt has taken offence to your habit of providing inputs. He says your penchant for perfection borders on madness.
A: Well, that is his opinion. None of my other directors feel that way. If you want a conclusive opinion, you must ask the twenty directors I’ve worked with. I’m sure nineteen out of them don’t feel the way Bhatt does. I personally feel he’s extremely careless as [when] a director takes money to direct a film, the first thing that he does is to get a script. Then he collects the cast and crew. Then he schedules and shoots the film. He also chooses the songs and does the post-production work. Mahesh Bhatt doesn’t do any of these things. He just takes the money and goes home! It’s ridiculous! That’s why I told Mahesh Bhatt that I won’t do Ghulam with Mahesh Bhatt. There was no director! If [I] really wanted to practise backseat direction on Ghulam, with Mahesh Bhatt directing the film, it would have been the ideal situation to do so. I’m not interested in doing that. (India Bollywood)
And Aamir’s success in Ram Gopal Varma’s romantic drama Rangeela will not lead to another Varma-Khan film. Aamir says of his former director, “I can’t trust him as a director or a person any more. I prefer to stay away from him. During the making of Rangeela, we interacted very strongly. In fact, he claimed I was responsible for the way the script turned out. When the film got over, for some reason, he started taking off on me. Just two days before the film’s release, at a party, he was full of gratitude about how much I had contributed to Rangeela. He got very emotional, and I wasn’t comfortable with that. The next thing I heard – he was trying to take away from my work in Rangeela. That surprised and hurt me. Then in an interview he said certain things which I’m sure he couldn’t have said. Ramu was trying to pull away the press from me and put it squarely on his own shoulder.” (India Bollywood)
Still, with Lagaan only the third Indian film to be nominated for an Oscar (and only the second to feature songs and dances typical of Bollywood fare), Khan may find a whole new realm of directors to choose from — in Hollywood. The loss would surely grieve fans of Hindi cinema, who treasure Aamir as one of the best actors the industry has ever seen.