Yet on screen so radically does this small man act with confidence so tall that it seems almost unreachable for many of his and today's generation of actors. When I meet Aamir Khan in his Bandra apartment, I am a witness to a wiry, 45-year-old Indian who transforms himself from one film to the next so fluently that it can be hard to identify him as the same man. All his parts in all his films, big or small, demand a titanic trans-formative performance, and boy he sinks deep in them.
Kiran Rao's Dhobi Ghat is just one of his rare non author backed role where he plays a grey haired painter who lacks inspiration, and knowing Mr Khan's inspirational characters, I won't be surprised if he paints the town red once again. In part one of this two part exclusive, correspondent meets India's finest there is, there was and the finest there ever will be - Aamir Khan.
Were you aware of the fact that Dhobi Ghat wasn't your usual author backed roles you've been a part of?
I was aware of the fact that my role in Dhobi Ghat wasn't the author backed role. When I read the script, I really liked the character of Prateik Babbar called 'Munna' and there was no way I could've done it because he plays an eighteen year old kid and I don't look that age (laughs). But as an emotional thing, I still wanted to be a part of Kiran's first film as an actor. I liked the script too. While it is unusual for me not to be doing an author backed role, it is also unusual for an audience. The audiences will take time to come to the terms with Aamir Khan not being the central guy in the film.
After Imran Khan's launch, aren't you trying too hard to launch Prateik?
Why not? I am so proud of Prateik. He is such a talented boy, committed, passionate and still laid back. As a producer, I found him to be an ideal actor for Dhobi Ghat. He has got acting in his genes. The camera loves him. I am a big fan of his mother who was a yesteryear actress, Smita Patil. This is the twenty fifth year of her passing away and I want to do everything that I can to give Prateik a great launch so Smitaji feels happy wherever she is.
What was your reaction after seeing the first cut of Dhobi Ghat?
When I saw the first cut of the film, what hit me was that all three of them, Monica Dogra, Kriti Malhotra and Prateik Babbar were all first time actors, even though Prateik was there in Jaane Tu... Ya Jaane Na in a small role. Their performances are so raw, natural and yet at the same time so effective. I realised that youngsters today do not come with a baggage of what acting is like or what it should be like. But a lot of the credit goes to Kiran Rao for extracting such performances. For sure, all three are better than me.
Your 'salt n pepper' hair for the first time in a Hindi film. Feels good?
(Laughs) It was my idea to have the salt and pepper look for the role I play of Arun. It adds to my character and the appeal of Arun I think. I play a very cloistered character in Dhobi Ghat. Yes, I play a painter in the film who doesn't communicate with people. He doesn't want people to come too close to him. The role I play of Arun is emotionally very brittle and has a past and because of that he doesn't allow himself to open up to anyone. Arun has got rough edges and he isn't quite nice to people sometimes.
Don't you think as story tellers of our industry, we are feeding the same kind of food to our audiences and that's why they are afraid of change?
I've always believed that we are in the field of storytelling and if I tell you the same story again and again, you are going to get bored. So yes, filmmakers should tell a different story each time irrespective of the genre they are making. This field requires telling a different story each time. I've always tried that in my own career as an actor and as a producer. I've only directed one film so far. But I want to surprise my audience each time and that's what I've followed. It has worked for me. I also want to work with new talent. That's why you see I've been working with new actors and directors. It's also my way of giving back to our fraternity and society. I must use my strength to be a platform for newer talent to come in.
And it's important to have a young crew too, right? Brimming with ideas?
Apart from the three actors who are newcomers and my wife who has directed her first film Dhobi Ghat, the rest of the crew was also first timers and young, fresh with brimming ideas. Whether it was Tusshar the DOP, or Nishant the editor or Ayush the sound designer or Manisha the production designer or Advait the first assistant director, they were by and large a very young team who were passionate and committed towards cinema. They have such a great sense of cinema. I could really gel well with them and vice versa. We were all on the same page and I didn't think I was working with new comers.
Aamir Khan the actor acts in order to lose himself, I'm sure you'd agree with me on this. Over the past 20 years, Aamir, the most charismatic Indian star of his generation, has perfected the art of the vanishing act. He doesn't make too many public appearances and he comes out with one release every year. In person, he seems little, unmistakable: he takes your questions in and talks with utmost ease, gesticulating passionately; he walks with a laid-back stride.