Interview Hindi

Aamir Khan: Zaira Wasim is a great icon for youth across the country

The Secret Superstar actor-producer speaks about the Kashmiri girl’s screen test, how he stays grounded and much more.

Mayur Lookhar

Aamir Khan never ceases to amaze you. 10 months back, we saw him play a 55-year-old portly, taskmaster in Nitesh Tiwari’s Dangal. He is currently sporting long hair, a moustache, nose and ear piercings for Vijay Krishna Acharya’s Thugs of Hindostan (2018).  

In the months leading up to the Dangal release date, Khan sent fans in a frenzy with the announcement of a slice-of-life tale, Secret Superstar, that has Dangal child actor Zaira Wasim in the lead.

The principal photography for Secret Superstar is said to have begun in September last year and the teaser left us quite amused.

Looking a lot younger, Khan is seen sporting a funky hairdo, gaudy clothes, with a narcissistic touch. The subsequent trailer revealed that his character Shakti Kumaarr is flirtatious too.

With less than two weeks to go for the film's release, Khan spent nearly an hour with journalists on Sunday morning, sharing his thoughts on Secret Superstar and hailing Wasim as an icon for the youth. He had no qualms admitting that it’s only a matter of time before he loses his stardom, among other things.

He was accompanied by Secret Superstar director Advait Chandan.


We’ve seen the look, but can you tell us a bit more about your character?

Shakti Kumaarr is a music director, composer who is going (a little) downhill now, but he is very arrogant, he’s full of himself. He is very self-centred, fairly rude to people, doesn’t really bother about other people. Often when he is talking to you he will not be listening to you. Even if he is to ask you something, then he’d be least interested in your answer. He was an entertaining character for me to play, and I think it will be entertaining for people to watch.

Is it caricaturist? Can we find such characters in real life?

Why this role is tough for me [is because] it’s not just me mouthing those lines, but I have to feel like that character. So, when he is full of himself, I must feel, 'I’m the best’ [says in his character tone]. This has to come from within me. Normally, that doesn’t come out from someone like me. I’m always questioning my own work. My natural instinct is to be critical of myself. This guy’s natural instinct is not at all critical. He’s sure that he is the best. I have come across such people. It’s not reflective of any one personality. You might see glimpses of various people, perhaps from your own life too, but it’s not modelled on any one particular person. I’ll miss this character for it gave me a license to do anything.

How do you deal with such characters when you meet them in real?

The best way to deal with such a character is that you have to humour them. You can’t be taking them seriously. You’ll end up laughing at Shakti Kumaarr in the film. With all the politically incorrect things he does, I hope, instead of annoying you, he will probably make you laugh.

You’ve worked with kids in a quite a few films. Is it difficult to shoot with them?

The responsibility is more when you are working with kids. In terms of the working atmosphere, it is the same if you are working with a child. Ultimately, we want to get the moment right in the script, assuming you have a done a good casting, they will hit the right notes. But the responsibility when you are working with them is greater because you cannot make them wait for long hours. I remember in Taare Zameen Par (2007), we used to have short working hours, we used to give a break to them in the middle. His (Darsheel Safary's) tuition teacher used to come to the sets. You have to make sure that you treat a kid like a kid and not make them work like an adult.

A few days back in Singapore you said that Secret Superstar will be bigger than Dangal (2016). Do you think that’s possible?

Well I’m not talking about the box office. That is something that I don’t ever enter. For me it is a much bigger film than Dangal because the film is trying to say something much bigger. Both films are about empowerment of the girl child. The difference in Dangal is that the lead character is still a man. Overall, the film is saying something very important, something very positive. Dangal, though, is led by a male character. It was Mahavir Singh’s dream that we saw getting fulfilled by his daughters. 

In Secret Superstar, this dream is driven by a girl. There is no male character driving this dream. Insiya is a 14-year-old girl from a small city, Baroda. There are lakhs of girls across India with a lot of dreams and aspirations. It is their story. Dangal talks to parents to not differentiate between children, Secret Superstar talks to teenagers.

Zaira Wasim said that she kept forgetting the lines, and was not hopeful that she would land the role. What was that one thing that convinced you to cast her for Secret Superstar?

Actually, I’m not even aware that she forgot her lines. When you are doing a screen test, we are not checking your memory. We will make sure that you remember your lines because we will make you rehearse aplenty. What we look for is: 'are you able to get that flavour of the character?' That is what we did during her screen test.

Zaira Wasim was a sensation in Dangal. Do you think with her background [she's Kashmiri], she as emerged as an epitome of hope for youth, especially, the Kashmiris?

Zaira Wasim (left) in Dangal (2016)

I would feel that someone as young as her and as talented as her, is a great icon for youth across the country. I would not make it region specific at all. I feel today there are so many talented kids, especially from small towns, who can make a place for themselves. She symbolises that because she is a girl… [pauses] not from Mumbai, and she managed to come here and make a mark for herself with Dangal, and here [in Secret Superstar] she is playing the lead.

For a big superstar like you, how do you keep yourself so grounded?

Upbringing has to play a part in it but I’m also very curious. I have a curious mind. I don’t feel I’m a superstar. I feel I’m a person who loves what he is doing. The superstardom is not something that I take seriously. At times, I have to work a little hard to move it out of the way so that I can do the work properly. [Wife] Kiran (Rao) was not keen to have me in Dhobi Ghat (2011). She said how will she shoot in a real location with me? She has just nine crew members but I will be accompanied by 15 bodyguards. I said leave it to me. I had to move that (stardom) out of the way because it was coming in the way of the film. I shot at the location [Bhat Bazaar in Mumbai] it is a very crowded area. I went there in the middle of the night, one day before the shooting started. Everyone was sleeping. I went into the house, and I stayed there for three weeks I didn’t come out.

If I don’t go out nobody will know that I’m inside. All my meetings had to be there only. I was prepping for 3 Idiots (2009), while Ghajini (2008) was due to be released. I had meetings with AR Murugadoss and his marketing team, and later with Raju Hirani’s team. The chawl had just one room and a bathroom. We were shooting in the room, so the meeting had to take place in the bathroom. At night, I used to go near the window after switching off the lights.

We’ve seen you do it all in cinema, but is there any secret talent in you?

Ah, my life is an open book. Well, I’m an excellent Catan player (board game). There is game called Settlers of Catan, it is a game of strategy. So that is my secret talent.

Your look from Thugs of Hindostan was leaked. Does that have a negative impact on your film?

It’s all thanks to you [media] guys. Today, most people have a camera phone. So, how far can you control? Even in PK (2014), my ghagra look was leaked on the first day of shooting in Rajasthan. We try to keep it a secret. I usually let fans click pictures on the sets [without the character look], but I’m doing that for Thugs of Hindostan. The production house has not allowed anyone to click photos in the get-up. We take all these precautions, but what do we do? 

How has stardom evolved since you made your debut?

At the end of the day, stars are made through films. When a film is an amazing film, it gives birth to a star. A star doesn’t make a film, even after you become a star you can never make a hit. I can never claim that a film is hit because of me.

If you look at PK, Dangal or any of my films, as a star, the maximum that I can do is the first weekend. As an actor, my contribution is more, I’m actually contributing my creative aspect to a film. As a star, I’m only bringing in the first three days, after that it’s the film that works or doesn’t. The big credit for the film’s success goes to the director, writer. They are the ones who have concieved this film, the director is the narrator of the film. A Dangal, PK has made me, I have not made them. 

But wouldn’t most people go to watch a film because it has an Aamir Khan in it?

No, I don’t agree. I’ll give you an example. Let’s take China’s example. Dangal was screened there. The first day it got around Rs25 crore, second day it was Rs30-35crore, third day it was Rs40 crore. Second weekend was Rs100 crore. If I was such a big star than why didn’t the film make Rs100 crore in the first weekend itself? Word of mouth. It is the film that has made me what I am today. I’m very clear about that. I have no pretence in my mind. It is my good fortune to be part of these films. Imagine if I didn’t have Taare Zameen Par (2007), Lagaan (2001) or 3 Idiots (2009), where would have I been? My career is built on these films.

But the choice is always yours. You choose better than the most.

Yes, the choice is mine, but please don’t give so much credit for the choices I make. You tell your mother to make kaali dal (black lentil). That was your choice. Guests come home and you tell them, 'This is my choice'. You didn’t make the dal though. You only suggested that the dal be made. You gave a menu to your mother, suggesting to make 3-4 items, but actually credit has to go to your mother who cooked the food. This is the best example I can give you. I’ve chosen those films, but choosing is one thing and making it is another. I have not made those films. 

You’ve enjoyed so much success, fame. Do you ever fear that one day you may lose it all?

I don’t fear that because I’m very clear that one day I’m going to lose it all. I have no doubt that there will be a day when I will not have all of this. So, why fear? Death will come to all of us, so why fear it? If you do then you’d live under fear each day of your life. Creativity is created, it goes through a sustenance period and then finally it gets destroyed. The natural process of Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh. There is no doubt about that. What I get scared of is what we aspire to make, whether we will be able to make it to the best of our capability. The process of fimmaking is so difficult that if you err even on a single step, then your film will not come out the way you wanted it to be. It’s a matter of time that I will lose my fame. 

You said earlier that you are a curious person. Another curious gentleman is Shah Rukh Khan. Was there ever a time when two curious people got together to have a curious conversation?

[Laughs] I have sat with Shah Rukh many times. He is a very entertaining person to sit with. He’s wonderful in telling stories. I love listening to him. I think between him and me, I’m more curious because I like to hear him talk because of the way he narrates his stories. He really brings the moment alive. He is a wonderful storyteller.  He’s great fun to listen to. 

Finally, when you have a long moustache, does twirling it become an addiction?

Yeah, I have a habit of playing with facial hair. It’s a very bad habit, but I don’t know. I keep scratching it, playing with it.