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Interview Hindi

Apart from inputs, Aamir gave freedom: Secret Superstar director Advait Chandan

In an interview with Cinestaan.com, the first time director gets talking about his experience with Aamir Khan over the years, Khan's unusual role and inputs in the film and why he was wary of admitting that he wanted to become a filmmaker. 

Photo: Shutterbugs Images

Keyur Seta

Aspiring filmmakers with no filmi background mostly join a film institute or assist a director in order get a break in the tinsel town. But Advait Chandan took an unconventional route by becoming the personal manager of Aamir Khan.

Chandan’s association with the superstar turned out to be a learning experience and it ultimately helped him helm his debut film Secret Superstar, which stars Zaira Wasim, Meher Vij and Khan himself. 

In a candid chat with Cinestaan.com, Chandan gets talking about his experience with Khan over the years, Khan's unusual role and inputs in the film and why he was wary of admitting that he wanted to become a filmmaker. 

Was film direction always on your mind?

Yes, direction was always on my mind. It was one of the things that you feel scared to say. How do you say, I will play the World Cup some day? It stays in your heart but you can’t say it. So, it was one of the things that I was scared to admit openly. But I used to say I want to be in the film industry. I am from a very filmi family. We see a lot of films. 

How did the idea of Secret Superstar originate?

The type of people I was meeting during Satyamev Jayate (television series) was a big exposure for me. I met very interesting people. At that time I realized how a real hero looks like. A mother fighting with her husband to give birth to a daughter is a real hero. Not someone who has six pack abs and who drives fast cars. So, as a writer, the idea of hero started changing in my mind after Satyamev Jayate. That’s when I thought of this story of a mother-daughter and how the internet changes their life. 

The internet is changing the lives of the middle-class in India. People can do online courses while sitting at home. We can learn and it is also giving us a platform. Anybody who is talented doesn’t necessarily need to shoot a music video. They just shoot it as a selfie, upload it and it becomes a hit. The internet has given a platform to a lot of talented people.

The watchman who sings Arijit’s (Singh) songs wouldn’t have otherwise got a platform. Someone posted his video on YouTube and it went viral. I wanted to explore this whole idea in the film. 

Was it your idea to cast Zaira Wasim or Aamir Khan suggested it?

Actually Zaira was cast in Dangal (2016). The team of Dangal found her. Aamir sir met her once and said that they have just found a girl for Dangal and suggested I should also see her for my film. I met her and in 20 minutes I realized she is a mind-blowing actor and I should cast her.

So, I called sir and asked him to remove her from Dangal as I wanted her for my film. He said, ‘Are you crazy? We have searched her for Dangal.’ I told him that she doesn’t have a lengthy role as she is just playing the younger version of Geeta Phoghat, whereas I am giving the entire film to her. I said my film can’t be made without Zaira whereas you have so many actors in Dangal.

I then went to Nitesh (Tiwari) sir and suggested him to find someone else. Maine bohat papad bele (I ran from pillar to post). But neither Aamir sir nor Nitesh sir budged. But still I went to Zaira and said she shouldn’t do Dangal. I told her, ‘Your role is small. I am giving you a big role and it’s a good film.’ But even she didn’t agree. So I took a break for 6-7 months and sat at home. Then I started Secret Superstar. 

Aamir believes in keeping special screenings much before the release and he even makes changes if need be after the feedback. How much does this help?

Oh that helps a lot. He is the only one who is doing it and he is doing it for years. So, if there are any issues with the film, we get to know about it much before. For example, if the audience feels the film is slow after the interval, we make some changes there. And if some character is loved by the audience, we won’t change him. If audience doesn’t find a joke funny, we edit it to make it look better. This helps better our product.

We have had 15-20 such screenings for Secret Superstar. We got some feedback and based on it, we made some changes. Bohat gaaliyan padi (Had to face a lot of flak). Sometimes you are very close to your own product. So you don’t see the flaws. But when some other person points out something, you realize this could have been done this way. 

Generally such subjects are called content oriented cinema and they aren’t considered commercial. Do you think because of Aamir’s presence, the film is more in the commercial space?

No, I feel that any content oriented film is commercial. For example, Hindi Medium (2017) is content oriented but it’s a box office hit. Similarly, if you put Aamir Khan in any content oriented film, it becomes even bigger. Aamir Khan’s entire filmography is such; it’s full of hatke (different) content oriented films.

Taare Zameen Par (2007) was also such a film but it became a huge commercial success. And according to me, so is Dangal. It’s not a conventional film. The story is actually about Geeta; not about Mahavir Singh. He is a coach. 

Aamir’s wife Kiran Rao didn’t want him to do this role. What is his character exactly?

I had written the character for him. It is a very tedha (crooked) character. There is a lot of taporigiri. It is a gawdy, loud and full of himself character. He is exactly the opposite of what is Aamir in real life. That’s why I wanted to cast him.

As an audience, I have seen him in Satyamev Jayate, Taare Zameen Par, 3 Idiots (2009). But I have never seen him flirting. Like he says, dheere dheere se, zor zor se (Slowly, but hard). And how he says in the teaser, pasand aaya toh like karo, pasand nahin aaya toh taste change karo (If you liked it then hit the like button, if you didn't like it, then you change your taste).

Aamir sir never speaks this way. Like how he says, main awards lete lete thak gaya hoon (Am tired of accepting all the awards). I wrote it specially because it would sound funny (as Khan never accepts awards). 

What exactly is Aamir Khan’s role in the film? Is it a supporting role or a special appearance?

It is a tadka role. What is dal without tadka? That’s how it is. He is the flavour in the film. 

How much freedom did Aamir give you? What were his inputs in the film?

His input has been throughout. His guidance, contribution and involvement has been throughout. But this doesn’t mean I wasn’t given freedom.

He allowed me to do everything the way I wanted to. He has given his inputs in the casting, locations, editing and sound mixing. I am very fortunate that I have access to him and I can use him.

For example, it is like if you are cooking and someone suggests adding more salt. This is the kind of input. It makes the food tastier. And if you get inputs from world’s best chef, it is such a good thing. Then he will suggest few more things apart from salt. 

You always wanted to be a filmmaker. So why did you become Aamir’s manager? 

Manager is the best job. Look, I didn’t become Vijay Mallya’s manager. I became manager to a person who is an actor, producer, someone who makes TV shows and a director. He is a complete film institution. My work was to see his dates and do scheduling. But the perks were to travel with him, sit in narrations.

I was there when the script of Dhoom 3 (2013) was narrated to him. I was there on both the occasions when PK (2014) was narrated to him in Hindi and Bhojpuri. The same was with Dangal. And there are many other scripts which got rejected and I was there during those too. So, I learnt a lot after witnessing all this. 

Being a manager can be useful. But it depends on how you work. If I just schedule his Dangal screening and don’t accompany him, I will just be reduced to a secretary. But if I also attend the screening and take notes, it becomes different. During the films he rejected, I realized that if conflict is weak, Aamir doesn’t like the film. Or if the content isn’t strong or if the climax is weak, he doesn’t do the film. So, to be a manager (to him) is a huge opportunity.