Encounters with Imran Khan are always interesting. He is a thinking guy and never therefore boring. He’s rarely guarded and refreshingly honest. He admits that he thinks with his heart but acts with his head, ‘emotionally-driven but planned logically how to achieve that objective’. I meet him at his newly renovated bungalow in Bandra.
He informs me he has looked into each brick, plank of wood and fitting of the house personally. I am given a tour of ‘his’ sparkling airy, clean kitchen (there’s a separate kitchen for the rest of the family and one for him). He loves cooking when he likes to whip up his gourmet treat.
The young actor shops for kitchen utensils from all over the country and abroad. But before you think he should be Masterchef, you might want to consider him for Nat Geo Adventure he loves all kinds of water and extreme sports. We talk about all that and more. Over to Imran...
Are you happy with the Once Upon A Time in Mumbaai Dobara experience?
I feel the film got unfairly panned. It wasn’t a bad film by any stretch of the imagination. There are far worse films which get away with a lot more. There was too much comparison with OUATIM and that partly also damaged the film. There are 20 films this year that were worse than this one.
I wasn’t unhappy or bitter at all. I thoroughly enjoyed working in the film. Milan knows his craft well. I have known Milan for a while as he’s a close friend. It’s a purana relationship. I didn’t talk about it before, but we had an equation. I have known him since my Jaane Tu...Ya Jaane Na days. I had to learn horse-riding for the film, and he is an avid rider. When I asked Aamir mamu whom to ask for riding he told me, ‘talk to Bunty he will hook you up’. In fact I was offered Emraan Hashmi’s role in Once Upon A Time In Mumbai.
Why didn’t you do it?
At that point, the very specific time they were looking at, I was shooting for Luck. None of my films had released. Ek toh dates nahi the and also since I was doing two action thrillers back-to-back, Kidnap and Luck, I didn’t want to do another serious type of film. It didn’t go beyond the first meeting.
This is the first time you worked with Akshay, who has often been accused of chopping his co-actors’ role...
I am happy to say on the record that before I started OUATIMD I had heard how Akshay cuts roles etc but he turned out to be exactly the opposite of what I had heard.
While going in I was apprehensive but when I started shooting the film I saw not a hint of that! The film has come out exactly the way Milan narrated it to me. Forget being interfering and chopping my role, Akshay has gone above and beyond to improve my performance and helped me in my scenes. When we were doing stunts and action, he would tell me what to do and what not, like cover my face, chehra dikhana etc.
So happy experience overall?
The shooting went on for too long. I honestly don’t know why from last August, I was in the film. I grew hair, moustaches, sideburns, I was stuck in look and Punit’s Gori Tere Pyar Mein got delayed because of that. We used to shoot for three-four days and then be off for three weeks so I couldn’t even shave and grow it back. And then we shoot for 60 per cent of the entire film in April this year so in 30 days. It was chaotic at another level. There were no off days, we were shooting 16 hours every single day.
Why so much of re-shooting?
The Bismillah song was added later. Initially when we were watching the film there was a scene where my character sees myself and Sonakshi as some daaku and cop etc.
Milan did not like that scene so we shot the song instead and I don’t know if you can tell or not, but to me it’s very obvious. When Sonakshi is in a coma in the hospital, I am talking to her and Akshay comes in and says ho gayi ladai shuru, that was shot later.
I feel you are not comfortable doing scenes that are not realistic like the hospital scene you mentioned?
True. I am not comfortable doing scenes that are not realistic because for me it is very important to believe in it myself. I didn’t believe in the scene. But again, it was better than what it was before.
A lot of critics felt you were miscast as Aslam because you looked too young.
I am 30-years-old yaar! In India for some reason until a guy reaches his 40s, he’s not accepted as a man (laughs). Tab tak they feel ke yeh bachcha hai! In fact, as far as I have seen, I am the only person who hasn’t come under fire who didn’t get any criticism from critics or audiences. Nobody has said anything about me. They have taken Akshay apart.
Milan got a lot of flak, which I think is unfair. Rajat (Arora), the dialogue writer, also took a lot of flak which also is unfair because when you see the film in the single screen they are cheering and clapping for those dialogues. I don’t think Akshay’s performance was wrong, nor were Milan and Rajat wrong either.
What they did creatively was correct. It’s just that we have not given the audience a correct idea of what to expect in the film. But with this film suddenly I am reaching out to a new audience, which is great.
Suddenly the rickshaw driver, the guy selling magazine at the signals are coming to me and calling me Aslam bhai! See am getting reactions from a very different audience who didn’t react to me before. I had a multiplex audience before this one.
Ekta Kapoor and you had some differences?
It is not correct for me to speak against Ekta or the production house because ultimately the way we do things in the film industry is that we do not wash dirty linen in public. If there are problems, we settle it inside.
I spoke to Ekta about the issues and some did get sorted out but beyond that I feel bitching about people in public may make you feel better but you are not achieving anything. You are damaging the chances of reconciliation with that person and also showing you are that kind of person who fights their battles in public.
I have always appreciated that in the film industry that however much we fight and bitch about each other, there is a sense of camaraderie and we come together ki hum sab ek hain. Somewhere I am very possessive about our film industry. I have grown up here, I am the third generation...
For me everything that I have ever got in my life, whether it is my grandfather (Nasir Hussain), uncles or me, every single thing has been from films the food that I eat, the clothes that I wear and the house that I live in... everything has been paid for by the film industry, by doing movies. For better or worse these are my people.
When I wanted to enter films at 18, my mom sat me down and asked me to take up a more respectable career as that was the notion most people had of Bollywood then. There was a time when filmi people didn’t get loans to even buy a house. My uncle Mansoor Khan wasn’t getting a loan to buy a house as he wasn’t earning a monthly income.
My grandfather was thrown out of his home when he wanted to join the film industry. He lived literally on the street, saved every rupee and with hard work reached where he was.
Everything he got was because of movies. I told my mom, that the fancy house we live in has been paid by the movie business so f*%k anyone who has no respect for it!
You have been labelled as the Urban Boy and audience wants to see you in light fun films.. Agree?
I don’t agree. As an actor, my successes has been with first time directors only and I have a perfect track record in that. Jaane Tu..., Delhi Belly, I Hate Love Stories, Ek Main Aur Ek Tu, Mere Brother Ki Dulhan... I am saying perhaps the fault is not with me when the film doesn’t work... All that is in my hands is my performance. I can’t control the rest.
Matru Ki Bijli Ka Mandola where you played a rural character didn’t work.
I thought I was very good in Matru Ki Bijli Ka Mandola and was very happy with my work. Once again the film took flak but noone said a bad word about me. The flak went to Vishal. A lot of people didn’t like the film and you can’t argue with that but nobody said that the film would have been good, only if you had taken a different actor.
Everyone complained about the film. Now that is not in my hands. The day it is, you will write a piece saying Imran is interfering (smiles). I can’t tell the director what to do.
Do you think an actor should fight the image that people have of him, or accept it?
Yes. As an actor I never put any kind of restrictions on myself. People impose their images on you. As a creative person, you can’t set parameters for yourself in a film. I am locking myself inside a room with a certain stereotype, with walls around me.
Every time someone puts me into that room I must break those walls! Have you heard of an actor Mark Strong? You don’t remember him because he is so normal and average ki woh jahan jaata hai he becomes that character. You have seen him in five-six films and commented on his superb acting but never remember him.
When an audience comes to watch your film and is burdened by an image of stardom, who you are sleeping or fighting with and all your personal drama is there its is a burden and stopping them from buying into the character. This is why they remember the hero’s but not the character’s name. Whos’s Rancho? Aamir from 3 Idiots, Bhuvan in Lagaan etc.
People remember character names of Aamir because he does this. He makes you forget that he is Aamir Khan. Though he is one of the biggest stars in the country today, yet he can change his body language. The ideal situation is when you forget the person’s stardom and believe only in his character. This is the triumph of an actor.
What’s the best compliment you got for the film?
More than a specific compliment it has been the acceptance from the single-screen theatres and the way they have been reacting to me. It has floored me. Ultimately my wife and mother are my worst critics.
They are never impressed with anything I do but for this one they said that I had done well and that I have put in an effort and accomplished something. That was a big step for me. But bigger was the single-screen reactions. It’s a creative high for me to see that!
Will you still take on roles in rural settings?
Yes of course particularly after doing Matru... I feel very confident. That was so far beyond anything I thought I could have done. I grew up in USA and learned to speak Hindi when I was 23. Now suddenly at 28 I was told to speak in Haryanvi! If I could do that and do it the extent that I did, then why not? I learned Hindi and Haryanvi... I can learn Punjabi. Give me time and I will learn it.
Your character in OUATIMD was very romantic..How far would you go for a girl you love?
Movies show a very false potrayal of love. Love isn’t what is shown in the films. In real relationships you fight, whereas in movies everything is shown as blissfully perfect. That’s why people’s expectations of love are so unreal and so many break-ups are happening today. I have been with Avantika for 11 years and to make a relationship work for a period of time takes work.
Love is important but it can only take you so far. Apart from that you need to rely on that person. Avantika is my partner so if I pick up this side of the table she will pick up the other side, if I am fighting she will stand back-to-back and fight whoever is against me. That is important.
What if they are not compatible? You can leave your home and family etc but you have to make sure that what you are getting everything that you are leaving behind in life your friends, family, parents etc this person will have to makeup for everyone.
Ultimately they have to fit into your life. To me long-term relationships have to nourish, provide and build you. I was madly in love with a girl before I met Avantika and thought life would begin and end with her but it didn’t end that way as we were incompatible. It’s been 11 years with Avantika but it still feels like yesterday. After a hard day’s work I can come home and tell her everything. This is a strong relationship that nourishes you. Avantika makes me feel stronger.
A director you really want to work with?
Those big guys do nothing for me. They have never given me success or approached me. I want to work with a guy who is unknown. Who had heard of Abbas or Shakun? They have come out of nowhere, consistently taken me forward and given me successes I am proud of.
I will go with a guy who has fire burning in his belly and is hungry and starving to do his film because that guy will do everything. The more successful you are the more you sit back and relax.
One thing you would change about your career..
Not a damn thing. Changing something in your life implies you are not happy where you are today. Today is better than what I could have ever hoped for so I don’t want to change anything.
I am ecstatic with my life. I have been working for five years and have more hits than flops and more money than I could have ever hoped for. I consider my greatest achievement so far is the fact that I have managed to redo my grandfather’s house.
It took me up two and a half years but I have done it myself every square inch, every bolt, wooden planks every single thing. It’s my labour of love. I have got more out of my life than what I could have ever hoped for!