My mom always told me not to get into films: Imran Khan
Imran Khan, 29, meets us at his nana’s bungalow. This bungalow is replete with history as it originally belonged to Nasir Hussain, one of the most successful director-producers of his time. Imran, who has lived here from his childhood and who is now tasting his own success, has revamped the bungalow to give it his own modern touch. In a freewheeling interview with Times of India, he talks about grappling with failure, his role model Aamir Khan and how he got trained with slaps from NK Sharma for his upcoming film Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola. Excerpts:
You have renovated and are living in your grandfather Nasir Hussain’s house. How emotionally attached are you to it?
For me, this is a major labour of love as my family completes 50 years of living here. I was born in the US and my parents got divorced when I was just two, at which point I moved back here with my mother. My father was half-Bengali and half Scottish and his surname was Pal. My mother is half Muslim and half Christian. My original name was Imran Khan Pal, but my mother dropped Pal when we came back. When I was 10, I went to a boarding school in Ooty. There was a fight between the trustees and our principal and they kicked him out. The principal stood up and asked us if anyone wanted to go with him and about 20 of us put our hands up as we liked him. He had a farm land on the outskirts of Ooty, where he set up the gurukul where I studied for five years. I learnt a lot of life skills here. There was no light, so we had kerosene lamps for light, we got water from a running stream, we planted our own vegetables, we cooked our food, washed our clothes, swept the floors. It was an unconventional option and my grandparents were against it and everyone thought that my mother was nuts supporting it. But my mother realised that our education system was deeply damaged where we put pressure on the wrong things and did not encourage learning.
I was in Bombay Scottish till the fourth grade and our teachers would beat us for anything small that would happen. As a result, I developed a stammer and nervous twitches and my performance was crashing. I would wake up crying not wanting to go to school.
Your nana means a lot to you. Right?
Yes. He laid it out for all of us. He was a Pathan and had a great style of his own. Throughout my childhood, every night for at least an hour he would narrate a new story to me, making it up as he went along.
Was joining the film industry your obvious choice?
Actually, my mom always told me not to get into films as there was a stigma attached to it and wanted me to do something respectable. When I was 15, I was dating a girl and her father was flipping over the fact that I was a boy from a Muslim filmy family. Since I was raised in a multicultural house, it rattled me. It hit me that while everyone loved film stars, they did not want to marry their daughter to one. So I tried hard to do something else, but my heart was in direction, so I came back from the US and reasoned with my mom that everything that we owned and our entire identity was only due to the film industry. She agreed and I joined the industry.
How did you meet your wife Avantika?
I met her 10 years ago when I was 19. Before her, I had met two girls who I had felt would change my life when I met them and I could hear violins in the background and eventually they screwed my life. But when I met Avantika, it was undramatic. She was a pretty girl and I liked talking to her and met her many times and never got tired of her. We have been married two years and had been living together for eight years before our marriage in LA. For me, fidelity and chivalry is important. Chivalry is not about opening a door for a woman, it’s about you standing by your word.
What does Aamir mean to you?
I have always admired him for his integrity. He stands by his word and will do the right thing at any cost. He will not break a ‘No entry’ signal even if he has to drive 15 minutes extra. I have always thought that this is the kind of person I want to be, whom people respect.
Is Aamir involved in your career?
He has never had any involvement in my work. He has never read any of my scripts. He has seen only two of my films. In our family, work is a separate thing. And every thing is earned. We hold ourselves and each other to a very high standard personally, professionally or morally. When Aamir took on Jaane Tu… Ya Jaane Na as a producer, he made me give a screen test to see if I could do it. For Delhi Belly, I went through half a dozen screen tests before I got the role.
What has been the low point in your life?
All through my life, both emotionally and financially, I have always had more than I could have asked for. But two years back, I had two back-to-back flops which was my lowest point. Overnight, from being this hot shit whom producers wanted to do anything for, I became worthless. From a time when my phones would not stop ringing so much so that I had to get two numbers, both the phones fell silent. Endorsements stopped and producers were not willing to back me. I was clubbed with other actors who tried but failed. I became yesterday’s news.
And I questioned myself on whether I could make it at all. At that time, Karan called me and gave me I Hate Luv Storys. I can’t thank him and Punit Malhotra enough for keeping their faith in me at that time, when I was at my lowest and was tagged a flop hero.
Who was your emotional anchor at that time?
Me. I sit and work it out in my head. Mom and Avantika are the ones who panic. They will always remember the name of the journalist who would have written something bad about me. I would always ask them to calm down and say that I would work harder and that if I am good, I will get somewhere, if I don’t I was not good enough.
How was your experience working with Vishal Bhardwaj in Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola?
Prior to working with Vishal, who is a solid director, I had always worked with first time directors my age, who were also learning like I was on the film. Unlike other directors who give you a mark and a focus point for the camera, Vishal empowers you and lets you do whatever you want. It becomes the responsibility of the cameraman to capture you. As an actor, you feel in control of your performance. Also, this is the first role where I have been trained as an actor. The legendary NK Sharma (Panditji), who runs his theatre group Act 1 in Delhi, trained me for two months. He does not charge money for teaching, but takes you as a student only if he feels you can do it. He slaps and abuses you and strips you of your stardom completely, but is the best acting teacher one can have.