I used to be scared of firecrackers as a kid, reveals Aamir Khan


IT is Diwali eve at Freeda One on Carter Road in Bandra west. Aamir Khan is staying here temporarily while his old home on Pali Hill gets renovated. We were talking over tea. He had generously laid out sandwiches and samosas. And a plate of dhokla and chutney. It is also the eve of Bollywood’s biggest film of the year, YRF’s fantasy action adventure Thugs of Hindostan, in which Aamir co-stars with Amitabh Bachchan for the first time.

We sat in a breezy hall overlooking the sea. A large flat screen TV dominated one wall. A box set of DVDs on the Mahabharata beneath it. Black-and-white, rain-swept paintings of horse carriages in old Bombay or London took up another wall. Otherwise the room was bare. Aamir, dressed in a deep maroon kurta and black trousers, wearing spectacles and looking like a young and dashing Harry Potter, talked about Diwali and the film. He wasn’t having any tea. But to my surprise, he was smoking a pipe. He used to be a heavy smoker of cigarettes. The stress of a film’s release drove him to chain smoke.

Then, when he was getting into training for the next film, he would quit. I tried unsuccessfully to get Aamir to smoke cigars once. He found it difficult. Now he was fiddling with the pipe. Stuffing it with Blue Mixture tobacco out of a Davidoff tin. “Doesn’t it have a lovely aroma?” he asked, lighting up and puffing away strongly. I agreed. The only other person I knew who smoked a pipe was the late Shiv Sena chief, Balasaheb Thackeray. He had a collection. Aamir, in three months, said he had acquired 18-20 pipes. Here he is, unplugged and puffing away, in his own words talking about Diwali, Thugs of Hindostan, working with Amitabh Bachchan.


I am a compulsive gambler. Once a year, on Diwali night, I play cards. I started gambling when I was young – 16 or 18, I think – and gambled with all the kids in the building. Then I started gambling with the elders. It used to be Teen Patti then. I enjoy the game. And I am a reckless gambler. I didn’t always win. My entire budget used to be 1,000 bucks. Now what is 1,000 bucks! It’s just one round in the game. Also, Teen Patti has been replaced by Poker. Kamaal ka game hain. Luck plays a role in Poker. But it is a strategy and mind game. I have great fun playing cards on Diwali. But I don’t like crackers. As a kid, I used to be scared of crackers. And I would only light sparklers, fountains, the snake and anything that did not make a loud noise. I feel crackers are such a waste.

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It was the experience of a lifetime working with Amit ji. I used to always wonder when I would get the chance. This was a dream. And I made the most of it. I didn’t leave him alone. I sat with him on the sets and asked him thousands of questions. When we were shooting in Malta, I used to go and sit in his hotel room. I once told Amit ji, “Let’s go see a film.” He looked at me in surprise, then asked,

“Which one? And where?” I said, “The Hollywood superhero film Wonder Woman, here in Malta only, where else will we get the chance?” Amit ji agreed reluctantly and then asked hesitantly, “What about security? And we need a car.” I told him, “We’ll go walking, the theatre is close by, and we don’t need security. Who knows us in Malta!” So we went. Now I am very reactive while watching a film. I laugh and cry. I get very involved. And I get scared. During one tense moment, I grabbed Amit ji by the hand and shouted loudly. Startled, he shouted too! We had great fun.

Amitabh Bachchan and Aamir Khan on the sets of KBC


I used to be awestruck by Amit ji initially. The first time I met him was when I was making Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar. In 1990, I think. I was shooting in Ooty. When I returned to my hotel one evening, the receptionist told me that Amitabh Bachchan had called. I thought somebody was playing a prank. Then at 8.30 pm, the phone rang. I answered and suddenly heard his voice. “Hullo, this is Amitabh Bachchan,” he said. I was dumbstruck. I could only say, “Yes Sir, Yes Sir!” He was doing the stage show Jumma Chumma in London and wanted me to come. I was tongue-tied. Just kept saying “Yes Sir! Yes Sir!” If Amit ji had asked me what was the weather like in Ooty, I would have replied, “Yes Sir! Yes Sir!”


Still of Aamir Khan and Amitabh Bachchan from the song 'Vashmalle'



He rehearses his lines till the time of his shot. Says them over and over. I used to sit by his side and give him cue words. For our first scene together, I was stressed. What if it didn’t come out properly? What if I wanted a retake and he thought the shot was okay? When the director yelled “Action!” we looked at each other and began circling. It was a fight scene. I was very nervous. But it went well. I said, “Amit ji, congratulations – we just did out first shot!” He was surprised. “Was that our first shot?” he asked me.

I was also nervous of smoking in front of Amit ji. I asked Shah Rukh Khan, who has acted with Amit ji in quite a few films, if it was okay. Shah said, “He’s cool. You don’t need to ask his permission or anything.” So I took his advice. I never knew Amit ji has asthma. He didn’t mind me smoking in his presence but Amit ji used to tell me to give up the habit. “It’s not good for you,” he would say.

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We had to do a lot of action in Thugs of Hindostan. Fatima Sana Shaikh and I have plenty of scenes. They were very tough. There were foreign stunt directors helping us but it was hard work. I have one scene in which I free-fall 70 feet. Of course, I’m hitched to a cable. But the timing of the fall is important. Especially when I hit the ground. If the guys holding the cable reined it in early, I would be left hanging in the air. If they stopped late, I was finished. I was scared. My life was in someone else’s hands. The action was especially tough on Amit ji because age is not on his side. And through the years he’s suffered so many injuries. Plus he was wearing armour that weighed 40 kilos. I was very worried for him. He was in lot of pain. His back used to go into spasm. But Amit ji has a way of working around all this.


Stills from Thugs of Hindostan trailer 

This is not a serious historical. The costume department, the production department, the art department – they had to do a lot of research. But not me. For me, this was a larger than life fantasy film. It’s purely fiction. After a long time I am doing a mainstream film that has no message. For me, it was a risk because I was playing a negative hero who is so totally not hero-hero. My character Firangi is very selfish. He’s unemotional. Has no connect with anyone. He looks good from far, but is not the kind of person to be friends with, because he has no morals at all. 

I had great fun playing Firangi. When I heard the script, it was the character that attracted me. When I am choosing a film, I don’t think of the audience, but only feel the excitement of what attracts me to the film. Later on when I consider what I’ve done – the pressure begins! Thugs of Hindostan is not like Pirates of the Caribbean. But my character is like Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow in that he’s also a badmash. I don’t think Victor (director Vijay Krishna Acharya) took Jack Sparrow for inspiration. You see Thugs of Hindostan, you will forget Jack Sparrow! Not because of my acting, but for the way my character is written. But Thugs of Hindostan is poles apart from Pirates of the Caribbean. It’s not a freedom film or heavily patriotic. It’s not about independence. The characters in the film are talking about their own freedom from the British’s East India Company.


A still of Aamir Khan and Katrina Kaif from the song 'Suraiyya'


This girl’s an alien! I just can’t get over the way she dances. She works very hard on her roles. Watch her in our song Surraiya. She’s dancing. I’m doing just masti. See her steps. She somehow pulls off everything. I love watching her when she’s dancing. Katrina’s mesmerizing.


Aamir Khan with his wife Kiran Rao and son Azad 

Azad doesn’t like action films. He closes his eyes. But he saw half of Thugs of Hindostan. During the action scenes, Kiran put her dupatta over his eyes. He prefers animation films. But Azad liked Thugs of Hindostan. He asked me, “Papa, why is he (Amit ji’s character) called Azaad?” I told him, “Because of you!”