It’s been a decade-long association with Aamir, that started off with our first true-blue production at UTV, Rang De Basanti, and went on to span movies like Taare Zameen Par (TZP), Jaane Tu… Ya Jaane Na, Peepli Live, Delhi Belly, Dhobi Ghat, PK and now, Dangal. Many of my most crucial professional learnings have emerged from having had the opportunity to spend quality time with Aamir over the years.
Much has been said about his perfectionism, his attention to detail, his meticulous planning, his brilliant marketing brain and so on. And it’s all true. But his qualities that are not discussed enough – perhaps because they don’t fit neatly into the media cliche of “cinema strategist par excellence” – are actually the key to what makes him who he is.
I remember the day we saw the rough cut of TZP. It was a first cut with rough sound and no VFX, and the audience was a mix of the UTV and AKPPL teams, along with other industry folk, who had been called in to provide feedback. At the point that the song Kholo kholo reaches a crescendo in the climax of the film, you could hear racking sobs in the audience and even the hardest nuts in the room were moist eyed at the end, averting each other’s gaze lest they give themselves away as ‘softies’. Aamir asked the audience what they thought of the film. Everyone was unanimous in saying it was an incredibly moving, eye opening, heart-breaking and finally uplifting experience. He then asked how they thought the film would do at the box office. Morphing immediately into ‘trade speak’ because they had been asked for a business projection, most said, “Personally, we loved the film and were incredibly moved, but business-wise it’s tough to say. You (Aamir) enter the scene only just before the interval and for the most part, the film is centred around the little boy. So it might be perceived as a kids’ film and hence not be that big commercially.”
Aamir’s response to that was, “I think I will go by the instinctive reaction you have had as an audience and not by the logical and reasoned response you have given me as trade pundits. Because we often tend to forget that we are members of the audience, who just happen to be part of the industry. We don’t trust our gut as an audience enough, when actually that’s what we should be going by.” And he was dead right! The movie went on to do unprecedented business, as and to rewrite the rules of what is considered commercial. This principle has applied to most of the movies Aamir has acted in or backed.
With Delhi Belly conventional logic said “English movie, limited audience”; on RDB it was “Fourth Bhagat Singh movie”; on Peepli Live it was “rural setting and incomprehensible dialect” – and I can go on and on. Contrary to what people think, Aamir is all heart. He goes by what his core instinct as a cinema loving audience member dictates -both in the way he selects his scripts and in the way he markets his movies. It takes him not more than a moment after he has heard a script to decide whether he wants to do a film or not. I remember the narration of Dangal. In typical Aamir style, he suddenly called one day to tell me he had a window of time (after months of not hearing any scripts because he was shooting) and could now listen to this wrestling script I had been telling him about. We narrated to him that same evening, and by the end of the narration, Nitesh and I knew he would do it. He laughed, he cried, he got excited, he sat with bated breath; basically he displayed every conceivable emotion we could hope for from an audience member. And at the end without a moment’s hesitation, he said he was on. That’s Aamir for you. Pure instinct and all heart!
I wish him many more years of entertaining us while pushing boundaries, and I personally look forward to many more years of what has been one of the most cherished professional relationships of my career.