Actor-producer-director Aamir Khan sounds very passionate about the water conservation work being undertaken in Maharashtra’s villages by his Paani Foundation since the past couple of years. Aamir was in Pune a few days ago to interact with college youngsters and make an appeal to them to participate in this social initiative. He broke his silence and talked to a few members of the media for the first time in three years. During his candid and free-flowing conversation, he spoke on various subjects. Excerpts from the interview:
You are now involved in social work in rural Maharashtra. There is large scale distress in these areas. Agrarian crisis is acute. Do you think there is a complete disconnect between this real world and Bollywood, which is seen producing mainly candyfloss movies and living in their own urban oasis?
Aamir: I would not agree with that completely. Yes, there is a certain kind of cinema made with commercial considerations that producers have. They mainly target the multiplexes. There are some 4,500 screens all over India and they all happen to be in urban areas. So the producers want to make movies that will attract urban viewers. But there are many who are making different kind of cinema which reflects other things like rural issues too. I made a film like Taare Zameen Par which was different too.
You are actively taking up Paani Foundation work. Did other Bollywood actors approach you with any kind of support or help?
Aamir: Once people got to know I have taken up this work, many established names offered help. There was a huge response. But we thought we should not involve all of them right now just for the sake of getting their contribution. We should first establish a good structure and involve them later. Too many actors or celebrities coming to the villages at this stage would have affected the work adversely. At some stage, we can think of involving more people from the industry.
You have suddenly become so popular in China. Your films are being watched by crores of people there. How do you react?
Aamir: People jokingly tell me that I am India’s answer to all Chinese exports to India! They say whatever China has earned from India by exporting goods to us, will be brought back by Aamir Khan’s films selling in China! Jokes apart but it’s really surprising. Earlier, there were pirated versions of my films running there but now it’s legal distribution. My movie Secret Superstar is such a hit in China, it’s made Rs 750 crore business. It feels good.
Do you think Bollywood has become only ‘money conscious’. Recently, Naseeruddin Shah said that everybody in the industry and the media only talks of how many crores a film has made — 100 crores, 200 crores, 300 crores... Nobody talks about the artistic and creative elements. What do you think about this?
Aamir: Some sections of the industry are looking at these elements but many others are also talking about acting, direction and other elements. I don’t think it’s only about money. I myself have always first looked at the script, story and subject and not the business angle.
Water conservation is on your mind and you have devoted a lot of time to it. Have you thought of making a film around it?
Aamir: I never think on these terms. I never think of giving a social message through my films as the central idea, and then think of the script. I think of the script and the story, and then if, as part of the story, some message is being given to the audience, I don’t mind that. So, for me, making a film to spread a social message is not the agenda.
You have always done different kind of cinema and worked on perfection a lot. Any specific reasons?
Aamir : It’s the way I think and it has worked well for me. When we made Lagaan, everybody thought I had gone crazy. People said this film will never work. Some story based in rural area and the British Raj period, with actors wearing those kind of clothes, the hero speaking Ahirani dialect and so on. People thought it will surely bomb at the box office. But we know what actually happened.
Where do you see the social work that you have taken up going in three or four years from now?
Aamir: I am hoping that our requirement in rural areas to do this work will be over. I am hoping that people will be so much aware of the water conservation methods that we will not need to go there and do anything, and I can return to films full time again!
You have been in the limelight for close to 30 years now and, among many other things, people admire your physical fitness too. What’s the secret, and how do you maintain yourself?
Aamir: I think it’s mainly about diet. One thing that is very crucial and effective is controlling what you eat and drink. And then there are some other things one should pay attention to. Drinking a lot of water and getting proper sleep is very important. In my case, I have experienced that breathing properly at least sometime of the day, helps a lot. Deep breathing gives your body a lot of oxygen. So diet, water, sleep and breathing are the four things you must pay a lot of attention to and then, of course, whatever regular exercise you do, walking or playing some sport, can supplement in keeping you totally fit.