He was followed by a journalist from Open magazine who was writing a feature on Imran’s life. He cheekily introduced the journalist saying, “Meet my shadow, she looks a bit different from me.” In a freewheeling tete-e-tete, Imran opens up on his father and growing up as a single-parent’s son. Meanwhile, co-star Anushka arrives in casuals and a Santa cap. “I bought this from a guy selling it at the signal, and there is a hole in it. He cheated me,” she rues. While the two vibrant actors keep us extremely entertained at the photo shoot, our photographer Rohan captures them in their ‘fun’ and charming moments…
The opening to this interview with Imran Khan was obvious. He signed a film with Vishal Bhardwaj, a producer-director whose last two releases, Kaminey and Saat Khoon Maaf, were adored by critics but failed to become the darling of the masses. Didn’t the commercial viability of Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola ever deter him from signing the dotted lines? “When Vishal Bhardwaj calls an actor, he should feel tremendously flattered because he is a director who is known for making quality films, and consistently extracting quality performances. So the fact that he calls up an actor is a compliment in itself. It’s unfair to judge a creative genius on the basis of the failure or success of a particular film. It’s a myopic view of things,” argues Imran, who believes that if a director was to make his or her first film and he or she was being judged on the basis of just that, it would be extremely unfair because there’s no way to measure them.
“I’ve always worked with first-time directors. You have to look at the bigger picture. When Vishal narrated the script, I could tell myself that this is one film I will be proud off. Whether a film will be commercially successful or not, no one knows. Before signing a film, I ask myself whether I would like to watch this film. So if the script, the director and producer are good, I sign the film,” he adds.
The actor, who by far only held a chocolate boy’s image and was looked at as the boy next door, had to work extremely hard to get into the skin of his Haryanvi character. He worked on everything from the dialect to the clothes and the overall body language meticulously. Imran agrees it’s the toughest character he has emulated on screen so far. He had never met a Haryanvi guy and had no clue what the place was like. He recalls that he was clueless where to start preparing from.
“I didn’t know the dialect or the culture. I had to learn the language, get the accent right, learn a new style of modulation and get the body language bang on. I shifted base to Delhi for a while and joined a theatre group. Co-incidentally, there were two boys from Rohtak who helped me. I got a chance to hang-out with these people. I learnt the nuances by interacting with them. One of the guys used to clean his ears with a matchstick while talking, so that I picked up from him and used it in the film,” recalls Imran, who had never teamed up with Anushka Sharma before this film.
The duo got along like a house on fire. He found her remarkably uncomplicated and tremendously talented. One of the youngest Khans on the scene, he’s all praises for his nayi naveli co-star, his on-screen Bijlee. “Anushka is an easy person to get along with. She has great control over her performance but doesn’t capitalise it. With some people, you may just feel, ‘Stand back… I am acting… Shut up’. It becomes difficult to deal with them. But if Anushka is doing a serious scene, she actually cries, and once the shot is over, she goes back to being herself, laughing and chatting,” says Imran, sounding in awe of his heroine.
With so many brilliant minds and bodies at work in one place, there’s increased scope for disagreements, fights and arguments. Creative conflicts become commonplace. Was that the case with the unit of MKBKM? The chocolate-boy says that he doesn’t get involved with other actors’ and actress’ work. He believes in letting the director remain the captain of the ship, and take a final call on what needs to be done. “If I have an opinion, I will put it forward. If he disagrees with it then it’s his call entirely. Ultimately, he can see the bigger picture. He knows things better than any of us,” says Imran, who also had a chance to team up with Shabana Azmi and Pankaj Kapoor on the film, although he’s quick to clarify that he didn’t have scenes with Shabana.
He feels Pankaj is an intimidating actor to work with because he requires one to be on his or her toes. He’s in control and command of his own performance to the point that he may just go off the script. “He’s capable of adding a few lines. You have to look at him and listen to him because he might add something, twist something to make the scene look better. He elevates his co-actor’s performance to a different level. I’ve always felt that if you have better actors with you in a frame, they make your performance better,” admits Imran, who started out around the same time as Ranbir Kapoor, and to this day, has only shared a couch with him on the chat show Koffee With Karan. The duo hasn’t ever landed a chance to work with each other in a movie.
Considering that they’re contemporaries who’re equally selective about their movies, the trade has often drawn comparisons between them. Lately, it’s perceived that Ranbir’s stellar performances back to back in movies like Rockstar and Barfi! have somewhere left Imran little behind in the race to the top. Bring this up and Khan says that he doesn’t perceive things the way everyone else does.
“Every actor has his strengths and weaknesses. Like Salman Khan has a great body and I don’t, so that’s his strength. In my career, I’ve never had a big director offering me anything until now. This is the first time that a big director like Vishal Bhardwaj offered me a film. I choose from what is offered to me. So it’s less about what I want to do and more about what I’m offered. So rather than sitting and dreaming, I accept the most exciting offer out of all the options,” he adds matter-of-factly.
But don’t rumours and constant discussion about their alleged rivalry upset their personal relations with each other? “We’ve always been cool with each other. Ultimately, it comes down to our respective decisions and choices to pick up the phone and call if there’s anything. He has been a gentleman that way. And even I’ve made an effort from my end. What could potentially be a sticky situation is when a particular person is working with Ranbir and that person comes to me and says what Ranbir spoke about me. How would I know who actually said what?” retorts Imran, adding that he doesn’t take things on face value and prefers to check with Ranbir over the phone. “He does the same if there’s anything. As far as competition between us is concerned, I don’t know how to compete. His failure will not help me and his success won’t deter me. We’re not running an Olympic race. So there’s no question of winning or losing. We’re friendly although I haven’t known Ranbir long enough to call him a friend. My friends are people I’ve known for 20-25 years.”
We wonder if any of those friends are folks from the industry Imran is part of. He denies, understandably because he’s known people from the industry only for as long as he has been around as an actor. Our discussion now veers towards an important topic: competition with contemporaries, something that sprang up for a bit while we chatted about his association with the RK scion. Just when we begin to ponder that if his relationship with Ranbir is cool and casual, which contemporary of his would he call his competition, the youth icon surprises us with his rather chilled out reply.
“The fact that someone is good doesn’t mean he is my competition. Competition is helpful for writing stories, and then that becomes the tagline. But when it comes down to actual graphs, it has no impact on mine or anyone’s life. Today, people talk about Ranbir and Imran, tomorrow they will talk about two others. In the past, people have spoken about Aamir and Salman Khan. They are such big stars but so different from each other. Dabangg 2 and Talaash are hits. One fails when the film doesn’t make an impact. Ranbir, Ranveer Singh and Arjun Kapoor are fine actors,” he says, adding that among the debutants last year, he found Ayushmann Khurana quite charming. “I’ve known him for a while. We’ve done so many interviews. I found him really good in Vicky Donor.”
After celebrating a centenary, Bollywood has understood that it’s rare for two heroines to become friends. But is it also the case with heroes? Do their equations change with time, thanks to competition and unhealthy rivalry, insecurity, jealousy and hostility towards each other? Or does competition never affect actors? When asked Imran if he has experienced anything of this sort, he says, “Funnily, actors and actresses tend not to work together. I am working with Anushka, Deepika Padukone, Sonam Kapoor and Kareena Kapoor so I get to know them better. But I don’t work with Ranveer Singh, Ranbir Kapoor and Shahid Kapoor. So, an actor tends to spend more time with actresses and become friendlier with them. Ditto for actresses! Where do you see Anushka and Deepika in the same film? Till you don’t work with someone, you wouldn’t know the person. I agree it’s easier for guys to make friends. We have fewer expectations from friends. If my friend forgets my birthday, I will just call him and say ‘B*****d you forgot my birthday’. But if a girl visits a doctor and doesn’t inform her friend, there’s trouble. Their relations are more complex and difficult. I understand it’s tough for girls to be friends.”
After travelling across topics, it’s time we headed back to Imran’s movies. Up next, he will be seen in Once Upon A Time In Mumbaai 2, opposite Sonakshi Sinha. He plays a Mumbai-based, chawl-dweller goon. He’s legally barred at the moment from letting any details of his role out in the press apart from the fact that the criminal he plays has a heart of gold, but he’s ready with praises for his co-star. He feels Sonakshi is a thorough professional and there has never been a dull moment on the sets with her around. “She always arrived before us. Success hasn’t gone to her head. She works with great enthusiasm and focus, and is disciplined,” he says, adding that he’s not afraid to be part of a sequel whose prequel didn’t feature him. “People tend to think of sequels as a different creature. The fact that it is a sequel, it gives people added interest and in most cases, it means part one was a hit,” he says.
Apart from sequels, remakes are also a hit trend in Bollywood. There are plenty of south Indian films and Bollywood cult hits that are being remade for this generation. Doesn’t Imran see himself playing a part in a remake of his uncle Aamir or his uncle’s best buddy Salman Khan’s film? Or maybe a classic? The actor admits he’s wary of remakes because if a film has been made into a classic, there’s really no need to remake it, every generation can watch it.
“It’s scary to improve on a classic story. There are more pitfalls and dangers than chances of success. If people haven’t seen the original, it’s safe to remake an old film. Devdas for instance, no one had seen the original in over 20 years before it was made. Maine Pyar Kiya is too recent for someone to remake it. I’ve seen the original Agneepath. It’s a quality film, and Amitabh Bachchan’s finest performance. For me, nothing will live up to it,” says Imran with a straight face.
Talking about Salman and Aamir Khan, there’s a lot that comes back to memory. In a recent interview of his, Imran had said that Salman is leading a good life, to the fullest. When asked what he meant when he said that, Imran says that his uncle Aamir had once told him that there’s only one star in the industry, Salman Khan. The rest are all mazdoors. “Others come on time and rehearse, whereas he comes when he wants, goes when he wants, does what he wants and still he is the biggest star in the country. That’s stardom. No one can touch him,” he smiles.
What if he was offered a film with Salman and his uncle at the same time? Imran tries his best to sound correct: “It depends on what kind of films they are. There’s a certain kind of film which Aamir does and a breed that Salman chooses. I should be given a choice. If I am doing a film with Salman, it has to be his type of film, and with mamu, it will be his kind of a film. They’d be fun to work with. And both films will be assured hits. I can’t choose anyone over the other.”
Imran speaks too often about his uncle but rarely about his father Anil Pal, a software engineer from Wisconsin, United States. His parents divorced when he was really young, but they continued to be friends. Whenever Imran’s father, Mr. Pal, is in India, he stays over at his house. He was with Imran during each one of his releases. He was even there for his wedding with Avantika Mallik. “My parents’ agenda was not fighting or hatred. Their concern was to see me okay. They were incredible that way,” he beams.
The actor spent most of his childhood with his mother, while his dad resided in the United States. Imran hasn’t been there in years now because he’s become busy with his new domestic responsibilities and work. It’s not easy growing up between a couple that has split. Didn’t he encounter emotional hassles during his formative years? “No,” he says, explaining, “I don’t remember much because I was small. The first time I got to know and met my father was when I was seven. It was just that he was a new person for me. I’d heard about him earlier. My mother had told me that dad and she are divorced but she also told me that my father and she love me immensely. There were no secrets. My parents were always one unit for me. If I’m not shattered about my past today, the credit goes to them.”
Imran’s mother Nuhzat Khan re-married when he was eight or nine. And so he didn’t ever miss having his own father around him. He reveals that his step-father was there for him, and the three of them behaved maturely with each other. “I got twice as lucky. I’ve two dads. And three parents instead of two. My dads love me. They’ve made me who I am,” he beams.
The actor’s biological father is a Bengali, and Imran’s full name is Imran Khan Pal. But one has never heard him conversing in his father’s first language. When asked why that was the case, and if he had ever interacted with his father in Bengali, he says, “Dad is an Anglo-Indian. My granny is Scottish and grand-dad Bengali. I speak to dad in English because he can’t speak Bengali. He was born in the UK and has lived most of his life in the States. We have a big family in Kolkata though. I meet them occasionally. That side of the family is typically Bengali. But I speak to them in English. It’s been my first language. I learnt Hindi when I was 24.”
Prod him on why he never used Pal in his name, Imran elaborates, “When my parents separated, my mum dropped the surname ‘Pal’. I dropped it too but I hadn’t chosen to do that. When I was enrolled in school, my name was Imran Khan, and it stuck around that way. I found that my full name was Imran Khan Pal until I saw it in the passport.”
Today, apart from his past, there’s something more about Imran that we’d like the world to know. Of course, the fact that he’s married is public knowledge. But how has he been dealing with it is what intrigues us. He rarely manages a boys-night-out with friends. His advice to future grooms is that they should just give up in a fight and not assume they’d win it in 10 minutes. He admits between his wife and him, she is the dominating partner because guys are easily satisfied when they see their girls happy. He’s a lucky man because his wife gets upset in a fight and gets back to normal effortlessly in no time on her own. She’s also the one to initiate a patch-up and doesn’t need too much pacifying from him. Imran also admits that if he gets angry, which takes a while, he doesn’t cool off too easily.
Over two years into his marriage, and more than a decade of knowing his life partner, when do Imran and Avantika plan to become mum and dad? “I don’t have a schedule or a timeline for that,” he laughs, and adds, “I know I want to start a family when I am able to be there. For the next year-and-half, I’m shooting three films back-to-back. So this is not the time. It’s important to be with your wife when she is pregnant. I’m terrified of the idea of having a daughter. I’ll end up being a stern father who interrogates, and this idea scares me.”
The actor plans to take a long paternity leave when his wife conceives their baby because he wants to be with his ladylove through the entire process. But he’s also quick to add that he’s not promising to wake up in the middle of the night when his baby howls. When questioned between his wife and him, who has the potential to be a better parent, he says, “I think we’ll cover up for each other’s inadequacies. There are certain things she does that I can never handle and vice-versa.”
In an interview of his, Imran had mentioned that Azad Rao Khan, his tiny tot cousin, is as perfect as his father Aamir. Does he mean that the baby cries once a year the way Aamir signs a film once a year? “He is a sorted baby, proper and doesn’t fall. He is very dignified,” the actor laughs.
Junaid, Aamir’s elder son, is planning to become a director. Considering that Aamir launched Imran with fanfare in Jaane Tu Yaa Jaane Naa, would he extend a helping hand to his cousin to return the favour? MKBKM’s Matru says that if the boy seeks his opinion, he’d love to guide him because even Aamir had done that for him in his formative years as an actor. “He has never volunteered for anything for me. He says, “If you want to learn how to swim, you should jump in the water, you’ll learn.” It’s important to stand on your feet. The only films of mine that he has seen are Jaane Tu Yaa Jaane Naa and Delhi Belly which he produced,” reveals Imran.
On an ending note, we ask him where he’d like to see himself five years later. Imran says, “I didn’t see myself here five years ago. I don’t plan things. I want to direct for sure. But in our business, you can’t really plan!”