Not many people know that actor Imran Khan started out with wanting to be behind the camera. His films include Jaane Tu…Ya Jaane Na, Delhi Belly and Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu with Kareena Kapoor.
“Acting happened to me accidentally. I wanted to be a director having studied film in Los Angeles,” said Khan.
Khan made his debut with the romantic comedy Jaane Tu... Ya Jaane Na (2008), which emerged as a box-office success
Khan studied directing and screenwriting at the New York Film Academy (NYFA) in Los Angeles. He has a degree in directing. NYFA is a magnet for Hollywood star kids who want to be in the industry.
Khan talked to Uttara Choudhury in New York about the short films he has directed and the feature he one day hopes to make. Khan says he embraces commercial Bollywood movies so that he can get box-office clout to do offbeat films. Khan stars next in director Vishal Bhardwaj’s rustic satire, Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola.
You studied directing and screenwriting at the New York Film Academy in Los Angeles. Do you see yourself moving behind the camera?
It is definitely something I want to do. I don’t have a timeline, or know what kind of a film I want to make, but I know that is my core interest – my dream. Acting is something that happened to me, it has been a fortunate accident.
“I started out wanting to be a director. I've studied film in L.A. and worked there for a while.”
But I started out wanting to be a director. I've studied film in L.A. and worked there for a while. I came back to Mumbai and was meeting people to find work. It was at this point that I met Abbas Tyrewala, the writer-director of Jaane Tu...Ya Jaane Na and we just clicked. I loved the script he showed me and my character. He was so convinced that I was the right guy for it that I went with it. But directing is something that interests me.
Did you pay off your student loans through acting?
It’s nothing so romantic. It was a very expensive school. My parents covered that cost. In fact, my dad who lives on the West Coast largely covered me for the time I was in the US studying.
Still, the good thing about being an actor is that even if you get one or two semi-hits under your belt, you start earning a lot of money.
What was your specialization in film school?
I specialized in writing and direction. These were my two core areas of interest and I focused my energies on them.
Have you made a short film?
Yes, lots. A couple that are not so bad and some which are pretty bad. There are two which I am not actually ashamed of – the first was a film I made before I joined the New York Film Academy. It was part of my application portfolio and it was called Happy Birthday. Have you read Roald Dahl’s short stories?
Yes, I love his work.
Dahl has always been my guru as a writer. And, my film inspired by Dahl’s ‘twist in the tale’ style of writing has a surprise end.
“When it comes to the movies, I go with directors who catch my interest and with films that I would like to watch. Delhi Belly was so far away from anything I thought would be made in India.”
My thesis film was also based on Dahl’s short story, “The Landlady.” A young man arrives in Bath on a business trip and stumbles on a cheap bed and breakfast place. He presses the doorbell, and a middle aged landlady answers the door immediately as if she had been waiting for him. The landlady seems friendly, but when signing the guest book the young man sees two names that nag him. Where has he heard them before? I won’t tell you what lurks around the corner but the landlady is not what she seems. I am not going to give the end away but it is a very cool story.
You are certainly not a conformist. Did you adopt your mom’s surname to acknowledge the fact that she raised you as a single parent? And, does your non-conformity seep into some of your movie choices?
It is certainly not something I consciously plot that I must trudge off the beaten path. I just go with what seems right to me at any given point. Things sometimes work out in a certain way. My parents were separated when I was very young and I lived with my mom in Mumbai, while dad lived on the West Coast. But the truth is that I have always had a great relationship with my dad.
Really, the credit for that goes to mom and dad. In spite of the fact that they got divorced when I was two, they both worked very hard to ensure I would feel there wasn’t any animosity between them.
Actor Imran Khan and co-star Poorna Jagannathan in a still from Delhi Belly. Courtesy UTV Motion Pictures.
I have a great relationship with my dad and he and mom are quite close. If we travel to the States we live with him, and when he comes to India — which he does for every release of mine — he stays in our house with us. It has worked out really well for me.
When it comes to the movies, I go with directors who catch my interest and with films that I would like to watch. Delhi Belly was so far away from anything I thought would be made in India. I read the script and felt it was too good to be true. I thought to myself ‘there is no way this will be made.’ Then while shooting it, I thought ‘there is no way this will be released; the censors will never let it pass.’ The film released, and I thought, ‘no way will this film be successful. I love it and my friends will love it, but nobody else is going to watch this film.’ It was a hit! Honestly, it was a series of surreal events.
Would you like to do more of the kind of cinema championed by Abhay Deol who has steered away from traditional Bollywood fare?
Abhay and I have very strongly differing opinions on this. Abhay is actually a very close friend of mine and it is a hot topic of discussion whenever we meet. Abhay is militantly anti-mainstream. He is like, “No, man you’ve got to fight the system.”
“I have always been about balance. When I do a film like Mere Brother Ki Dulhan which is a classic, mass entertainer it gives me the kind of currency to make a film like Delhi Belly.”
I have always been about balance. When I do a film like Mere Brother Ki Dulhan which is a classic, mass commercial entertainer it gives me the kind of currency to make a film like Delhi Belly. When I do a film like Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu which is again in the more classic, commercial space, it gives me the leeway to do what I am doing next.
My next film is with Vishal Bhardwaj in Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola. So for me balance is important. When I do a film for a smaller audience, I then do one to keep everyone happy. It gives me box office clout, that’s currency that I can use to back slightly offbeat films.
Do you feel you are held to a higher standard because of being Aamir Khan’s nephew?
Of course, people are always going to measure me through him. They are always going to hold me up to that standard and find me wanting. The truth is you can’t sit and worry about this stuff. There are people who will like me for what I am and who I am, and those who just won’t. I focus on improving my work instead of fretting about things.
Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu OFFICIAL Trailer
Uttara Choudhury is Associate Editor, North America for TV 18’s Firstpost news site. In 1997, she went on the British Chevening Scholarship to study Journalism in the University of Westminster, in London.