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“Creating awareness is not an end game in marketing; creating a desire is”

Aamir Khan in conversation with team Box Office India

Box Office India (BOI): Are you satisfied with the response to Dhoom: 3?

Aamir Khan (AK): Yeah! Relieved and quite thrilled. In the first 14 days in India, it was a net of ` 257 crore and overseas, close to `140 crore. I am quite happy!

BOI: Were you expecting numbers like these?

AK: These numbers are so big, you don’t expect them. It would be a little audacious to expect box office numbers like these. When you look at them, you look at a range. Like 3 Idiots did ` 202 crore, Chennai Express slightly better than that. So that’s the range for big films. Now Chennai Express is a recent film. So if you look at its business, you look into that region. And we are yet to release the film in China, Korea and Japan.

BOI: When Dhoom: 3 also crossed ` 200 crore mark, was the feeling the same as with 3 Idiots or was it better?

AK: I think it’s the same. ‘Better’ is a little difficult because 3 Idiots was a new high, a new record.

BOI: A new benchmark…

AK: Yes, a new benchmark that was earlier set by Ghajini at ` 116 crore. Now Dhoom: 3 is also creating a new benchmark. So I am happy.

BOI: Speaking of Ghajini, you were the first to cross the ` 100-crore mark, then the first to cross ` 200 crores with 3 Idiots, and now ` 250 crore with Dhoom: 3.

AK: (Laughs) Yeah, well, I don’t think I can take credit for that because, honestly, the maximum I or any other star can contribute is the first three days. And even there, I am not alone. There’s the Dhoom franchise, there’s Katrina (Kaif), and the entire star cast - Abhishek (Bachchan) and Uday (Chopra). So all of us together bring in the first three days. Thereafter, it’s the film.

For instance, the credit for 3 Idiots doing ` 202 crore doesn’t go to me. I could take the credit for the first day of the ` 13 crore, which was a big high for that time. But the ` 202 crore was because Raju (Rajkumar Hirani) made a good film. Similarly, over here, the first three days is due to the star cast, and the rest of the credit goes to Victor (Vijay Krishna Acharya), the writer-director of the film.

BOI: What was more satisfying – being the first to cross ` 100 crore, ` 200 crore or now ` 250 crore?

AK: (Laughs) No, no, actually that doesn’t give me such a big high. What gives me a high is when I am doing a role that excites me. What excited me about Dhoom: 3 was the double role I played. It was a first for me. Technology has made this more rather than less of a challenge for an actor. Earlier, when you did a double role, you had to keep the camera static. So, the way you do a double role now, is you do two parts, first one character and then the other.

In the old days, you had to do one guy on the left and one guy on the right. Now with motion control cameras, you can move the cameras and you can do exactly the same moves at exactly the same angle, at exactly the same speed. Earlier, you had to design simple shots for a double role.

BOI: So it’s more demanding for an actor?

AK: Yes. You had to remember what the other guy was doing, when he was not there. You’re giving a shot in isolation and you’re imagining what the other guy is doing. You are imagining what his timing will be, where he will go if he walks this way, so that you also look the same way. You have to pretend he is there. So when does he start to walk, when do I start following the gaze, stop following the gaze, when do I come back to the gaze. If that is not synced in with the other guy’s actions, it will look odd. So in this film, particularly, Victor went all out with shot-taking for the double role and that was a very exciting process.

BOI: Was the double role the main attraction for this film?

AK: It was one of the main attractions, not the only attraction. I really liked the story and the way the emotion of the son and the father was built into the beginning. For me, it is essentially the love story of two brothers and I also liked the fact that the guy inside the box, Samar, is the happier of the two and the guy who is supposedly outside the box is the guy who is constantly with the burden, not happy, very bitter, a lot of anger and is full of hate. I liked the contrast between the two characters that Victor wrote.

The other appealing element in the script was the interplay between Jay Dixit and Sahir. I really like the fact that Jay Dixit at first gets defeated. He doesn’t know that there are two guys. He can’t figure out ki yeh bullet maine mara par laga kaise nahi. So usko woh log kaam se nikal dete hain. Then he discovers that there are two guys. He then plays them against each other. I love that part of the story.

I think the fact that he plays one against the other was a very good plot point. Because then Sahir gets completely flummoxed and wonders what is happening to Samar. I liked the interplay of these two characters. I also liked the fact that Jay Dixit actually becomes emotional with Samar.

BOI: Was there any apprehension getting into a franchise because this wasnot a brand new world for you?

AK: Yes.

BOI: Was that a concern?

AK: I liked Dhoom 1 a lot and I hadn’t watched Dhoom 2. So I was looking forward to being a part of the Dhoom series. And when I heard the script, I liked the twists and turns. I loved the fact that it was complex. It kept surprising me. I kept wondering how these guys were able to escape till I realised there were two of them! So I liked the revealing of each point. Then when Jay Dixit is talking to Samar, he is actually talking to Sahir. There were a lot of twist and turns in the story.

BOI: So where does Dhoom stand in your journey as an actor?

AK: I think I will remember it as a film that I enjoyed doing and that gave me new challenges, from a purely interactive point of view with my audience. I usually don’t do films like Dhoom; my characters are more real. They are not larger than life. I play characters like Rancho (3 Idiots), Nikumb Sir (Taare Zameen Par) and DJ (Rang De Basanti). None of these guys is larger than life. Even Sanjay Sunghanai (Ghajini), for that matter!

But once in a while, it’s good to play the classic mainstream hero so that people get to see me in that shade too. They haven’t in a long time. They got to see me as a hero. In fact, Govinda told me that before this film, he felt I was a character but it is the first time he felt I was a ‘hero’.

He said he liked both my performances but he preferred Sahir because he is the hero in the film. But 90 per cent of people have told me they liked Samar better because they fell in love with Samar. Anil Kapoor said he had not watched me as a classic Hindi film hero before, jo gaane bhi gaata hai, bike ke stunts bhi karta hai, emotional bhi hai. So, to answer your question, a film like Dhoom gave me that chance and addressed a larger audience. It may not have been my core audience but it has helped me reach a different audience.

BOI: Doesn’t it also alienate you from your core audience, which expects something more cerebral from you?

AK: No, when I do a film like Dhoom 3 or a Fanaa, I don’t do it according to any calculation. I do it only because I love the story. My core audience always gets disturbed by these films. Arrey yaar, Fanaa kyun kiya, Rang De… karna chahiye tha, Taare karna chahiye, Dhoom 3 kyun kar raha hai, Ghajini kyun kar raha hai? My hardcore audience doesn’t like these films. But they don’t alienate themselves from us for these films. But if the question is ‘do they like these kind of films?’, I suspect not. But I don’t think that is alienating because they also understand that, as a creative person, I have the need to do different things.

The moment I start choosing roles to please my fans, I will probably start going wrong. I have always worked for myself and what makes me happy. If I don’t, how can I make you happy? My hardcore audience wouldn’t watch a Dhoom in any case. Woh log Dhoom nahi dekhte hain. Iss bahane unhone Dhoom series ki ek film bhi dekh li. Toh apni audience aur badi ho gayi. Jo apni regular audience hai Dhoom ki woh toh aa hi gayi aur bhi log aa gaye.

BOI: Creatively, how satisfying are these commercial, larger-than-life roles for you?

AK: Each film has its own appeal for me. What is satisfying is whether I am able to do what I set out to do. Suppose I did Dhoom and you saw the film and said, ‘Yaar, mazaa nahi aaya.’ Or if Victor and I didn’t see eye to eye and I cringed every time I had to do something… There have been instances when I have been unhappy doing a film.

Ultimately, I have followed what the director has asked me to do but I have been unhappy. So, those experiences are not satisfying.

For example, even if I were doing a Dhobi Ghaat or a 3 Idiots, which is very much my genre, or even a Taare Zameen Par, or Rang De Basanti, but Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra or Raju Hirani wanted me to do stuff I was not happy with, and our sensibilities didn’t match, I would still be unhappy even if I was doing a genre that was my kind. So genre does not decide my level of satisfaction. It is the experience of working with a director who actually gets me to do better, and contributes to my growth as an actor.

BOI: Going back to Dhoom 3… Whose idea was it to come up with the phrase, ‘No Friday, No Holiday, It’s Dhoom day’.

AK: Adi (Aditya Chopra). Essentially, Adi and I had discussed the release date. We were releasing during the Christmas season, and the question was should we release on the 25th or 20th. Do we want a big holiday or do we want to start on a Friday? Adi said he was not interested in a big first day but in the total collections. I agreed because none of us had anything to prove. We didn’t need to prove the biggest first day. So we did what was right for the film, which is released on a normal Friday.

Next, Adi and I wanted to see how we could turn that into a holiday. And that is what we tried and ultimately we took a Rs 36.2 crore opening, which was fantastic for a first day. I was shocked because I had never expected to get such a big number on a regular Friday. The highest till then for a regular Friday was ` 19 crore. So 19 ka hum log chalo 25 kar lenge I had thought. How can one go beyond 25? But when it went to 36, I was shocked.

BOI: Your marketing strategies are known all over the country. Was Dhoom 3 easier as it was already a popular franchise?

AK: I think every film has its own challenge. You are absolutely right, Dhoom was an easier film to deal with because it doesn’t take a lot to market it. But the realisation that you should not do much is very important because the tendency is always to do more. So we could easily have gone overboard and then felt we did not achieve what we set out to achieve. I am glad that Adi, me and the team had the sense to hold back and realise that less is more.

Adi and I were on one side, and the rest of the marketing team was on the other side. They were, like, ‘Aap kahin nahi jaa rahe ho, freeplay mein gaane nahi de rahe ho, reality shows nahi kar rahe ho, interviews bhi normally karte ho par kar nahi rahe ho.’ But Adi and I were clear that this was the correct route to take. According to me, that actually contributed to building anticipation. Since people are used to a barrage of teasers on various platforms and then don’t see a lot of teasers for Dhoom: 3, the anticipation builds.

Finally, on December 20, we raised the curtain. But you need to exercise patience and not let the pressure get to you. Ten days before the release, people tell you, ‘Aap toh kahin hai hi nahi, kisi ko pata hi nahi aapki film lag rahi hai.’ But you have to be patient and have faith. It’s a matter of having confidence in yourself and the audience. Had we opened at a number like 19 or 20, we would have been proved wrong, from the marketing point of view.

BOI: While on the subject of marketing, do you think we are into this zero-sum game, where one is taking more hoardings than the other one, without getting into the effectiveness of it all?

AK: I do believe that, as an industry, we don’t have a scientific approach to marketing. All of us tend to believe that quantity is the solution to everything. That is not how marketing operates. I can inform you, but marketing is not about information. Marketing is about creating a desire to consume. So I may inform you that my film is releasing on the 20th but I may fail to create that desire. You may be aware that Dhoom is releasing on the 20th but you will be equally clear that you don’t want to see it. Creating awareness is not an end game in marketing; creating desire is.

BOI: And what is your take on marketing costs, which have shot up?

AK: I am not aware of numbers and costs, really, because I am creatively inclined. But it’s common sense. If I spend a whole lot and do not get sufficient returns, what’s the point doing that spend on marketing? A marketing spend should only help when it actually exponentially helps you get returns. If I spend ` 20 crore and get ` 20 crore back, I need not have made the film. Film release nahi bhi karte toh zero pe rehte. Agar main ` 20 crore spend kar raha hoon, I should get back ` 200 crore!

BOI: In terms of the films made under Aamir Khan Productions, will we eversee a film like Dhoom come from your banner?

AK: Yes, why not? It depends on what excites us as a producer creatively. So if we get a script for a big action film, I will be happy to produce it. My choices as an actor and as a producer are interchangeable. So films I pick up as an actor are also films I would pick as a producer.

BOI: What’s happening under Aamir Khan Productions?

AK: Right now, I am working on SMJ 2 (Satyamev Jayate). And there are things in development which are at a very early stage.

BOI: Are you planning to direct?

AK: Not right now. I have to act for the next few years.

BOI: Are there any plans to scale up AK Productions?

AK: Scale is not one of my strengths. I cannot do 10 things at the same time. Can I do that Yes, but I don’t want to. I am not into scale but enjoying what I do.

BOI: What makes Aamir Khan say yes or no to a script?

AK: When I decide to do a film, it’s usually a very instinctive decision. And often my instinct tells me that I should be doing this and everybody around me tells me ‘don’t’. Very rarely do I pick a film that everyone else is happy about. When I signed Dhoom: 3, everyone was happy I was doing it. But that happens very rarely. Usually, when I choose a film, people say. ‘Arrey yaar, yeh kyun kar raha hai?’ Whether it’s Lagaan, RDB (Rang De Basanti), DCH (Dil Chahta Hai), even with Ghajini I got that response. Everyone asked me why I was doing a Tamil remake… even TZP (Taare Zameen Par). But I went with my gut.

BOI: For the character or the story?

AK: It didn’t make practical sense to do a film like Lagaan back then. Things are very different today.

BOI: Initially, you had turned down the film.

AK: I loved the script but, practically, it made no sense. I told Ashu (Ashutosh Gowariker) you can’t get the money back as it’s going to cost you ` 25 crore. And it’s a film that was so unusual for me and was therefore a big risk. But if you look at my career over the last few years, you will notice that I have not picked films which are necessarily safe, correct or ‘good’ projects. So obviously, I am not thinking with my head. I choose films that are unusual yet mainstream. TZP is not a mainstream film, but when it does the business that it does, you realise it’s a mainstream film. Of course, that’s in hindsight.

BOI: How do you manage to take these risky subjects and make them mainstream?

AK: (Smiles) I just love them, so I do them. The only thing I take care of from the practical side is that when I want to do a film, I want to do it. Take Talaash, for instance. A script like Talaash comes to me, I love it, I want to do it. Even I know it’s not a ` 100-crore film. On the face of it, I’d say 65-70 crore. Does that dissuade me from doing it? No! If I was the kind to only think numbers, I would not do it. Main kyun karoon yeh film? Ab main 100-crore club mein aa gaya hoon. Main kyun karoon yeh film? 200-crore ke club mein baitha hoon main kyun karoon? Tab tak toh koi 200 mein tha bhi nahi. But that is not going backwards for me, if I think of numbers I will not think of TZP. I cannot plan that yeh 80 crore ka dhanda karne wali hai.

I have to think TZP will do ` 15 crore, and I am happily doing a ` 15-crore film. So when I do a film like Talaash, I know it will make ` 60-70 crore. But emotionally I am very attached to the story because it’s about coming to terms with loss. I can’t remember one story in India which deals with the sense of loss. And the only thing that is sure in life is that people are going to die. I think it’s a beautiful subject. And I don’t only mean loss through death. Is it a mainstream Dhoom: 3 film? Of course not. Does it have a niche audience? Of course it does. And do I want to do it? Of course I do!

These are not calculations but decisions of the heart. What I do is acchha iska 60-70 ka range hai, hum iska budget aisa karenge ki kisi ko loss nahi hoga. So I will try and make it in that fashion that I structure the deal in such a way that no one loses money and if it makes a surplus, I take the up end. So when we do business of ` 95 crore net, it’s super. Main toh 70 soch raha tha, yeh to 95 kar gayi. Aur overseas se 46 kiya usne.

BOI: Do you think there is a strange obsession with numbers these days even beyond the trade?

AK: Strange nahi hai, I think numbers are an easy yardstick to understand success. And people are obsessed with success and failure. You are obsessed with success and failure of other people too. Arrey yaar, zero pe out ho gaya! It’s coffee-table conversation. How do you explain success in a creative field? It’s a very nebulous thing. So, earlier, it was just the trade and within the trade it was just the business community which was obsessed. Over the years, actors got involved in it. We used to hear that Jeetuji was very good at numbers. CP, CI ke uss theatre mein itne paise kamaya film ne. Jeetuji ko bahut jaankari hai, slowly actors got involved. I imagine that what happened thereafter was this desire within the stars to prove that each one was bigger than the others. And one did this with numbers.

Then the media got involved and the entertainment media became obsessed with numbers. As a result, people too are obsessed with numbers.

The next step is to fudge numbers. Ab hum satyug mein toh hai nahi, so obviously aap numbers ko importance doge, toh numbers ki fudging bhi hogi. It’s natural human behaviour to do that. If numbers were all that important to me, I wouldn’t do a Talaash or a TZP. My motto is that mujhe koi mat bolo ki kya karna hai. Aapka paisa loss nahi karaoonga. That’s my responsibility. Baaki mujhe numbers mein interest nahi. If I were to be interested in numbers, it would be the death of me as a creative person.

BOI: Do you feel you haven’t done a comedy or a rom com in a long time?

AK: I sometimes get that thought. I may want to do a comedy but something else comes my way which is not a comedy but is equally exciting. I don’t have rules. For example, when I was doing a Mangal Pandey, it was a serious drama and the next script I heard was RDB. And I told Mehra, ki maine abhi drama kiya hai. Mujhe wapas drama nahi karna hai. Mangal Pandey was also historical and RDB had Azad, Bhagat Singh. I wanted to do some other film in between so that the audience got a break. I told him to wait because I wanted to do a comedy but I didn’t get a film like that. Ultimately, my excitement tha ki chalo yaar nahi mili par yeh karte hain. So the desire may be there but it doesn’t work that way. And I don’t get scripts written for me.

The inception of a film can’t come from a star wanting to do a particular role. The inception has to be done by a writer who feels for a story and evolves it. The story has to be something that each one of us gets excited about and makes us want to join in. That is the organic way of doing a film. An inorganic way is, ‘Let’s make a double-hero film, and uske liye hum kahani dhoondte hain.’ That’s a ‘project’ and that doesn’t suit me.

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