Andaz Apna Apna
I am a product of India’s pre-internet middle class. Everyone I knew in my growing years – neighbors, relatives, friends, colleagues – hailed from a similar background. We were materialistically driven – success, limelight, Mercedes, mansions, branded attire – we wanted it all. We wanted to prove to everybody that we are somebody. And what was the game plan once we had it all? That strategy was alien to us! You see, our exposure to fame, power, or money was confined to the Bollywood screen. What do successful people look forward to? To keep proving more? The question was a black box.
My narration below is a peep inside a black box… a glimpse into the life of someone who is somebody.
One celebrity that I hugely idolized through my youthful years is Aamir Khan. I find his movies meaningful and relatable. All his characters are vastly different, yet he does an equally astonishing job of breathing life into every role. Which makes it intriguing – who is the real Aamir behind the screen?
A few weeks back, Ritu and I were planning to screen Aamir’s latest movie – Lal Singh Chadda – for a small group of friends. One of my buddies, Rajiv, happens to know Aamir well, so he invited him to the screening as well. Unable to attend, Aamir instead offered to host the screening at his Mumbai residence! I was super excited. It would be a treat to meet Aamir, plus it would provide me a peep through the keyhole.
Next, eight of us landed up at Aamir’s residential complex. There was no swanky entrance lobby the way modern complexes have. His apartment was on the second floor. Since the stairs started before the elevators, we climbed up and rang the bell. Aamir opened the door – bare feet, plain red tee, dhoti-pants, large spectacles, stubble, and a big smile. He apologized for not shaking hands as his fingers were muddled (5 pm lunch)! There was no fancy foyer at the entrance. Instead, a round dining table next to the door and regular living room furniture on the side, including a ‘diwan’ in a wall niche.
We sat around the table, engaging in small chitchats as we watched him partake lunch without cutlery. I shared with Aamir my fascination for drawing management lessons from movies, which included three of his characters. He speculated (wrongly) that one of the movies must be Lagaan as it is part of the curriculum in some business schools. A few visitors casually stopped by – Ashutosh Gowariker (Writer/Director, Lagaan-2001) and Satyajit Bhatkal (Director, Satyamev Jayate-2012/14), his ex-wife Kiran Rao, and his daughter Ira. It felt as if he had assembled a small home team to welcome the tourists.
The comfort of close family and old friends… not much revelation there. Most of us follow the same pattern in our lives.
After lunch, Aamir enquired if we would like some entertainment. I looked around; there was no recreation zone that one may expect in a celebrity’s house. Only a foosball next to a window. A pair of teams were quickly assembled; Aamir was my partner. We switched between forward and defense positions during the game, with a few strategies to rattle our opponents. It was a game of mediocrity, and our team won amid electrifying high-fives. Someone started talking about CATAN. It happened to be Aamir’s favorite game. He sneaked into his bedroom and came out in CATAN tees – to show off his prized possession personally signed by the creator of the game.
Child-like excitement in cheap thrills… no different than the mainstream. There was nothing out of line here, either.
His home theatre was a standard room, cozy seating – we kicked off our shoes, folded our legs, and settled comfortably. There were no cutting edge gadgets, instead a projector, reminiscent of the good old style of movie watching. It was a treat to watch the movie with popcorn and the hero’s special half-time appearance. His eyes lit up every time he narrated a tiny story behind a movie scene. I queried his ability to deliver on so many diverse roles. And the star known for his perfectionist approach passed on the entire credit to his cameo face. Amidst banter, Aamir once cut me short and instantly apologized when I told him not to interrupt.
It felt like a weekend evening at a neighbor’s – laidback chatter while watching a movie or an IPL game together.
Later over dinner, we debated the challenges prevalent in rural India, how the rich can do more, and the work of Aamir’s Paani Foundation. We also spoke about his attachment to the Vaswani Mission in Pune, which he frequented when Dada was alive. He narrated a story from days he played competitive tennis. After each win, his mother would proudly hug, feed him a mithai and then make a subtle observation, ‘I wonder how the mother of the boy you defeated must be feeling right now?’ Gradually, he began to realize what his mother was trying to convey—in life, our wins are often at the cost of some unknown person’s defeat, therefore it is very important to have empathy for others.
Social disparities and callings of the soul – one of the favorite discussion topics amongst the educated class.
The evening was drawing to a close, yet I hadn’t received any ignition to illuminate the black box. There had been no gossip on Bollywood rivalries, his boycott of award functions, his recent controversies, personal trauma of marital split, and above all – I was still clueless about what he was looking forward to in life!
Time ran out. I gave one last look at the cozy home he had grown up in and wondered aloud if he ever planned to move into a lavish bungalow or a sprawling farmhouse like many of his peers. Aamir laughed and pointed out to a 12 x 12 piece carpet in his living room, “Arun, watch Minimalists on Netflix – Ideally, the size of this carpet is all the space we need in life. If all our belongings need more than two suitcases to fit in, then perhaps we have too much.”
Once out of Aamir’s house and his aura, I tried putting two and two together. Was there a correlation between his parting statement and what transpired in the preceding five hours? Does his ‘minimalist’ attitude explain why he prefers spending time with close ones rather than with the who’s who? Why does he love foosball games instead of luxurious indulgences? Why does he play host to strangers when he could be partying elsewhere? Why does he converse on social issues instead of tinsel gossip?
On our way back, I asked Rajiv to help me declutter and connect the dots. Rajiv summarized it beautifully with his favorite quote: “There are only two ways: One way is to go out and prove that you are somebody; the second way is to go in and realize that you are nobody.”
Aamir is exploring the second way. His extraordinariness resides in the pursuit of the ordinary. When you have it all, it’s no cakewalk to convince yourself that you are nobody. This treacherous trail requires the skills of a perfectionist. Perhaps it’s this purist quest that has propelled Aamir towards ageless greatness, the one that prompted Newsweek in 2017 to bestow upon him the label of “the biggest movie star in the world!”