Just a few days prior to the November 26 release of Break Ke Baad, Imran Khan sat down for a press conference at Reliance Big Pictures Manhattan offices, together with BKB’s Associate Producer, Vicky Bahri. Imran took great care to repeat each person’s name after they introduced themselves before asking their questions.
He was refreshingly frank about the roles he gets offered (as a baby-faced 27-year-old), his working relationship with his famous uncle (Aamir Khan) and his thoughts on possible Hollywood roles. For the amount of media attention he receives, he’s remarkably unaffected.
Q: How did you get on board for this film?
IK: I initially turned it down after I read the script. I was halfway through I Hate Luv Storys when Danish (the director) came back with a new script. This character has a lot in common with my character from Jaane Tu “¦ Ya Jaane Na, he’s a grown-up version.
Q: What draws you to do a film?
IK: Three things bring me to a film: the script, the director and a producer who’ll support the director, not interfere and also who won’t forget the project.
Q: What was it like working with Deepika?
IK: I didn’t really know her before, but since she’s become a close friend. She cares very deeply about her work. She always wants to do better in each film. It pushes you to try harder and it makes you look better on screen.
Q: (to Vicky Bahri): How is it co-producing with Kunal (Kohli)?
We all have directorial backgrounds and we look at film from that perspective, so we can help the director because we know where he’s coming from. And these guys worked really hard. We had a grinding schedule in Mauritius, with 4am/5am wake-up calls.
Q: Why are you here in NY and NJ to promote this film?
IK: For me, it’s the first time coming to the US to promote my film. The fact is, Hindi films have a much wider market than people realize and I’m not just talking about Indians who live outside of India. Our reach is growing year by year and there’s more and more people, who are not Indian, watching our films. Traditionally the US has always been a powerful source of revenue. The thing is the market is scattered, with Indians all across the country. This is a small step forward. We’re trying. We’re starting to do more.
I was reading that Bollywood films sell more tickets than Hollywood films, something like three times more, it’s just that Hollywood films have a higher ticket price. That’s a huge market we need to cultivate.
Vicky: It’s out of respect for the American audience because we really think it’s a big market for us and we want it to keep growing so we try to reach out to them. Interact as closely as possible with the fans and just hope that the US market increases.
Q: What other genres would you like to do?
IK: My next film, Delhi Belly, is a kind of heist caper comedy. I’m 27 but most people think I look a lot younger, so there are a lot of limitations. Out of 10 scripts I get, eight will be romcoms. Anyone out there listening, please”¦.
Q: What are your expectations for this film?
IK: None. Somehow weird things happen on Fridays. Jaane Tu… took a huge opening and really surprised us.
Q: You do a lot of youth-oriented films. What message does this one have?
IK: There isn’t one. We make movies to entertain people. If by chance you can given them something more, that’s a bonus.
Q: Would you consider Hollywood scripts?
IK: Without causing offense to anyone, there isn’t really scope for an Indian actor to do much in Hollywood. We’re still relegated to supporting roles, side roles and stereotypical characters. I’m in a position right now where I’m getting to do very good work in India. I’m a respected actor, I get a lot of money, I get good projects. I would never want to be a supporting actor here.
Q: In I Hate Luv Storys, there’s a lot of joking about the songs, and dancing required of actors in Hindi movies; how is it for you to do that?
IK: The thing is, I joke about it because I’m not very good at it. I have to work hard at it, but it inherent to our movies, our culture, it’s part of our cinematic language; that’s what we do. You can’t do something half-heartedly, you’re not gonna sell it. Either you believe in it and you go all the way, or don’t do it at all. It took me a little bit of time to break those barriers and start to get comfortable with it. I think IHLS was a major step in that direction and now I’ve reached a point where I’m at ease with it; I can enjoy it.
Vicky: We don’t have any songs where the actors are singing in this film. We actually composed another song and shot a video specially for a promotion at the end of the film.
Q: You said you like to do comedy most, but what about dark roles?
IK: Kidnap took a year to film, I put a lot into it, I put a lot on hold and it didn’t do well. I didn’t enjoy being in that guy’s mindspace. It’s challenging, it takes a lot out of you.
Q: We’ve seen a great shift to corporate companies like Reliance producing/distributing films. What do you think of this shift?
Vicky: I think it’s only an advantage. Before you had the worry about where the money was coming from. Now we partner with them, they have distribution channels, and the money’s in place.
IK: It really is a good time for Indian films.
Q: How’s the wedding preparations going?
IK: I get email updates once a week. Seriously.
Q: For the audience, you’re a role model”¦
IK: I don’t feel it’s my responsibility as an actor to provide a role model. You play the character, that’s something creative. In real life I try to do good things.
Q: Did this movie affect your life at all?
IK: Not really, no. With me when I’m doing a film, I try to live a little bit like the character. I change the music I listen to, the way I dress.
Q: What music did you listen to during this film?
IK: I was listening to a lot of Beatles. The Beatles wrote a lot of love songs; sweet, uncomplicated love songs.
Q: You did some child roles, but then you were a private citizen for many years, and then you became famous with Jaane Tu. I’m sure you had an idea from your uncle of what being famous was like, but can you talk about one thing that surprised you after you became famous?
IK: The funny thing is I always had a sense that my uncle was famous, but it’s not a thing he carried home with him. To this day, he doesn’t. He’s a very quiet, unassuming person. So I didn’t really have a sense of what that world was like, and I was not part of that world. I went to boarding school in south India, I went to high school here in the States, I wasn’t exposed to it. So when Jaane Tu… was released and became this big thing, all of it took me by surprise. It’s been two and a half years since and it’s only in the about the last three or four months that I’ve come to terms with it. It’s taken me two years to start to understand it. It still takes me by surprise when people recognize me and I wonder “How do they know my name?”
Q: Are you surprised by how interested people are in your wedding?
IK: No, I knew it would be like this.
Q: Do you have any plans to work with Ranbir?
IK: We’ve always talked about working together and we’ve got offers, but honestly we haven’t gotten anything good. We hosted Filmfare and that set a certain standard.
Q: So why are you getting married in a courthouse?
IK: We’re not exactly getting married in a courthouse. It’s called a court marriage, which is a legal registry of marriage. I didn’t want to get into a religious thing because my family is Muslim and Avantika’s family is Hindu.
Q: Has there been any talk of you acting with Aamir?
IK: It’s in the cards. We’re trying to find something good.
Q: Was there ever any talk of you doing the role that Prateik did in Dhobi Ghat?
IK: No, it never came up, it was never offered to me. This is how we function in our family: if you’re not right for it, you’re not gonna get it. You know, I had to screen test for Jaane Tu…. I signed the film initially with another producer, it was not with Aamir. That producer then had some financial difficulties, so Abbas (the director) and I went off in search of a producer. We pitched the idea to Aamir, he liked it, he read the script, he screen tested me to be sure I’d be alright. I had to screen test six times before I got Delhi Belly. I got rejected five times, that’s how we are.
Q: Why were you getting rejected five times?
IK: Different directors came and went. One director wanted to use a much older cast, people in their 30s.