When I chose to write a book on Aamir Khan, I always knew it would be controversial. Not simply because he is an actor whose work has impacted Hindi cinema, but because he always seems to evoke two extreme responses – adulation or extreme dislike (on the belief that his work is overrated and his positioning pseudo).
So just as I am grateful for the attention this book has received as the Landmark No 1 Non-fiction Bestseller (For almost two months in a row), a Crossword Non-Fiction Bestseller and its debut amongst Nielsen Bookscan’s top non-fiction bestsellers, I realize that I must accept both the criticism and the praise that this book has received with equal grace and humility.
However, there seem to be a few myths doing the rounds and I would like to respond to them as if I don’t set the facts right about my own book, nobody else will
- “I’ll Do It My Way” is not a biography. It is a filmography – as all the summaries released by the publisher will tell you – and should read/evaluated/reviewed as such. A filmography does not dwell on the man Aamir Khan, it looks at his work. So readers who expect me to examine all the dark rumours around the man will be disappointed. These are not the subject of the book – not because I was too scared to investigate them, but because they were not an area of interest. My passion is cinema – both film-making and the rationale behind it – and that’s what this book is about
- Am I die-hard Aamir fan/admirer? Not really… So I can say that I did not care for some of his recent films like RDB, Ghajini or TZP (and many others too!). But as an objective film researcher, I cannot ignore their impact, especially if it has been very clearly documented.
- So is the book only “in praise” of Aamir Khan. That is not true – unless one is so prejudiced by one’s own views that one is not able to take a balanced perspective. For instance, one of my favourite interviews in the book is with Mahesh Bhatt – simply because it is amongst the most objective voices. Mahesh appreciated Aamir’s sincerity and commitment, but seemed to find Aamir’s search for perfection exhausting – even as Mansoor Khan provides a different take on the same subject (without any knowledge of what Mahesh had said before this). The debate between the two views is interesting. Then, later, for the first time, directors like Dharmesh Darshan, Indra Kumar and even Mansoor talk about certain filming decisions taken in conjunction with Aamir that were mistakes. So we see that while Aamir has made cinematic decisions that have worked well with audiences in the recent years, there have been mistakes as well. Just as there were many poor film choices in the early and middle phases of his career. This book touches on all that too. Infact, this is more than most existing books on Indian actors have done so far.
- A review in Deccan Chronicle insinuates that Amol Gupte was dropped from the list of interviewees because Aamir Khan/his office edited the list of interviewees. That is not true and borders on defamation. Aamir Khan’s office did not suggest that I drop anyone… But they did suggest that I include directors Muragadoss, Rajkumar Hirani and Vidhu Vindod Chopra. As I had begun working on this book much before Ghajini was released, they were not on my original list and it worked well for the book that this was pointed out.
- So why was Amol Gupte not included in my list of interviewees? Only because in MY view he was not a director, producer or principal actor in Taare Zameen Par. My interest was in how the film was made, and there was sufficient documentary coverage from the producers in the public domain that allowed me to analyze this aspect.
- Incidentally, my modus operandi was to try and get every director whose film was being included in the book to give me some commentary on his/her film. If directors like Ashutosh and Farhan are not in the book, it’s because they were busy and could not give me their time. Ditto with Juhi Chawla! In fact, for the record, the person I tried hardest to reach while writing this book was not Aamir, it was Juhi. But her secretary was unable to put us in touch over a period of two years. Incidentally, Juhi did not interview for the only other book that currently exists on Aamir — “Aamir Khan: Actor with a difference” by senior film journalist Lata Khubchandani. On the subject of interviewees, I would also like to point out that none of the directors I spoke to were interviewed for the previous book by Lata as well. In fact, this particular panel of interviewees is unlikely to be put together again. As a documenter of Hindi cinema, I believe that this makes the book significant — both in any study of Aamir’s work or his films.
- Aamir collaborated with the book in some way. No… He did not. This book was an independent research initiative. Aamir’s office was only aware that I was working on it — nothing more. I even paid for all the expenses/travel related to the book on my own, and till the end I believed that I could have to self-publish it. Just because the stance is positive does not mean that it is less independent or researched. Anyone who has read my previous work would know that I am a positive person and I like celebrate the best in people. This book reflects that approach.
- Is the book is a compilation of interviews from film magazines? Hardly! The first information source was live interviews, then came film/video coverage, followed by coverage in the national press and then film magazines. Having said that, I think a researcher is striking a pseudo-intellectualist stand if they believe that film journals are beneath them. Film journals reflect popular culture and can be a rich and extremely interesting source of information as they capture nuances that are sometimes missed by mainstream media. Typically, any quote that I have used in the book is not an isolated statement. It is corroborated by other interviews that he has given over the years.
When it comes to my work on creating the book, I am grateful that I got to write this book from a non-film background as this gave me the freedom to write my book without any prejudices. I started with a clean slate, and if at the end, my conclusion was not ‘negative’ or ‘darkly sinister’ enough to suit either the cynic or the traditional film writer, then so be it.
I also did not have any pre-conceived notions on films like “Dil”, “Raja Hindustani” and “Ghajini”, and responded to them on the basis of both how they were made/how they were received/their impact. It does not matter to me that most people who appreciate “French cinema” better did not find these films appealing enough. In all truth, none of these films appeal to me personally either… But I am ready to look beyond myself and understand that making commercially viable Indian films is also an art that most film critics themselves have never mastered, and these films represent that art and to that extent reflect popular culture.
In fact “I’ll Do It My Way” is a actually a piece of film research, a methodology that I picked up under the Media Studies Department at the London School of Economics. But we also turned that approach on its head to make the book accessible to the lay reader. As I look at the book’s Flipkart journey, I believe that has already happened, and that is this book’s biggest achievement.
Finally, “I’ll Do It My Way” is an Aamir Khan filmography… So this work was begun with the view that Aamir’s work is significant to Indian cinema. The films that were covered in this book were meant to reflect different shades of his work as that was the area of my research. People may have their own views on it, and if this book encourages discussion around Aamir’s craft or even prods someone else to write their own book on the subject, it would have served its purpose.
(This post has also been cross posted on my blog for the book “I’ll Do It My Way”.)