Despite being born into a Bollywood family, Imran Khan hadn’t planned on becoming an actor.
Story by Aparita Bhandari
“When I was 17 or 18, in high school in Sunnyvale, California, I was trying to figure out what to do in life,” he says. “My family would have preferred that I do something else than films, anything else really.
“And I did make an honest effort. I sat for my SAT’s, even went to night school. But it was just something I couldn’t get away from. I was making shorts on the weekend.
“One day I just sat my mom down and told her – it ain’t sticking. When she saw how serious I was, she told me to go for it. And so I applied to film school.”
He’d been captivated by the stories his grandfather, noted producer-director Nasir Hussain, told him.
“My grandfather was retired by the time I knew him, and every evening he would sit down and tell me these grand stories,” says Khan. “I loved it. I can still remember I had a very emotional reaction to those stories.
“Even today, it’s the same thing when I watch a movie. I cheer, I clap, I weep openly.”
Even though his uncle Aamir Khan is a Bollywood icon, he never thought he’d become an actor, says Khan in a telephone interview from New York. He was in the United States to promote his latest movie Gori Tere Pyaar Mein, a romantic comedy co-starring Kareena Kapoor, which opens November 22 in theatres across North America. In the film, Khan plays Sriram Venkat, an architect by training who doesn’t care for anyone but himself, while Kapoor is a ‘bleeding heart’ social activist, intent on changing the world.
Imran Khan studied writing, directing and cinematography at New York Film Academy’s Los Angeles campus, and worked as a camera operator on a TV show. He stumbled into acting while looking for work as an assistant director in Mumbai. He ran into writer-director Abbas Tyrewala, who was looking for a fresh face for his movie Na Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na (2008).
“And five years later, here I am,” quips Khan.
Over those last five years, Khan has taken on a range of projects, from fluffy romances such as I Hate Love Stories (2010) and Mere Brother Ki Dulhan (2011) to edgier satires like Delhi Belly (2011) and Matru Ki Bijli Ka Mandola (2013). Unlike his contemporary Abhay Deol, who chooses not to work in mainstream Bollywood movies on principle, Khan believes in balance. Movies such as Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu (2012) give him box-office clout to be able to take on a film like Delhi Belly, he says. Besides, it’s exciting to be a part of Bollywood’s current renaissance.
“I’m a third generation Bollywood actor, and ever since my childhood there has been this stigma attached with Bollywood movies,” says Khan. “People looking down on them. And I’ve always found that offensive. It’s hard work.”
Each movie presents a challenge and a learning experience, he adds. In Matru Ki Bijli Ka Mandola, for instance, he had to learn how to act like a Haryana lout, mastering the Haryanvi language and other subtleties of the Haryanvi swagger.
There was “zero prep involved” for his role in Gori Tere Pyaar Mein, but the film was a struggle for him, he says.
Describing the film as a light, urbane comedy, Khan acknowledges it fits into his skill set that’s his bread and butter.
“Romantic comedies are not heavy on story,” he says. “You have a pretty good idea of how things will turn out. The lead actors are fun, charismatic and charming. You know there will be a happy ending. This is where the elusive movie star charm comes in.”
However, for his turn playing Sriram Venkat, Khan had to step a little outside his comfort zone.
“I am more reserved personally, and … I don’t do effervescence,” he laughs. “My character required this constant high level of energy. It’s hard to do that without coming across as hammy or stiff.”
Moreover, Khan wasn’t on board with the screenplay in the early drafts of the Gori Tere Pyaar Mein.
“The first half rom-com was fine, but in the second half Kareena and I are building this bridge. I just couldn’t understand what’s with the bridge,” says Khan.
Four drafts and many revisions later, the simple love story of two “very opposite people” falling in love and metaphorically building a bridge got to him.
“That’s what true love stories are all about. About people finding common ground. You know, compromise is not a dirty word.
“I hope that people have fun with this movie. It’s very straight up in in its intention. It wants to make you laugh and enjoy the songs.”
Story By: Aparita Bhandari | Photographs: Dharma Productions and Filmfare