It was the toughest choice any film writer could make.
In 2000, I was offered the opportunity to write the biographies of any two film stars. The six names suggested to me were Dilip Kumar, Dev Anand, Raj Kapoor, Shah Rukh Khan, Aamir Khan and Salman Khan. I chose Aamir Khan and Raj Kapoor.
I've often been asked why I chose Aamir over Shah Rukh and Salman. Possibly because I've interviewed Aamir more often than I have interviewed the other two and shared more with him. I also felt in my bones that I understood him better than I did the other Khans.
Having interacted with Aamir for 15 years, my first impression of him has only been reinforced. And we've had our moments. The very first time I met him was during the shooting of Baazi, which was being directed by Ashutosh Gowarikar, who happens to be a student of mine. The meeting venue was the Mumbai airport where Aamir had an all-night shoot.
As soon as I entered, Aamir wanted to know if Ashutosh–who looked very embarrassed to see me–had come to wish me. From that day onwards, for some reason, I consider Aamir, too, as a student. Over the years, he has done nothing to shatter that idea.
The kind of courtesy he has accorded me is touching in the extreme. That's why when Rupa Publications (Delhi) asked me to write biographies, I chose Aamir, even ahead of Raj Kapoor. The book Aamir Khan: Actor With a Difference has been out for a while now.
At that first meeting at the airport during the filming of Baazi, we chatted in between shots. Around 2 a.m., a flight came in. A group of passengers recognised Aamir and made a beeline for him. After he signed autographs, we sat down to resume our conversation when a tiny Japanese man very courteously bowed to us and came over to sit next to me. He asked me in the softest of voices who my companion was. "Very big Indian star," I said with great amusement.
The man stood up and gave both Aamir and me a visiting card each. He asked for Aamir's autograph for his daughter who "loved all film stars".
Aamir obliged. As the man left with many bows, both of us glanced simultaneously at our cards. It read: Chairman, Sony Japan. We looked at each other, awe writ large on our faces, and burst out laughing.
Then there was this meeting post Lagaan when I got to spend a day with the star. We left early in the morning for a press conference at the Taj hotel, Mumbai. We conversed in his car and on reaching the Taj, Aamir told me he'd have to leave me for a short while, but would pick me up later.
That particular day, for the first time in my journalistic career, I was proud to be an actor's companion. Every single person was trying to get Aamir's attention, but he made way to lead me to the suite reserved for him. Only after he made sure I was comfortable did he move on to his day's business.
When I made my way to the Lagaan press conference some time later, I noticed he had disappeared all of a sudden. I went to the lobby to look for him. Five minutes later, I saw a funny sight. Ten members of the Lagaan> cricket team were frantically scouring the hotel, asking every woman around if she were me! I overheard them and introduced myself.
"Ma'am, Aamir had to go and greet the Governor suddenly, and he has asked us to find you and bring you to him!" said one. Each one of them insisted I sit in his car. Finally, all of them piled into one car along with me.
It was a long day and I noticed that Aamir hadn't eaten anything. Towards evening, we were at the Famous Recording Studio and he looked very tired. A huge crowd had gathered to see him and the security guards were worried about how he'd venture out. Finally, his car was brought to the door and a group of security officers threw a cordon around him so that he could step into the car and make his way out
He seated me first and was just about to climb in when his glance fell on the thousands of people on the road. Little children were peeping through the gate, trying to get a glimpse of him. What followed was spontaneous. Aamir split the cordon and walked up to the frighteningly huge crowd. He stood there for a while to smile and wave at his fans - all alone. The security guards watched helplessly, not knowing what to do.
Another day, another episode. We were at the music release of Rangeela. I had only met Aamir a couple of times before. It was like being at a circus–the crowd was completely chaotic and we couldn't see what was going on. Everybody who was anybody in the industry was present at the function–from Amitabh Bachchan downwards. Rather than miss the proceedings, I stood up to get a better view of the stage.
Suddenly, Aamir spotted me in the crowd, got up from the stage and shooed away the TV cameras. He came up to me, held my hand and said with concern: "Why are YOU standing?"
I grinned and said I wanted to see what was happening. "No!" he said. "I don't want you to stand there," and promptly led me away to make sure I was seated comfortably.
Another day, I had to meet somebody at Mehboob Studio. As I entered the lawns, I found a BBC crew interviewing Aamir. I took care not to go near them, but stood a little distance away, waiting for my interviewee to finish a shot. Suddenly, a chair materialised before me and a boy said: "Aamir has sent it."
My admiration for him has also grown because I've often had occasion to tell Aamir off if he gave me the run-around when I needed to talk to him urgently. But despite being ticked off, Aamir has never ceased to be a gentleman.
Once after trying to talk to him on the phone without any success, I ran into him at a party and immediately started berating him for being so elusive. Again, a lot of people from the industry were present. But he took my outburst in his stride and promised to call me the next morning.
He did, and the first question he asked me was: "Tell me, why did you shout at me so much yesterday?" By then, I was remorseful and asked: "Did you mind?" He laughed uproariously and said he didn't.
As an actor, I find Aamir very conscientious and as a star, very charming and courteous.
Never in all these years have I seen him throw any starry tantrum. Instead, he tries to be "normal" with a vengeance. That doesn't take away his star charisma, though.
His charm comes through in the most unexpected moments. Like the time he invited me to see his newly decorated house. Or when his daughter Aira was born. Or the night he gave me a lift and invited me home at 11 p.m.–I hesitated, but he insisted. Or when he placed his two-month-old sleeping daughter in my arms.
I'm certain my quick book does little justice to him, but it was a pleasure researching his life. The title Padmashri sits oddly on someone relatively young, yet it seems to suit him in a tongue-in-cheek fashion. There is more substance to him than there is to his peers, though he can be naughty, too, in a childlike fashion.
A human being first and only then a star–that is Aamir Khan for me.
Lata Khubchandani is the author of Aamir Khan: Actor with a Difference and Raj Kapoor: The Greatest Showman.