When he debuted onscreen with Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak in 1988, Aamir Khan was the quintessential mainstream candy treat. The kind that has a dream launch and whose job is to make the nation’s women swoon. Which he did. And at that time, I remember we gushed over him in school, never imagining that the potential for making a film like Taare Zameen Par lay simmering within the frail-bodied, floppy haired hero who wore a red sweater and rolled down a hill singing Pehla nasha.
But that he vied to be in control was becoming apparent from complaining directors who were upset that they had to, apart from narrating the entire script to the actor, deal with his various “suggestions” while shooting. As a little girl, with my star-struck cousin from out-of —town in tow, we parked ourselves on the periphery of a shoot happening for Ishq. As usual, the traffic came to a stop and all passers-by, unflinchingly curious, kept asking the harassed and very busy spot boys–kiski picture hai bhai; actors kaun hai; koi star var hai?
We spotted Juhi Chawla and Aamir. Juhi, in a short frilly skirt and curly hair, was talking on the phone and giggling. As per her effervescent screen image, we were not disappointed. We were very happy to let our eyes follow her, like a dozen others, as she walked playfully from one end of the set to the other. We were not particularly interested in Aamir. With a crowd gathered around him, I remember him seated on a chair, with one leg authoritatively wrapped over the other, discussing something with the director that to our child eyes looked important and ‘undisturbable’.
A man right behind him, separated only by a thin wire meant to control unruly crowds, nodded every now and then giving his approval as Aamir spoke. Every now and then, the actor scanned the unmoving crowd of eyes that were watching him, and having done some mental maths, would return to the talk. He didn’t mind the onlookers listening in to every word, calmly soaking in the attention, looking only outwardly indifferent.