He is known as Mr. Perfectionist for a reason. Actor Aamir Khan won’t do anything half-heartedly. It’s ‘one film at a time’ for him, but that doesn’t mean he puts other projects on the backburner. During his recent visit to the Capital for the recce of his next, Lal Singh Chaddha, the actor told us exclusively about his project Mogul (biopic on the late music baron Gulshan Kumar) that he had quit last year after MeToo accusations surfaced against its director Subhash Kapoor. Excerpts:
A lot is being speculated about the fact that you are back in Mogul. What’s the status on that?
If you remember, last year in October, I had tweeted that I won’t be a part of the film. But now, I have decided that I’ll be a part of it. So, I’m back on it now.
You support MeToo movement, so won’t this indicate otherwise?
Of course I fully support the MeToo movement. And I urge women who have complaints to formally lodge them with their ICC (Internal Complaints Committee), which every organisation must mandatorily have. Every accusation of sexual misconduct must be investigated thoroughly and rigorously by the concerned ICC, and strict action should be taken against people found guilty. Just to clarify, the case of Mr Kapoor was not a case of workplace misconduct, hence could not be investigated by an ICC.
Are you afraid that people will criticise your decision of working with Kapoor? Do you have a strategy to deal with such things?
I don’t have any strategy. I’m just doing what my heart says is right, and what my conscience tells me is right. At that time I felt that was the right step to take, so I took that. Today I feel differently. I’m going with my heart. Perhaps some people will be critical of my decision. But I’ve to live with my own conscience. So, I’ve done what my heart and conscience feels is right.
Did this affect your relations with T-Series and Gulshan Kumar’s son Bhushan Kumar?
I’m sure he was upset. This is a film about his father, a film that he is very emotional about. So, quite naturally, he was disturbed that I am not in the film anymore.
Who’s playing Gulshan Kumar?
I’m playing the role of Gulshanji. As regards the other casting, Subhashji will decide.
When you came onboard Mogul as the co-producer, after Akshay Kumar left, were you also to play the lead?
No. Actually when Bhushan offered the film to me, I told him I don’t see myself as Gulshanji. He was disappointed, but requested me to produce the film for him. He was very keen for me to be involved in some capacity. I had loved the script, so I agreed to produce.
At what point was it decided that you’ll act in it, too?
Once I came on as producer, I said let’s discuss casting. I felt that I’d like to offer the film to Akshay Kumar. I was aware that things hadn’t worked out earlier between Bhushan and Akshay, but I still wanted to offer the film to him. So, I met Akshay and offered him the film. He did reconsider the offer, but things did not work out. Then I offered the film to Varun Dhawan, but he was busy with too many films. The other person I was very keen to cast was Kapil Sharma. I felt he’d pull off the character very well. But that didn’t work out either. Then Bhushan said, ‘You’ve done your best, aap puri duniya ghoom kar aa gaye ho, lekin mere father ka role karna aap hi ko hai. It’s written that you’ll be doing the film’. And the fact is that I love the script, and it’s a great role, so I said yes.
When does Mogul go on floors?
Well, right now I am fully into Laal Singh Chaddha. So, Mogul would be some time after that.
You made a very strong statement on Twitter when you quit the film. Why have you changed your mind?
Well, Kiran (Rao; wife) and I were producing Mogul and I was acting in it. When we were doing the film, we didn’t know there was a case against Subhash Kapoor. I believe it’s a five-year-old case. We’re not too much in the media space, so I guess it slipped our attention. Last year, during the MeToo movement, mention of this case came up. That’s when we got to know about it, and we were most disturbed. Kiran and I spoke about it at length. We were in a big dilemma for more than a week. Mr Kapoor was denying the charge. This was not a case where there was a complaint about misconduct in the workplace. Had it been such a case, it would have gone to the ICC, and they would have ruled on the case in a stipulated amount of time. However, this matter was in a court of law. ICC would have ruled within 3-6 months. Courts of law are known to take longer. Kiran and I have zero tolerance for any sexual misconduct. But without an ICC ruling, or a court ruling, how are we to decide whether the accused person is guilty or not. We’re in no position to do that. Who are we to believe? The person making the accusation? Or the person who has been accused? And how long will the case go on? How long are we to wait to decide? So, we reached the conclusion that, in this disturbed state of mind, and with so much discomfort, we’ll not be able to do the film. It was more of a personal decision, a decision we took for ourselves to distance ourselves from the film. So, without casting aspersions on anyone involved in the case, we stepped away from the film.
Subsequently, Mr Kapoor was removed from the film. T-Series terminated his contract. Then we heard that he was also dropped from some other projects which were in development stage.
Subsequently, we heard that whatever steps he was taking to put together a film didn’t go through, because nobody wanted to work with him. That really troubled us because we felt that our action had inadvertently cost a person — who is yet to be tried in a court of law — to lose his livelihood. And for how long? Is it for one year? Or ten years? We don’t know. What if he is innocent. We were very troubled. Laws of natural justice consider a person innocent until he/she is proven guilty. But until such time that the courts reach a conclusion, is it that he/she should not be allowed to work? Is he to just sit at home and not earn?
And so, we were in this troubled state for many months. I couldn’t sleep at night because I used to constantly feel that my actions have inadvertently caused a person, about whose guilt I have absolutely no idea, to lose his right to work and earn a livelihood.
Earlier this year in the month of May, that’s about four months back, I got a letter from IFTDA (Indian Film & Television Directors’ Association). I think Mr Kapoor in his efforts to get work had written to his association, IFTDA. So, they sent me a letter saying that his matter was subjudice, and that I should wait for the courts to decide on his matter. And until such time he shouldn’t lose his right to earn a living. ‘In all fairness he has not been proven guilty. So, please don’t do something that’ll destroy him. He’s a member of our association. You’re a member of our association. And it’s very unfortunate that he’s not getting work. What is he going to do?’ They appealed to me to reconsider my decision. When I read that letter, I felt even more guilty. Perhaps we’re doing the wrong thing.
And then we decided to do one more thing to allay our discomfort. We decided to meet a lot of women who had worked with Mr Kapoor. This was to just get an idea and verify it for ourselves, that are other women also uncomfortable with him? Has any other woman had any experience that was uncomfortable? If so, then that would make us certain that we don’t want to go into it. So we started that exercise. We met or spoke with around 10-12 women who had worked with him. Heads of Department, assistant directors, costume assistants, etc.
What we found is that, without exception, all of them spoke very highly of him. Not only did they not feel any discomfort with him, but rather they went out of their way to praise him. They said that he looked after everyone on his set with great care. Caring, sensitive and supportive were the words used to describe him. Mind you, both Kiran and I are fully aware that these particular women may have had a very good experience working with Mr Kapoor, but that does not mean that he could not have misbehaved with some other woman. However, I cannot deny that this interaction with women who had worked with him, did give us comfort.
And so, taking everything into account, I wrote back to IFTDA saying I have reconsidered my decision, and that I would come back on to the film.