What the Camera Saw

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I asked him for some time, one on one. And explained my contact sheet idea. He wasn’t open to it.

It had been a long wait. Finally, an interview had been scheduled with Aamir Khan, a.k.a. AK. In Bangalore. No guarantees of a photo-shoot, but I thought I’d tag along anyway. Who in his right mind would shoo off a fotog who’d come all the way from Bombay.

Before AK arrived, I did some test images by the fish tank. I had this clichéd idea of doing a passport-photo-style contact sheet, the-many-moods-of-AK kind of thing.

When he was about to step into the 3-star hotel, there was a regular teeka-varmala reception ready for him. I waited for him to walk through, but they hustled me off with “Don’t you know he’s a shy fellow.” Yeah, right! That’s why he romances chicks half his age on screen in front of a million viewers? I went up to the first floor and papped him anyway. Lousy shots, but I had a point to prove.

We were called in to his room on the eighth floor, room 801 (no bell, no room number on it.) The Bianco marble flooring made my shoes squeak and me more conspicuous than I liked. He came and sat on the couch, with his legs up, shoes tied on.

I asked if I could shoot. He said “no problem”. Though he’s quite photogenic, his face looked oddly swollen—maybe he’s trying to gain some for his next role. He said “fuck” while answering a question and immediately corrected with an apology, a rather meek and forgettable replacement for the ‘f’ word.

After an hour or so we paused and I asked him for some time, one on one. And explained my contact sheet idea. He wasn’t open to it. He immediately caught on why I was photographing him when he rubbed his face or scratched his head. Candids only, he said. Will do. People in my fraternity say he’s a really difficult guy to shoot, because he doesn’t cooperate. But I think he was alright. Maybe because he was out of Bombay.

A tuna sandwich was ordered, after some tea. He didn’t like it and asked for some chicken. Moving in an elevator, we reached a room where he spoke to a TV channel. Make-up was on and he saw me through his mirror, he saw me struggle a bit with the angle, I didn’t have any clean shots. Smoothly, he moved the mirror to an angle where I’d get a cleaner shot.

While he spoke Madhavan slept and Sharman was about to doze. I took one frame of that and Madhavan’s make-up man blocked me. Madhavan growled: “Kya bakwaas photo kheechi yaar tune.” I smiled, and hoped he wouldn’t ask me to delete it. He didn’t. I’d have recovered it anyway. Just to piss him off, I shook Sharman’s hand and said: “Yours was the best performance in the film, am a fan.”

He ate his chicken sandwich on a couch on the first floor corridor. Alone, with the modest grub placed on a stool. To me, that’s an unforgettable image. Thanks to the lousy light, it turned out just as grainy as I’d like it to be. He tolerated this invasion for a few frames and then shooed me away. “Let me eat in peace.” Everyone heard it, I screamed back an apology.

We went back to his room again, for a final round of questions and the most wonderful part of any celeb interview. The fag end where it’s all off the record.

Ritesh Uttamchandani