How does the year feel to you?
Life is exhausting, but very good. Till recently, I thought films and film personalities were hardly eligible for national honors. I'm happy cinema is being taken seriously and finally being considered an art form. Earlier, painters and dancers, and not film actors, were considered good enough for national honors. They do a fine job, so do we. But just because we actors get more popularity it shouldn't preclude us from government-endorsed awards.
I hope film actors and actresses get more national awards. It feels very nice. I'm very proud of it. I never thought I'd get a Padma Shri. It makes me feel what I've been doing is worth something. Insha Allah, I hope I can get higher national awards in the years to come.
Your Padma Shri coincided with a whole truckload of popular awards this year.
This year it felt even nicer because I got various popular awards for different performances. I think it's more appropriate if an actor is awarded for his entire body of work during a year rather than just one performance. I felt good getting awards this year for "Veer-Zaara", "Main Hoon Na" and "Swades". I think all the films that I've done this year have contributed in equal measure to make me what I was during the year. In fact, I thanked the directors of all three films during every awards function. I love getting awards, even though some people think I get too many awards and that they've lost their relevance in my career.
"Swades" was exceptional because it's very far removed from your other films. Did its box office failure disappoint you?
No! I always say it's not the manzil but the journey that matters. I often don't watch my completed film. I enjoy the process of acting in them. I push it promote it, participate in the projection... and then I move on. Then I don't make any inquiries about the box office performance. It isn't that I'm detached from the end-result, because I hope for the sake of the people behind my films that they do well. I enjoy doing all my film regardless of how it finally performs.
As for "Swades", I told the director Ashutosh Gowariker that it won't work commercially. The film was nobly intended... Even "Main Hoon Na" had a noble thought (India-Pakistan amity) behind it. There're ways and ways of putting a message across.
Did the role of the conscientious Indian in "Swades" change you as a person?
But I think like my character in "Swades". Unfortunately I'm not in a position to change the way our society functions. My efforts to bring social awareness should not be restricted to short films on cancer, polio and AIDS. I think cinema is a very important medium of putting social messages across. My last film "Paheli" was again an entertainer with a social message. It talked about women's emancipation. But it wasn't a bra-burning propaganda film. I think films like "Black" and "My Brother...Nikhil" serve a great social purpose. But I want the message in my film to be more fun-oriented. That's where I come from.
I started with street theatre. And we used to put across ideas on family planning or dowry with a lot of enjoyment. I love nautanki, folk theatre, cartoons and puppetry. These are vibrant forms of artistic expression. I love to express myself through basic art forms.
Well, you've flippantly referred to yourself as a 'bhand' in the past?
I see nothing wrong with that word. The bhand performs a beautiful art-form. Unfortunately, we tend to think of it as cheap or derogatory. They were the first genuine actors of our country, though I suspect Parsi theatre was older.
Would you be tempted to return to 'safe' films because "Swades" hasn't done well?
In this matter I believe in what Mr Amitabh Bachchan does. I don't tell filmmakers what to make with me. I didn't write "Swades". I can't tell writers to write a film keeping in mind whether 22 people or 22 million people liked it. I just do what they ask me to. I like to sell a dream. I like to tell stories. I'm a very good storyteller. I can convert the most boring topic into a riveting tale. I tell stories to my children every night. Some stories they don't like, so I avoid them. Others they like and I repeat them with variations. I can't keep repeating the same story the same way just because it works once. Filmmakers also need to understand that.
Is direction around the corner?
I do have a understanding of what people enjoy and what they don't. But direction is too lonely a job. I'd want to make a huge action -- my "Badshah" done in the right spirit -- which will definitely take me over budget. My vision is too wacky to be budgeted. Let's see... Right now, I don't have a story to act in, let alone direct.
You and Karan Johar have gone into joint production. Is this a move towards strengthening the Johar-Khan-Chopra empire?
It's more an emotional than a professional collaboration. Karan's dad, the late Mr Yash Johar, always wanted me to be part of any film that he produced. He made a very generous deal with me... that I'd be a partner in his profits and no part of his losses. It was a gesture that I'd never forget. What sort of a one-sided deal was this? Now that Yashji is gone I feel even closer to the Johar family. Karan looks at me as an older brother. I'd like to be part of his productions in any way that he wants me to be, unquestioningly. Over the years I've accumulated a lot of friends. I guess that's my biggest asset.
Finally, what's happening with your memoirs?
I'll complete my book, "20 Years Of A Decade", now. I just need to assimilate and elaborate on my memories. I'll give it over to my publishers by year-end . They've been waiting patiently. My main theme in the book is, 'Goodness begets goodness'. I recently met a fan in Delhi who said, "The only reason you have is because you give." I found that very touching. That's what my mom used to say. That's what my book is about. Allah has been kind. The important thing about my career is not my success but that I'm still there working hard.