Imran is finding the response overwhelmingly unreal. "We thought the film would get a decent opening and would build by word of mouth," he says. But it has fetched the best initial takings this year and is only gaining in strength with every passing day.
The last couple of years have seen a lot of young debuts in Hindi cinema—from Ranbir Raj Kapoor and Neil Nitin Mukesh to Harman Baweja, whose much-hyped debut film last week totally failed to impress (see review). Ranbir and Neil themselves won plaudits, but their films proved to be big turkeys commercially. Imran's has been a rare case where approval has come from both the turnstiles and hard-to-please critics. They may have nitpicked about the film, but the hero Imran has won them over.
Prateik Babbar is waiting and watching
And he is not the only new star kid that the film boasts of. Jaane Tu... has a delightfully relaxed debut from Smita Patil's to-the-camera-born son, Prateik Babbar, in a small but sparkling role as the heroine's brother. "It's not a debut ma'am," clarifies the polite Prateik, who had previously worked as a production assistant with adman Prahlad Kakkar. He did the role for a lark, just to try it out and see what it felt like. Now he seems hooked. "My roots, after all, are in acting," he says.
Despite the young and unfamiliar cast, the film had several advantages. "Aamir mamu has tremendous goodwill. There's an inherent assumption that what he is associated with has to be good, which helped the film," says Imran. The promos and more so the superb music, specially the wonderfully lilting (but disappointingly filmed) Kabhi Kabhi Aditi, also fuelled expectations. And anyhow, as a rule, young love stories have been safe launchpads for star kids—from Bobby to Love Story to QSQT.
Jaane Tu... plays (and very consciously at that) on every single cliche of Hindi romcoms, including the mad airport climax, the friends as sutradhars and the Kuch Kuch Hota Hai-spawned theme of falling in friendship to eventually fall in love. But it still comes across as remarkably refreshing and endearing. The supporting roles are nicely delineated and, like Chak De India, the film works wonders with its casting, getting the perfect actor for each of the roles and standout performances from Ratna Pathak and Naseeruddin Shah.
The young bunch here is one kids can relate to—their relationships, values and lingo, like asking for Coke "on the rocks". Especially delightful is the son-mother relationship, their sharing of domestic chores and taking turns at cooking breakfast. "It's identical to my equation with my mother (Aamir's sister Nuzhat)," says Imran. Even the sibling rivalry, with its mix of possessiveness and jealousy, feels real.
Both Imran and Prateik look and talk like two college kids. "I was just being myself, never tried to overdo anything," says Prateik. Imran sounds delightfully self-deprecatory in analysing his boy-next-door persona. "I'm not muscular, not a great dancer and I don't wear designer clothes. I wore my own clothes in the film," he says. "I was never popular, never considered cool and not a casanova," he says. By his own admission, he had been utterly "boring". With such non-heroic elements to his personality, will he be able to do the conventional herogiri? "Sure," he says and then comes the rider, "If I like the script."
Of course, belonging to a Bollywood family does give him an advantage. "You know the rules of the game," he says. But he says his family is really a non-filmi one. "We don't have marble floors and crystal sculptures in our home," he says. But they are all big movie buffs and love to discuss, analyse and deconstruct films. "I have seen a lot more English films. It's only recently that I have found a connect with Hindi films," he says. He studied script and direction at the New York Film Academy in Los Angeles, worked in the US for a while and was looking for script assignments when Abbas Tyrewala offered him the role.
Despite being a star kid, he hadn't really been in the public eye. "No one had heard of me even after we started work on the film," he says. He never hung out with the filmi crowd either. "I've started to make friends in the industry now—but with technicians, and assistant directors," he says.
Prateik too has had a non-filmi upbringing in the protective care of his maternal grandparents. "He is an extraordinarily creative kid but one who resists straitjacketing. However, the industry requires discipline, which he has to learn," says aunt Anita Patil. The role of the talented loner is quite close to what he is in reality. "It came naturally to him. He seemed totally unconscious of the camera," she says. In fact, he is big time into music and wanted to be a rock star. "Like the youngsters of today, he has been confused about what he wants to be. And they have so many choices, and can flip them after trying them out, so he too wanted to try everything," she says. The Patil family, however, knew nothing about the role and the performance came as a pleasant surprise. "He may have just five shots in the film but it is a beautifully scripted role," says Anita. And he also has the best line. When his sister asks him if she could sit next to him he says casually: "Tera ghar, tere bums (Your house and your bums)."
While Prateik is still waiting and watching for what to do next, Imran will feature in a very different kind of film, a dark suspense thriller from Sanjay Gadhvi called Kidnap. Much as Imran could identify with his character in Jaane Tu..., he couldn't find the same instant comfort level with his role in Kidnap. "I had a difficult time. It was out of my comfort zone and a little beyond my capability. I had to work a lot on it," he says. He has recently signed Luck, an action adventure with a subtext on how we treat luck as a commodity. "Our cinema is taking huge leaps forward and I want to be a part of the change," says Imran. What more could the industry ask from its Gen Next heroes?