Rooting for superheroes without superpowers and trying to push the boundaries of what ‘humans can do,’ the first-time dad and actor of Katti Batti is full of surprises. By Udita Jhunjhunwala
Imran Khan promptly switches off his game console when I am ushered into his study. He has just been playing a Batman game, possibly the newest Arkham Knight. This is Khan’s den, decorated with hints of his interests — Star Wars, skateboards, experimental art and comic book heroes. Unlike his seemingly awkward character of Maddy in the upcoming Katti Batti or the many vanilla heroes he’s played in romcoms from Break Ke Baad to Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu, the real life Khan is anything but predictable. After a trio of box office duds, Khan took a two-year sabbatical to be a first-time dad and rethink his career choices. He’s now back, more assured that this is exactly where he wants to be: facing the camera, performing but making more instinctive choices.
The first teaser for his 2008 action film Luck zoomed in on the sun-shaped tattoo on the nape of Khan’s neck, which he got when he was 17. He’s now added two other artworks to this canvas – his daughter’s right footprint has been inked on his chest and an expansive graphic Samurai Batman sketch is a work in progress on his right arm up to his elbow. “This is a traditional Japanese Samurai with elements of Batman such as the bat symbol, bat ears, bat wing,” he says, tracing out the image. “Yes, Batman is my favourite superhero, because he is a superhero without superpowers. It’s sheer will. That’s what draws me to characters like Batman, Daredevil and Nightwing who are motivated by their desire to do good, to help and craft themselves into crime fighting machines.” As for parenthood he says, “The time off was about being a hands-on dad and recalibrating my thoughts, my mind. The timing worked out that way. I guess my daughter Imara saw a need and picked her moment.” Ask him if body art interferes while shooting and he says, “You can cover it up with make up if you have to wear a vest or T-shirt.”
While shooting in New Zealand for I Hate Luv Storys, Khan attempted a skydive from 15,000 feet. “It’s the highest commercial skydive on Earth and, oh man, it was awesome! I also went on this crazy boat ride called Shotover jet boat ride where they take sharp skid turns on bends. It was good fun. I have always enjoyed things like this. I grew up skateboarding. That board (he points to the one on the shelf opposite us) is from Gori Teri Pyar Mein, but I chose it. I used to skateboard when I was in my jungle school. (He clicks his knee.) Hear that? That’s a skateboarding injury. I was 14 and we were skateboarding in an empty swimming pool when I crashed into a wall. That’s when I quit. When I lived in Sunnyvale, California with my dad, he taught me to windsurf. Then I learnt scuba diving for Kidnap (2008) for an underwater sequence. That fed into Luck (2009) for which I had to get scuba certified. I have done a couple more dives in Mauritius and Thailand,” says Khan, clearly enjoying recollecting those headier days.
Call to action
Khan has been a bit miffed of late, reading reports gushing about Tom Cruise’s opening stunt in the latest Mission Impossible movie and watching the vast action sequences in the last Mad Max movie. “If you recall, Cruise is cabled on to the outside of an aircraft. I did exactly that same stunt in Luck. Nobody remembers it. Also, it was so badly shot that you cannot tell. The plane is flying over a moving train. I could have died a dozen times while making Luck. For example, I had to go diving with sharks in open water half an hour away from land and was dropped 3,000 feet into a gorge by a crane with a single cable. So, yes, my films have given me enough adventure!” In spite of the dismal response to Luck and Kidnap, Khan says he loves the action genre.
On the bucket list
There are a few more adventure sports and high adrenaline experiences Khan hopes to check off his wish list. Among them is flying a glider plane (“I think that would be fun”) and getting his skydiving certification and attempting stunt car/ performance driving (“I love to drive”). So what drives him to these experiences? “For me, skydiving, scuba, etc, is about pushing the boundaries of what humans can do. We are not supposed to be underwater, interacting with life and floating in that way, we are not supposed to be suddenly flying and floating through the air. I love the feeling that we can do this too! It’s such a high.” I wonder aloud if fatherhood and tasting professional failure made him more risk averse and Khan says, “Not at all. More than anything, I want Imara to be someone who does not let fear interfere with her life. Life is too short to hold back because you are afraid.”
Stirring things up
When not jumping out of planes or diving with sharks, Khan’s interests range from the less dangerous cooking and comic books to travel and music. “I love cooking. I’m a damn good cook,” he says. “I cook a few times a week.” Khan’s closest gang of friends is equally passionate about cooking and meets at his bungalow with its specially-designed kitchen that facilitates three dishes being cooked simultaneously. “One makes appetisers, another makes a main course and the third makes dessert.” His signature dishes are lasagna and chili con carne. “I do a spectacular lasagna. The trick is in the thickness and depth of the bolognaise. I am also very proud of my chili con carne.” After a trip abroad, the Khans’ luggage is evidence of their varied interests. “My wife comes back from trips abroad with handbags and shoes; I have frying pans and spatulas. I am not much of a kitchen gadget guy — a couple of good pans and good knives and I am sorted. But I am a big fan of brands like Mauviel and Le Creuset cookware. I travel so I can eat food. Or if we decide on a destination, then I research all the eating options — street food, restaurants and markets. I have to go back to Italy just to eat.” These days, more than movies, Khan prefers to watch American and British TV shows. His music interest remains rock n roll and classic rock, “but I am actively trying to find new music to listen to. I recently found an interesting Italian artiste called Zucchero (Fornaciari),” he concludes.