Published: Verve Magazine, Verve Men, February 2010
Photograph by: Colston Julian
Recently, Imran Khan got engaged to Avantika Malik after a seven-year relationship. The poster boy of romantic cinema, in his upcoming film I Hate Luv Storys, produced by Karan Johar, plays a true-to-life character that is completely unromantic. On a set of the film, staying in reel and real avatar, the young actor talks candidly to Sitanshi Talati-Parikh about relationships past and present, the insecurities and trials, and the importance of chivalry…peppered with intermittent reflections on what he thinks (or doesn’t think) about romance demonstrated by funny pie charts, graphs and comic strips that he has saved on his laptop
I’m honestly the least romantic person you can find, really. By conventional definitions, and by my fiancée’s definition, that is. But if she’s lasted out this long, clearly she sees something in me!
It’s not that I don’t like romance…I just don’t think it’s feasible. When you are wooing someone, you put on your game face – bathe regularly, cut your nails, take her to fancy places, buy her flowers…all of the drama. It’s a mating dance…but rather short-lived. As time goes on, how you feel about each other as people, how you treat each other as people, will determine whether your relationship will last.
And yet, I’m big on the proper proposals. I proposed to Avantika a month after we met, asking her if she would be my girlfriend – lighting her room with candles – the works. Somewhere in me, there is a classical streak – I was brought up with values of chivalry. You have to do it the right way – go down on one knee…it just doesn’t work otherwise.
You do some things because you know that they are important to someone. I’ve been working on my last four birthdays, because I couldn’t care less. To Avantika, a birthday is really important – the excitement starts to build a month-and-a-half in advance. So, I put in an effort to make a big deal about her birthday. The diamond engagement ring, the surprise proposal – while I know it’s something created as a marketing concept by the diamond company, De Beers – I knew it would mean something to Avantika, it would make her happy, so I did the whole deal. I planned the surprise proposal on her birthday (last July) at her farmhouse with a bunch of friends, complete with a red herring to throw her off course. And then, as I pulled out the ring, while going down on one knee…the expression on her face was priceless.
Avantika would want me to be more expressive. When you are in a relationship with someone for an extended period of time, you tend to take on characteristics of the other person. She’s taken on my characteristics, I know – and I have done the same. She’s calmed down a lot. All her emotions are just below the surface, and sometimes on the surface. At a moment’s notice she will erupt with love or anger or violence. My anger is more frigid – the angrier I am, the calmer I get and the softer my voice gets. It’s very brutal and it really shrivels people up. When I’m livid, it takes two sentences to bring the other person to the brink of tears. But it takes something monumental to get me angry.
I have never been jealous – particularly in this relationship with Avantika. Even right in the beginning, it never occurred to me that at any point, if she is somewhere without me, something would happen with another guy. If you’ve been messed with a few times in life, you would imagine it should, but it didn’t. I’ve cheated on one girl in my life and broke up with her the next day – couldn’t deal with the guilt. More often than not, I’ve got the raw end of the deal; it took me a very long time to get over it. There was a grand break-up, followed by extremely short-term relationships – measurable in hours – and in the aftermath of that, I met Avantika.
I had not the slightest clue when I entered the relationship that it would be for keeps. I was 19. What do you think at the time? ‘Pretty girl, I am interested in her and she in me; let’s just see how it goes.’ It started off without any specific intentions and just coasted along. It speaks for itself that we are still in it.
I think the wisdom is false that in this industry it is an advantage to be thought of as single. If you are in a committed relationship and honest about it, people respect you that much more. Emotionally, they like you more, it makes them think, ‘This is a good guy, an honest guy.’ There are enough people out there who think all Bollywood relationships are a sham. And some of them are. Avantika believes that if she were in this ‘circus’ with anyone else, it wouldn’t have lasted.
Avantika isn’t insecure, but there’s something else…. She doesn’t worry that I might get attracted to an actress or model. What I think bothers her is the fact that people talk to her because she’s my fiancée, and if she were not, they wouldn’t even look at her; or there are others who just look through her. There is a tendency in these circles to talk to people without having things in common, because you are a part of the same fraternity – and anyone not in that immediate circle gets left out.
We’ve been through two major trials recently – the first when we started shooting Jaane Tu…Ya Jaane Na. It involved people who had nothing to do with her life. Generally, your friends are common, but suddenly I’m spending days and nights with people whom she has never seen. That was a very difficult time – she had to come to terms with the fact that I suddenly had less time to spend with her. And the next was when Jaane Tu…had just released – suddenly I became famous and the whole world wanted a piece of me.
I’ve lived my life believing that you decide who you want to be and you can be that person. You look back, learn and move on. I don’t have any regrets about my current or past relationships. If I had done something differently with Avantika, perhaps we wouldn’t be here today. Things wouldn’t be the same.
If I fall prey to the ugliness that is a part of the underbelly of this industry, it won’t be because I am a part of this industry – it would be for the reason that any man in any job would…which is that he is done with the relationship. It certainly won’t be because I get tempted by some girl who thinks, ‘I want to sleep with an actor.’
The rumours that tabloids pick on for sensationalism can so easily sully a clean relationship. It happened to me once – and because of all the drama, all the sudden awkwardness, it has soured some friendships.
I don’t want to be in a position where I give Avantika any cause for discomfort. If I had to choose to cut a person out of my life to give Avantika that security, I would do it – I did it. The very fact that I have done this, and the fact that I have acknowledged her as my girlfriend from the beginning, gives her that kind of security. I don’t know whether she would expect this of me in the future, or as a result of my having done this, her faith in me would be stronger and I would not need to do something like that again.
I live my life by a very strict code of conduct – I believe that I must behave in a certain way, be a certain way. Everything that I do must be righteous. Commitment means a lot to me. So, hypothetically, if I was to be tired of my relationship, I would not cheat, I would say, ‘End this, and then go find another girl.’
You read about chivalry. Bushido is the samurai code of conduct – the way of the warrior. They have certain principles, where ‘to say is to do’ – your word is your bond. I was probably eight or ten when I read about these things. I loved the King Arthur legends. It was cool – armour, swords, rescuing damsels in distress, leading chaste lives…and I decided I wanted to be like these guys. It always got them into trouble with the girls – and I still get suckered by damsels in distress. It’s an inbuilt thing…every guy falls for it!
I believe if you do the right things, you don’t need grand gestures of romance. Men use these smokescreens to cover up their relationship inadequacies. I can neglect my girlfriend all day and turn up with a bunch of roses – that doesn’t make it okay. Instead, if I call her twice during the day, we stay connected. The candyfloss idea of romance is just that – paint and gloss. Paint is all very well, but it is not going to keep the rain out – it is the unglamorous bricks and mortar that will. The good guys don’t need showbiz.