New Delhi: Imran Khan was once caught with his pants down, literally, on the sets of Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikander. A seemingly innocuous day at work turned racy when a kid pulled his pants down to expose his bare bottom as part of a scene he was filming. Imran duly claimed he had no idea this was to happen to his 9-year-old self on an otherwise normal work day.
Twenty years later Imran, a rising star in Bollywood's crowded second rung, would not be caught with his pants down again, metaphorically, if he hopes to pose a formidable challenge to any of the heavyweight Khans, including his uncle Aamir. If you are a fan of parlour tricks, this article may not be your cup of tea. Nothing in the film industry ever happens by dumb luck, much as dissenters of Shah Rukh Khan would have us believe. Here is why Imran is still five years away from being a serious threat to Bollywood's established royalty.
Grandson of filmmaker Nasir Hussain and nephew of Aamir, Imran was destined to follow in his uncle's massive and rather reclusive footsteps despite lacking two of the most important attributes that aids a movie star in Mumbai; aggression and a formidable screen presence.
We are talking about an actor who married early, likes to keep his opinions to himself, gives good interviews, is well read and is rarely if ever the last one to leave a party. His sense of humour, a surprising command over language and an inherent courtesy are qualities found rarely in people in the showbiz.
So what is your problem, you ask.
Despite good feedback on his recent film Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu with Kareena Kapoor, Imran's screen appearance still lacks the confidence that a newbie Ranveer Singh or Ranbir Kapoor commanded in their debuts.
Imran, like the Shashi Kapoor of our age, or closer home, like his illustrious uncle, is an actor unwilling to get out of his comfort zone. His clean good look is an irresistible draw for teenagers, who form a good chunk of the audience base for his films - I Hate Love Storys, Jaane Tu... Ya Jaane Na and Break Ke Baad.
He tested the market for an American-styled, filthy urban comedies with Delhi Belly but was overshadowed by his co-actors Vir Das and Kunaal Roy Kapur's brashness. And let's be fair, he wasn't really trying hard to stand out.
Every actor that can count a relative or parent in the film industry is automatically assured a leg up and Imran is no exception. He entered the industry at 25 and Aamir ostensibly helped shape his career in much the same way as he carefully thought out his own. At Imran's age, Aamir has already had his enormous hit Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak. At 28, when Imran had his Delhi Belly, Shah Rukh was stomping all over the industry as an over-the-top antagonist with the hugely successful Baazigar. Salman has had his day in the limelight even younger, at 24 with Maine Pyar Kiya.
Ranbir, after a believable performance in an otherwise flawed Rockstar, is already being counted as a possible challenger not just to the three Khans, Aamir, Salman and Shah Rukh, but also to the actors of his generation. Ranveer Singh, ever the guileless charmer, has proved himself as an alternate choice for those who feel out of place at formal dinners with proper cutlery. He is your small town boy.
Imran's unassuming charm, while it works in films that also have strong women leads, fails to really create an emotional connect with audiences who go away thinking "what a nice boy!" In five years time when he matures enough as an actor to take the scope this industry offers seriously, Imran may still be slotted as Shashi Kapoor was, a suave ladies man with bursts of brilliance.