Aamir's betrayal hurt me a lot: Amol Gupte

The Man Behind Taare Zameen Par Amole Gupte speaks up.

Right away, how much of Taare Zameen Par (TZP) is actually yours?
(ponders) Does it really matter? It's paid back in multiples. Whatever happened, let's drown it in the Ganga and move on. Aamir has been on the shoot with me for 109 days and Aamir has acknowledged I was there throughout. Now let's leave it behind.

The project was with you for many years?
I've been involved with children's projects for many many years. In fact I used to have a kids' show on Sony called Bindaas Bol which addressed itself to the parent-child relationship, peer pressure and related issues.

I've since then became a surrogate-parent to children everywhere. I'm like a one-man Suvidha (children's shelter). TZP was an extension of an ongoing affinity to children's issues.

I share a lifelong affinity to juvenile problems. Imagine a Standard 6 girl carrying a 6 kg schoolbag! What does it do to her tender back?

You seem to be enormously passionate about the subject?
I am. In my time repeating a year in the same class did nothing to a child's self-esteem. Imagine what it does to the average child's morale today! He or she is branded as a loser for life.

I'm very concerned about the difficulties of the special child. And in TZP I haven't brought in the psychiatrist or counselor. Nor have I taken the troubled child to a special school. My contention is, if a child cannot understand the alphabet why do we punish him?

What about the child in a tribal area who learns to climb trees instead of the ABC? If it's okay for the tribal chikd to learn tree-climbing instead of geometry why is it wrong for a city child to take interest in painting?

Our education system is too specific and performance- oriented. I wanted to look at the students' problems within the gurukul's parameters.

Did you anticipate such an overwhelming response to TZP?
Actually this was just a part of the ongoing children's projects that my wife Deepa Bhatia and I share.

For us Project Child is a journey. TZP was an important part of that project. We waited two years for Aamir to just listen to our script. I knew Aamir from our college and theatre days.

After that he shot a short-film with me in the lead.So did Aamir's cousin Mansoor. So I've been associated with his family for many decades.

I didn't know you were an actor!
But I wasn't the Khan family's favourite actor for sure. Otherwise I'd have done Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak. Jokes aside, I didn't have the courage to ask Aamir to be cast in my film. I wasn't that ambitious.

I asked him to help me talk to Akshaye Khanna because I had seen Akhaye portray a sensitive painter in Dil Chahta Hai. But when Aamir heard my script was about children he said he wanted to hear the narration. That took a long time.

Even I got busy playing father to my son who was born in 2001. I put him in school and tried to be as much part of his schooling as possible.

Finally in September 2004 he heard TZP. He waited. The very next week he proposed to produce the film. Then again there was a delay as Aamir got busy with Mangal Pandey and his personal life.

So what exactly went wrong between you and Aamir?
I'm trying to put it behind me…Let me just say, right from choosing all the kids for the parts to the final editing I was right there on-board…I wanted to preserve the kids' natural innocence. So I never auditioned them.

I used to engage them in discussions and workshops with the camera held out of their vision by an assistant. I spoke to them about the problems and pressures of the children in the script.

Where did your creative inputs in TZP end?
They ended when Aamir, his wife, my wife and I saw the film's first edit. It's misreported that I didn't like the edited version of TZP.

There was no question of not liking the edited version because my wife Deepa was editing the material in Panchgani as we were shooting.We were all very proud of the film. Then we had a wrap-up party.

And that's when Aamir announced he was the director of the film. That's when I got to know of his intentions.

Has this betrayal made you stronger and wiser?
It has made me question myself. Where did I go wrong? Had I not been there throughout the shooting for every take including Aamir's wonderful performance, I'd have understood that I've gone wrong somewhere. But I've enacted lines for all the actors in TZP. It hurt a lot. But I didn't want a confontation.

How different is the final film from what you shot?
What I shot and what you saw aren't different at all. My narration is the same as the married print. Of course Aamir was there with me throughout.

And he didn't shoot anything on his own?
Yes, he re-shot the first six days' material. I didn't participate in that because I stood by the rushes of my first six days' shooting. However what he shoot wasn't radically different from my style.

I'm really surprised to hear this.
Oh I've several other surprises in store. But why should I surprise you so much all at once?

The standard inference is that the project was taken over from you?
I don't understand this business of taking over. When I was around how could the project be taken over? What would any competent director be doing for 109 shooting days. It makes no sense at all.

Have you been able too keep in touch with the kids?
You know, everyone sides with the establishment. They've been compelled to choose sides. I don't want them to think they're morally bound to connect with me.