Aamir Khan's next film may be called Secret Superstar, but it is no secret why the Bollywood actor is the real superstar. At a recent fan meet, he was suave, charming, assured and had great rapport with the audience.
The 52-year-old actor, who was in town on Monday to promote the film, drew a full house of more than 1,600 to his fan meet, In Conversation With Aamir Khan, at the MasterCard Theatres at Marina Bay Sands (MBS).
Passes to the free event were snapped up within three hours of them being made available to the public last week and, even before he arrived on the carpet, fans chanted his name and the line "all is well" from his hit 2009 film 3 Idiots.
At the meet, Khan spent more than an hour interacting with fans, who ranged from kids to older folk, candidly answering questions about his children, his choice of unconventional roles and his shortcomings.
Earlier in the day, the star also held a press conference and participated in an hour-long dialogue session with 80 youth as part of MBS' corporate social responsibility programme, Sands for Singapore.
Secret Superstar, which is set for a Deepavali release on Oct 19, centres around a 14-year-old girl called Insia who defies her conservative family to pursue a singing career. It is produced by Khan - who also plays Shakti Kumaarr, an obnoxious music director from Mumbai, in the movie - and his wife Kiran Rao.
Speaking to The Straits Times, he says Secret Superstar is a bigger film than his hit wrestling drama Dangal, which has continued to smash box-office records both in India and overseas more than nine months after its release.
"While Dangal speaks to adults, with the message that we should treat our children equally whether they're girls or boys, Secret Superstar speaks to the youth of the world, and specifically the girl child," he says.
"It's (the youth's) story, through the story of a 14-year-old girl with dreams and aspirations. In that sense it's a bigger concept because it's her life and she's taking it in her hands."
But he acknowledges that it is difficult to compare Secret Superstar and Dangal, especially in terms of box-office potential.
Dangal is based on the true story of wrestling coach Mahavir Singh Phogat (played by Khan) who coached two of his four daughters to become champion wrestlers. The film became the highest-grossing Indian film of all time, collecting US$310 million (S$423 million), and took in earnings of US$200 million (S$272 million) in China, making it one of the country's 20 highest-grossing films of all time.
"In Dangal, you have me in the lead, an established star with so many years (behind me). But in Secret Superstar, Zaira is an upcoming actor in the lead, so it would be unfair to put that kind of pressure on her," says the actor, referring to Zaira Wasim, who plays Insia and also starred in Dangal.
Currently sporting longer hair, a magnificent moustache and a nose stud for his next role in a movie called Thugs Of Hindostan, he reveals that he started working on Secret Superstar immediately after he finished shooting Dangal.
In the new movie, his character Shakti Kumaarr sports tight T-shirts and flirts with women, which Khan says was a challenge for him to play. "The tough part was getting into the character of a person who thinks in a way which is very alien to how I think," he says, adding that he depended a lot on what writer-director Advait Chandan had written in the script to embody the character.
"But I really enjoyed playing him - getting to be rude, full of myself and have full licence to do it," he quips.
Music is also an integral part of the film and he reveals that the songs for the film came together within a week or two.
Khan also wanted his 16-year-old co-star Zaira's portrayal as a singer to be as authentic as possible. Hence, she had to take guitar lessons and learn all the chords to be able to play along to the songs on screen. Preparations included observing the breathing patterns and hand movements of playback singer Meghna Mishra, who lends her singing voice to Zaira's character.
He has an excellent hit-rate with his movies so far - PK (2014), Dhoom 3 (2013) and 3 Idiots are among the highest-grossing Indian films - but he is still stressed about Secret Superstar's release.
"I am very keen that people love the film," says Khan, the father of three children. "But I'm more interested in the emotional connection that people have with the film, especially young kids, and I want to see how they react, because it's their story. "
The actor, who appears in one film every two years, is famously picky about his roles. But he also does fewer films than India's other movie superstars because he is dedicated to social causes.
Last year, he and his wife started Paani Foundation, a non-profit organisation working towards creating a drought-free Maharashtra.
He says: "I would like to be connected to people's lives and be relevant and useful to people, whether it's through my films or social work."
AAMIR KHAN ANSWERS FANS' QUESTIONS:
How does he pick his films?
"With every film I pick, halfway through I'm like, 'Did I make the right decision?' I'm petrified every time, but the fear makes me more alert, it doesn't make me shift from the path I've chosen."
How does he make time for his family?
"I have a very obssessive personality and I keep feeling like I am not spending enough time with my family. But how I get around it is to schedule it into my day. So every day from 6 to 8pm, I spend time with (youngest son) Azad and read to him and put him to bed, and then I start my next meeting. I'm working on it."
Do his children - Junaid, 24, Ira, 19, and Azad, five - inspire him?
"My kids? Not yet!"
What does he think of the current Indian film industry?
"I think they still don't understand me, because I'm attracted to unusual things. But I think that's going to be my cross to bear."
Why does he not attend Indian film award ceremonies?
"My biggest award is the audience loving my film, and I'm not just saying that. All the confirmation I'm looking for is with my audience."