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Happy Birthday Aamir Khan

WT24 Desk

Aamir Khan’s birthday will be special this year. It comes in the wake of Dangal’s record-smashing success, proving once again that strictly statistically speaking, Mr Perfectionist Khan is the Ambani of the movie industry,UNB reports. Besides giving the dwindling trade magazines their moment in the sun with prominent pundits rattling off daily figures, calculations and tallies (the film touched an impressive Rs 380-crore mark making it one of the highest grossing Hindi films of all time) not any different from anxious pollsters spending sleepless nights over UP or Bihar elections, Dangal also wowed the critics, reports the Indian Express.

There was occasional criticism from some quarters, which felt Khan’s “heavy-handed message-mongering” – to borrow critic Jai Arjun Singh’s phrase – weakened an otherwise gripping entertainer. Any viewer who has watched Khan over the years would agree that in the last decade, his films have followed a well-thought out the script. He picks a powerful and relevant theme packing one hour of entertainment in it and one of social message.

The rest of it is songs. It looks like we, as audiences and people, are waiting for Khan to call out ills plaguing our society before we can enter the debate. Go through his last decade’s filmography and you are struck by how the most popular of his hits are a curious mix of hot national issue, pop-patriotism, papa preaching, social conscience and entertainment starting with Lagaan, a David-Goliath with a bunch of

underdogs beating the British at their own game, Rang De Basanti that inspired youthful activism and candle light marches, Taare Zameen Par about dyslexia, the satirical 3 Idiots about India’s educational crisis, PK, an alien’s take on God and finally, Dangal about female wrestling.

On the whole, the Aamir Khan model has worked. In the last decade, if you take into account just the wages he has pocketed and the monetary value has brought to Bollywood, you could probably by now start treating him like a private limited company. Whether you are one of those who cries copiously through TZP, laughs uproariously every time he scratches his chin to ask a naive question in 3 Idiots or thought PK was too contrived, you can’t help but notice – even applaud – his uncanny ability to know what will work with the audiences.

His control over his output is so complete that you wonder if even top directors like Raju Hirani are allowed creative freedom. Because what comes through is an out and out Aamir Khan film. Even Dangal, where the women have a substantial presence when you leave the theatre you are sure you have seen an Aamir Khan film. And this is his formula – to recede and collapse into the character but in the run up to that role, by feeding you bits and pieces of his new get-up, he has already created curiosity and subconsciously prepared you for what’s to come.

As we write this, the chameleon Khan has started appearing in the media in his new look for an upcoming film titled Thugs of Hindostan. In yet another glimpse of film-as- a tool- for- social-message, Khan recently appeared in a Star Plus spot campaigning for the girl child. He plays a Sardar with progressive ideas for his daughters, including naming his sweet shop ‘Gurdeep Singh and Daughters.’ You can see it as an extension of his paternal role in Dangal.

Billed as the thinking man’s superstar, Aamir Khan is a Bollywood everyman with very special qualities. His position as box-office’s God takes on new metaphors if you notice how in so many of his recent films, he has either played a tyrant God-like figure at home (Dangal), took on the tyranny of Gods (PK) or saviour/messiah (3 Idiots). Khan is often applauded for his bold experimentation, adventure and risk- taking but that’s one aspect of Khan that’s misleading. He plays the safest of all the Khans.

Experimentation is where you are taken by surprise. But in Khan’s case, you already know that he’s going to take you by surprise. He has made this his strong suit. Now, the question is – are his films great? Are they path-breaking? Is Aamir Khan a greater star than an actor? Many feel his acting is forced but others praise his sincerity and earnestness. His films are efficient and whatever their box-office worth they have some critical value in them. There’s little doubt that he makes cinema from the heart. His characters never sound like Aamir Khan but his films do.

As he turns 52, the Dangal paterfamilias is at the peak of his superstardom. He’s our most consistently bankable Golden Boy who is single-minded in his focus on feel-good, entertaining cinema. He can read your mind and pulse and deliver exactly what you want.

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