This Khan has made his mark with something we don’t usually associate with stars — acting.
In a business that is more unpredictable than the weather, one man offers us a guarantee of quality that goes as far as it reasonably can in the capricious world of Hindi films.
While most other actors make you set out for the cinema hall with a sense of trepidation that swings from mild to masochistic, Aamir Khan fills you with a reassurance that is warm, dependable, and yet - here’s the key - exciting.
His latest movie Talaash releases today, and if you’re planning to catch it, you know he’s going to deliver. You know he’s worked bloody hard on it. But, in contrast to a Shah Rukh or Salman Khan, you don’t quite know what to expect in terms of his performance — where he’s going to take you, and what he’s going to leave you with. It’s an intriguing mix of dependability layered with unpredictability, a strange love affair that the audience has with this superstar.
Because, in many ways, Aamir Khan is the antithesis of the popular image of a Bollywood star. The other mega Khans, Salman and Shah Rukh, revel in their bad-boy image and flamboyance and live up to what most people think the life of a film star is like — one lived continuously at a high pitch. Aamir, on the other hand, is polite, cautious, methodical and dresses like a regular guy. He doesn’t strut around in sunglasses (doesn’t ever strut, actually), makes no entertaining speeches, in fact makes no obvious effort to entertain his audience off screen.
So strong is his regular guy image that rumours of affairs, an alleged love child, and a divorce have not dented it. Few big Bollywood heroes divorce their wives; Aamir is one of the few who has, , with dignity and no mud-slinging. Instead, what everyone focuses on is his reputation for perfectionism and for ‘interference’ on the sets and editing table.
In short, it’s all about his screen power. Proving that it is possible for Bollywood stars to be talked about more for their work than personal life, if they are determined to keep it that way. An approach that has paid off stupendously: he was the first actor to break the Rs 100 crore barrier with Ghajini in 2008, and is the only one to have crashed through the Rs 200 crore barrier as well, with 3 Idiots in 2009.
Eight of his last nine films have made big money, the only exception being Dhobi Ghat, a low-budget film directed by his wife, Kiran Rao, which was not expected to be a blockbuster anyway. His last flop was Mela, a good 12 years ago. That’s an incredible record for any star in any movie industry anywhere in the world. Even Rajnikanth can’t boast of a similarly uninterrupted hit list.
How does he do it? The answer, like Aamir’s personality, is an intriguing mixture of the unexciting and the unpredictable; it’s good old elbow grease combined with the courage to defy set norms.
Because it happened over a decade ago, and because it is accepted practice now, we tend to forget that Aamir was the first big star to declare that he would work on only one film at a time. Coming as it did at a time when stars were working on three, four, and even nine films at a time, it was a radical move that most were convinced would not work.
But it turned out to be a life and career-altering move for Aamir. Because it coincided with his decision to turn producer with Lagaan (other producers saw the film as such an expensive risk that nobody was ready to back it), he threw himself into every stage of the film-making process.
That’s when the dream run began. And his ‘perfectionist’ reputation grew. He’s said to be the toughest actor to convince, but the payoff is total involvement — or ‘interference’ if you want to believe the film media. Some are game for it. Director Murugadoss changed the ending of the original Tamil Ghajini for the Hindi version on Aamir’s request — and look where it took that movie. Not everyone can stomach it though; one acclaimed film-maker is said to have cried off a project because he could not brook the star’s suggestions at the script stage. His 3 Idiots contract reportedly had a clause that stipulated that Rajkumar Hirani would take all creative calls. And Talaash’s director Reema Kagti has had to fend off persistent queries about his — there’s that word again — ‘interference’.
I haven’t worked with Aamir on a film set but in my few interactions with him I saw absolutely no evidence to support that allegation. In fact, he was remarkable easy to work with on an interview-cum-photo shoot (usually a nerve-wracking proposition). When a colleague and I questioned him about this constant carping, he asked us quietly. “Have I interfered in your photo shoot in any way?”
“No,” we had to reply.
“Have I asked you for the questions for your interview beforehand? Have I objected to any question, or refused to answer it?”
He rested his case.
As he will once again, with Talaash. As the movie’s tagline goes, the answer lies within.
Doyen with the dozen hits
Dhobi Ghat (2010); 3 Idiots (2009); Ghajini (2008); Taare Zameen Par (2007); Fanaa (2006); Rang De Basanti (2006); Mangal Pandey (2005); Dil Chahta Hai (2001); Lagaan (2001)
Ever since Lagaan, Aamir Khan has had an uninterrupted run of box-office success in terms of net revenue. Ghajini was the first 100-crore film; 3 Idiots is the only 200-crore one. Both Mangal Pandey (regarded erroneously as a flop) and Dhobi Ghat recovered their money and more, making Aamir the most bankable star today.