Aamir - hamaare TV par

Sashi Baliga | Updated on May 03, 2012

Mr Aamir Khan

His desire to shed the trappings of stardom seems genuine. That's why the superstar's TV outing, where he'll mingle with the masses, rings true.

Coming from any other superstar, the statement would sound pretentious, if not downright fake. But when Aamir Khan says, “I don't take my stardom too seriously,” you tend not to dismiss him. Though what I think Aamir really means is that he doesn't set too much store by the trappings of stardom, because he takes his artistic and commercial responsibilities as a star very seriously. (More about that later.)

Though he is Hindi cinema's highest-paid star — anything from Rs 25 crore to Rs 40 crore per movie depending on whom you're talking to — he doesn't lead the flashy life. He still lives in the building he grew up in, likes to holiday at his bungalow in sleepy Panchgani, his wardrobe is unremarkable, you won't catch too many pictures of him at happening spots, he likes to keep it quiet. And so does his wife, Kiran. Together they are perhaps the least filmi of couples in B-Town.

Even Mumbai's relentless paparazzi have got the message; we don't see too many intrusive shots of them, not even at the airport, where a paparazzi squad seems permanently positioned.

The announcement of the birth of their son, Azad, is a classic example of the way they deal with the media. They came out bravely to say he was born to a surrogate mother, they announced his name, explained why they chose it (freedom fighter Maulana Azad is Aamir's great-granduncle) and thereby prevented the kind of speculation that has surrounded Aishwarya Rai's baby.

A regular-guy star

Even Aamir's body language is low-key off screen. Put him in front of a camera or on stage and you see a man who clearly likes to call the shots. But as anyone who's seen him at film dos or in informal work situations will tell you, he's understated, almost diffident.

Some three years ago, in a group chat at the newspaper where I worked at the time, he confessed to our amusement that he didn't, he couldn't, “walk into a party like a star”. Salman Khan, he pointed out, did that easily. It's true; Aamir doesn't have Salman's swagger or Shah Rukh's air of owning the crowd the moment he walks into a room. He walks in like, well, a regular guy.

If Shah Rukh and Salman wear their superstardom easily and happily, Aamir seems to have this intense desire to be just a regular guy — off-screen, of course.

Which is why his decision to do a show such as Satyameva Jayate, a documentary-style mingling with the masses Bharat yatra, seems to ring true. I can't think of any other star who would even attempt it, much less carry it off. Aamir can, because the desire to shed the trappings of stardom is real. Though — and here's the irony — the show hinges entirely on his star power.

Expensive TV show

At a press conference held last year to announce the show, he declared: “It is an audacious idea, with real life, real people, real emotions.”

Audacious? Hmmm, add ambitious, too. Aamir says he wants to “bring all of India together” through Satyameva Jayate. He's spent two years working on the idea and shooting it. Each of its 13 episodes could turn out to be the most expensive in Indian TV history: an estimated Rs 4 crore. To compare, a reality show with a top-rung star would cost Rs 2–2.5 crore at most, while a top-rated soap would cost only about Rs 10 lakh per episode. Aamir's personal fee of Rs 3 crore is also said to be a record, beating the likes of Salman, Shah Rukh and Amitabh Bachchan.

He is clearly thinking big with Satyameva Jayate. And he realises the import of what he's taken on. At the same press conference, he had said: “Television is a very powerful medium; uska sahi aur achcha istamal karna important hei (it is important to use it the right way).” And he offered a clue to the tone of the show: “There is a certain idealism coming back. People want to live a life of higher integrity. I want to, certainly.”

The question is: will he use this immensely powerful platform that he has created for himself to talk about the big issues or everyday ones? Will his show deal with caste issues, farmer suicides, Naxal insurgency, female foeticide, rural healthcare? Or displacement and rehabilitation of project-affected people; will he carry his very public espousal of the Narmada Bachao Andolan into this show? Or will he deal with more intimate, personal, emotional themes?

We'll find out this Sunday when the show debuts at 11 a.m. But one thing you can be sure of is that Satyameva Jayate will be deeply felt and thoroughly thought-out.

Giving his all

Others merely hope for the best, Aamir makes sure it happens. Whether it is a TV show, an offbeat small-budget film like Peepli [Live] or the completely commercial masala-drenched Ghajini, he is out there, giving it all his attention from concept to finish.

Unlike some stars who believe in making a film and leaving it to its destiny, Aamir is completely geared towards ensuring his films make money for everyone involved, and he makes no attempt to hide it. So he gets involved all through.

Though tabloids and TV anchors like to label him Mr Perfectionist, Aamir's strategy is more about methodically eliminating any chances of failure. His involvement could begin at the very beginning: he got Ghajini director A.R. Murugadoss, for instance, to change the climax of the original Tamil version for its Hindi counterpart. He is known to offer suggestions on the sets, sit in on editing sessions, and choreograph the marketing. The results of his involvement are there for all to see.

In the beginning, this involvement was often labelled “interference”. But those who were smart enough to see where it was coming from understood that he was doing it for the movie. He can be a remarkably unselfish co-star, as the climax of Rang De Basanti shows. Not many actors of his stature would have handed over key scenes in the climax to a junior actor like Siddharth. Or give himself second billing to a child star, as he did in his directorial debut, Taare Zameen Par.

Here is an actor who knows when to step in and when to step back. How much he does of the latter might determine the success of Satyameva Jayate.

Published on May 03, 2012

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