Retracing the rise to stardom

Recreating a multidimensional cinematic portrait of an unparalleled Indian actor
By Sarwat Ali

Aamir Khan has proved many of his critics wrong. He has always managed to reinvent himself with something different to offer and is still the most-talked-about filmmaker in the biggest film industry of the world.

The subcontinental cinema had often been criticised for producing films that roll off the same template. There is hardly any difference in all the films made — the same boy-girl romance pitted against the hostile social values and attitudes that uphold the family honour and name above that of individual initiative and innovation. And all wrapped in the tinsel of the song and dance format.

Aamir Khan’s beginning was no different, nor was he a stranger to the world of makebelief and the fantasy projected on the screen because he belonged to a family already in filmmaking and doing reasonably well. It may have been easier for Aamir Khan to make a debut in films but as it often happens with the progeny of those in the business, the breakthrough is easier than to improve upon the elders and sustain a career. Aamir Khan must have struggled because after his break in ‘Holi’ (1984) for his next film ‘Qiyamat Say Qiyamat Tak’ he had to wait for another four years.

QSQT established him as a star that had arrived to carve a place for him in an era that was yearning for transition to a new type of hero. In the triumvirate Shahrukh Khan, Salman Khan and Aamir Khan, set to rule the cinema for many years to come, the most innovative and daring has been Aamir Khan.

There has always been a parallel tradition to the major one of Indian cinema represented by the earlier ala Bombay Talkies/New Theatre, the Indian Peoples Theatre Association and then the parallel or art cinema of the 1970s and 1980s. All these phases were more pronounced or assessed as movements with a definite purpose but all these ran out of steam and some of the leading lights of this cinema, especially of the cinema of the 1970s and 1980s, ended up by badmouthing it as they moved to mainstream cinema with bigger bucks to fill their coffers than mere critical acclaim and awards.

The next generation wanted a mixture of the two and called it a crossover affair where the demands of both the traditions could be met. It was difficult because it was possible that the crossover or the marrying of the types only yielded sterility. But from among the ones who made that possible Aamir Khan may have been more ambitious for he called his cinema an agent of change. Many in the world have toiled with the idea of making cinema with its mass appeal an instrument to make people think.

Aamir Khan was also aware of the ever growing outreach of the Indian cinema and thus he geared up to address an international audience. The exponential growth of Bollywood had placed it next to Hollywood and the same cosmopolitan aspirations were shared by the Indian producers and directors.

If ‘Lagaan’ was an attempt to redeem the 200 years of subjugation, even if by a symbolic beating of the British at their own game, the hyperbole was scaled down and made more plausible in ‘Mangal Pandey’. The native recruit placing his homeland before his duty to the army led to ‘Rang de Basanti’, the growing awareness that every person had the potential of being an agent of change. It could be played out in everyday life and not limited to some great and extraordinary moment. In ‘Taare Zameen Par’ and ‘3 Idiots’ the malaise that the society was in due to a uniform application of systems, values and forms could be offset by tapping the revolutionary within for seemingly less grand causes.

He was also able to make films about the emerging middle classes in India that have shunned the hang-ups of their parents and now live in a cosmopolitan culture each carrying the cross of their own responsibilities. ‘Dil Chahata Hai’, was one such film that had a contemporary feel about it as well as ‘Dhobi Ghat’ where the younger characters are exposed to situations that they resolve or fail to resolve themselves.

It is rare in Indian cinema to make a film about the contemporary situations and everyday characters without taking recourse to the stock characterisation and their resolution in faith or patriotism. ‘Dil Chahta Hai’ had a contemporary feel because it was not a fall back upon the clichés without miring itself in the hang-ups and guilt. Many of the stock situations and responses were challenged in that film and this contemporary feel about placing the individual first was more critical than even the collective fellow feelings evoked around Mangal Panday.

One reason why the Indian cinema has more scope for experimentation is because of its exponential growth, for even if the film does not do well it still does not bomb at the box-office forcing the producer to pin a mortgage notice on his front door. Enough light has not been shed on this aspect that makes the niche activity a viable option which the earlier cine cavaliers did not enjoy.

The book is a filmography focussing on twenty one films that have been part of Aamir Khan’s journey. The story is told through interviews and press coverage from the last 20 years including perspective from directors, co stars and other colleagues. Together they recreate a multidimensional cinematic portrait of an unparalleled Indian actor.

The author Christian Daniels holds a masters degree in New Media from the London School of Economics and Political Science and currently works as a corporate communications advisor and also a cinema columnist for Citizens Matters in Bangalore. She has written a novel ‘Ginger Soda Lemon Pop’ and co authored ‘Mind Blog 1-0’.

The book is available at Liberty Books. (

I’ll Do It My Way: The Incredible Journey of Aamir Khan

By: Christina Daniels

Publisher: Om Books

International, 2012


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