Aamir Khan drops the pretence

Gautam Chintamani
·4-min read

Considering the 'run-ins' celebrities seem to have or the 'backlash' any stance or comment of theirs generates, Aamir Khan's decision to quit social media is hardly a surprise.

A few months ago, the internet was rife after Khan called on the First Lady of Turkey during a reconnaissance trip for a film. Although such a reaction from the masses was nothing new for Khan, it appeared that some Rubicon had been crossed.

Ever since Aamir Khan started his career, he was perceived as the one who swims against the tide. Initially, he decided to reduce his work by doing one film at a time or his obsession over the minutest of details - Pooja Bhatt once famously noted that during a photoshoot for Dil Hai Ke Manta Nahin, Khan took hours to finalise a prop's placement. Khan also started making specific comments or taking certain stances both on and offscreen that comment on socio-political situations with time.

If the onscreen Aamir played upright and socially conscious characters in films such as Baazi, Sarfarosh, Mangal Pandey: The Rising, and Rang De Basanti, the offscreen Aamir took up social issues, at times, oddly enough to coincide with the release of a film.

After Rang De Basanti's release, Khan, along with some of his co-stars from the film and the director, Rakesh Omprakash Mehra, participated in a demonstration put up by the Narmada Bachao Andolan committee.

Sharing the stage with Medha Patkar, Khan said that as a concerned Indian citizen, he had come to lend his support to Adivasis that would lose their land if the dam's height was raised.

Many political parties in the state, including the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party, expressed their displeasure on the actor's stance, but Khan refused to apologise.

A few months later, when Fanaa was all set to release, the Cinematograph Exhibitors Association of Gujarat had decided not to show any film starring Aamir Khan in the state till he apologised for his statement.

Perhaps the most 'controversial' stance that Aamir Khan took was sharing his wife's views that India seemed to be getting intolerant. At the Ramnath Goenka Awards in November 2015, Khan said that his, Kiran Rao, suggested that they move out of India, fearing the general atmosphere.

The comment generated extreme reaction from both sides of the discourse and divided the actor's fan base into two distinctive groups. Some found the actor targeting the Narendra Modi government without taking names, while others felt that the actor's comment was merely reflecting what they felt.

A few, like Om Puri, demanded an apology from Khan for the statement as he thought it could incite people.

Unlike previous times, the popularity and reach of social media platforms now provide instant feedback on what a star expresses.

People on either side of the discourse openly express their opinion and pressurise nearly everyone else to take a similar distinctive stance. In Khan's case, the severe criticism of his comments also targeted e-commerce company SnapDeal.

A few months later, when Snapdeal didn't renew its contract with Khan, the loss was attributed to the trolling. If, on the one hand, it could be said that the intensity of the targeting could have influenced the company's decision, on the other hand, one can also understand that it was an economic decision taken by a company as it wouldn't like to lose customers.

When Shah Rukh Khan was poised to become a superstar, Anil Kapoor was too happy with Khan's decision to do commercials left, right and centre. Kapoor reportedly told him this would decrease the distance between the film star and the general public, and he should maintain the mystery.

Khan, of course, did not pay heed and became one of the first film stars in India to form a new kind of bond with the audience.

Whether public personalities are easy targets and, if so, then what is the degree of leeway that should be extended has also been on people's minds.

In the past, the distance between them assured that the star barely got to know what was on the fan's mind. It's no longer the same.

Today, it would be unimaginable for a star to feign ignorance as an excuse. Khan's decision to shoot in Turkey or to meet First Lady Emine Erdogan might have been standard operating protocol only a few years earlier. However, the country's vocal anti-India stance, including its public comments on Kashmir, its apparent tilt towards Pakistan in matters of geopolitical sensitivity, has changed it all.

It's also interesting that Aamir Khan used the term "decided to drop the pretence" as he announced his decision to quit social media.

While the words were in some other context, his statement also said he would "continue to communicate as we did before." The answer to the question - what was the pretence - remains to be answered.