Happy Birthday Aamir: The thinking man's Khan

In the 1990s, when most actors were busy doing 8-10 movies concurrently, there was just one performer who had the guts to stand apart and focus on just one film at a time. On his 53rd birthday, here are some professional qualities and traits that make Aamir Khan the unique Bollywood phenomenon that he is.

He’s an actor cut from a different cloth

Stunning debut

Though debuted as a child artiste in his uncle’s ’Yaadon Ki Baarat’, Aamir’s first movie as a lead actor was ‘Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak’, directed by his cousin Mansoor Khan, in 1988. He was paired opposite Juhi Chawla and the film became a smash hit. Action movies were ruling the roost in the 1980s, but QSQT bucked the trend and ushered in an era of love stories/family dramas driven by blockbuster soundtracks. The movie catapulted Aamir to stardom and offers streamed in. Due to poor selection of roles, his next few films – ‘Love Love Love’, ‘Tum Mere Ho’, ‘Awwal Number’, ‘Jawani Zindabad’ and ‘Afsana Pyaar Ka’ – tanked badly with Inder Kumar’s ‘Dil’ being his his only hit movie between 1989-1991.

One-film-at-a-time actor

After a string of flops, Aamir dwelled upon his career choices and decided to be more prudent and astute while selecting movies. He would also have realized that he could channelize his creative energy more efficiently and adroitly if he did only one or two films at a time. The transformation began with ‘Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikander’ (1992). The highschool-based flick went on to attain a cult status and a slew of awards, but fared modestly at the turnstiles. From here on, Aamir focused on just one big project per year and ran up a series of successful movies: ‘Hum Hain Raahi Pyaar Ke’ (1993), ‘Rangeela’ (1995), ‘Ghulam’ (1998) and ‘Sarfarosh’ (1999). Though all these movies did well at ticket windows and made money for everyone, they were not massive hits or blockbusters.

‘Khan’ rivalry

Unlike the two other Khans – Shah Rukh and Salman – Aamir tried his hand at different roles/genres and did not tread the beaten path. It is to his credit that he made off-the-wall movies commercially successful, if not blockbusters. He did not succumb to the lure of doing just conventional romantic movies despite reaping rich dividends with ‘Dil’ (1990) and ‘Raja Hindustani’ (1996) – his only two blockbusters of the decade. Though SRK and Salman gave bigger and more blockbusters than him in the 1990s, Aamir came out on top as far as the success ratio is concerned.

Experimental streak

Aamir’s experiment with avant-garde cinema continued post-2000 too. ‘Lagaan’, ‘Rang De Basanti’, ‘Taare Zameen Par’ and ‘Dil Chahta Hai’ hoovered up critical acclaim and moolah in equal measure. In fact, among the superstars, Aamir is the only actor who has consistently done unconventional movies/roles and made them work at the ticket window. On the other hand, whenever SRK attempted alternative cinema, be it ‘Dil Se’, ‘Asoka’, “Paheli’ or ‘Swades’, the movies failed to create ripples at Box Office. ‘Chak De India’ is, of course, an exception.

Be it Box Office clout or cinematic craft, Aamir is truly an outlier.

Antipathy towards awards

In the mid-1990s, when every mainstream actor was seen salivating over awards ceremonies, Aamir summarily snubbed them. It pained him when Filmfare didn’t confer the Best Actor award on him for ‘Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikander’, and he smelt a rat. Since 1993, he has not attended any popular awards ceremony in India. Over the years, his hunch has been validated by many actors who openly proclaim that all awards are ‘rigged’. The organizers offer awards to actors in lieu of either money or a performance at the ceremony. Even the audience has woken up to the reality of awards shows and no longer holds them in high esteem. Subsequently, many big stars such as Salman, Akshay Kumar and Ajay Devgn have refused to accept awards and attend functions only to perform.

Box Office phenomenon

Aamir had a fairly steady run till 2007 and remained a top star despite choosing movies with unusual themes. But ‘Ghajni’ (2008) made him a veritable Box Office sensation. It became the first movie to notch up more than Rs 100 crore (nett) in India. Even before 2008, Aamir had dished out many big hits but his name was largely associated with quality cinema than Box Office records. But all that changed with ‘Ghajini’. His next release, ‘3 Idiots’ (2009) leapfrogged ‘Ghajini’ and breached the Rs 200 crore (nett) mark. Though Salman has been rolling out blockbuster after blockbuster since ‘Dabangg’ (2010), Aamir has managed to hold his own. ‘PK’ (2014) with Rajkumar Hirani also set the cash registers ringing and became the 1st movie to go past Rs 300 crore (nett) in India. So, Aamir has the distinction of starting the 100-crore, 200-crore and 300-crore clubs in Bollywood. His last release, ‘Dangal’ (2016) is the highest grossing Bollywood movie in India at present (Rs 375 crore nett). Its worldwide gross is over Rs 1,500 crore. He has delivered the all-time highest grosser 5 times, a record that looks unassailable.

Byword for credibility

While Salman is the sigil of stardom, Aamir is an emblem of excellence. No other superstar enjoys the kind of trust he does among cine-goers. One can be assured that, more often than not, a movie starring Aamir would not just be entertaining, but also rich in content. His dedication, unflinching focus and acumen are second to none. Barring Dilip Kumar, no mainstream actor in the Bollywood has had a better script sense and success ratio than him. Be it Box Office clout or cinematic craft, Aamir is truly an outlier. He has always stuck his neck out and portrayed diverse roles with consummate ease. It is quite evident that he’s an actor cut from a different cloth.