Traditionally, a star, whether in Hollywood or Bollywood, has been made through repetition and sticking to a certain market. For Tom Cruise, that would be action adventures, and for Shah Rukh Khan it would be romantic films. However, one man has thrown tradition out of the window. Indian superstar Aamir Khan has blazed his own trail in the film industry and has also set the standard for what great and successful cinema is in the Indian film industry.
In the book Hollywood Stardom, it states: “celebrities inhabit a special kind of marketplace, built on emotional appeal, personal cache, and how much they’re seen, emulated, and talked about”. Stars like Dwayne Johnson play up to this theory, as he consistently plays the role of the action hero while also retaining his comedic personality.
This gives audiences a feeling of comfort. They are consistently getting the qualities that they know and like of their favourite stars. However, when it comes to this Khan, audiences are not given this familiar pattern. He not only stars in one film a year, sometimes, a film every two years. But whenever his films do come out, one never knows what to expect. Khan has not stuck to one type of character or genre. Whether it’s a young romantic or a wrestler, his choices have steered clear of the traditional blueprint for a successful career.
In 2001, the majority of mainstream Indian stars (e.g. Shah Rukh Khan & Salman Khan), were starring in movies which featured romantic storylines and also presented their stars in a glamorous manner. However, that year, a sports film (a genre that has traditionally been unsuccessful in India) released to a reception that would ultimately lead it to being voted as the greatest Indian film of the century.
The film revolved around Indian villagers taking on the British Empire in a cricket match so they can put an end to their tax. The film was nearly four hours long, and their megastar, Khan was a poor villager dressed in a dhoti (traditional men’s garment). Even his romantic storyline was a secondary story in the film.
All signs pointed to an unsuccessful film both commercially and critically, however, despite the obvious risk of failure, Khan chose the film with the thought of quality, not quantity.
Pulling Back The Curtain
Going against the norm is something Khan has done throughout his time in the film industry. ‘Lagaan’ was not just a one-off, in his last film as the lead actor, he “pulled back the curtain” when he played a character that had the potential to put an end to his days as a leading man.
Thanks to the power of effects and maintaining a level of physical fitness, stars are often able to play characters that are much younger than they actually are. In 2016, Khan’s 2015 film ‘Dangal’ (Wrestling) released, and in it, he played a fifty-five-year-old retired wrestler who trains his daughters to become Olympic calibre wrestlers. Not only is the character old and out of shape for the majority of the film, but it is also a character that is very close to his real age.
In an interview with the news agency IANS, he said: “Mahavir is a 55-year-old in the film. I am 52. So, there is less difference between us. We are too close. But fans don’t know that as they see me as a 30-year-old”.
While playing a similar character on a regular basis is something Khan has never done, he has always been presented as a young hero. With ‘Dangal’, he could have potentially lost a large portion of his fan following, but just like he did with ‘Lagaan’, his desire to produce an incredible film outweighed the importance of his stardom. Not only was ‘Dangal’ accepted, but it is currently the most successful Indian film of all time.
One thing a lot of Khan films also have is a strong message. In ‘Dangal’, it preached the importance of equality and drove home the message of women empowerment. In his film ‘3 Idiots’ (2009), where he plays a young college student, it highlighted how kids are unfairly pressured by parents in education and how this has led to many students committing suicide.
But while the messages may be powerful, they are also told in a very entertaining manner. Humour, songs, and drama are still important qualities. Audiences are educated and entertained during an Khan film.
Tackling Issues Head On
In today’s world, it is becoming increasingly common to see a major movie star on television. Whether it is starring in a television series or hosting game shows (common in India), it’s normal for a movie star to continue building his or her brand by using the platform of television.
When Khan finally decided to start his career in television in 2012, he did so with an unusual and rather unconventional show. ‘Satyamev Jayate’ (Truth Alone Triumphs) is a show which focuses on various issues that plague the country of India, and with different facts and guests, they show the incredibly negative impact a particular issue is having on the country and its people.
The show focuses on issues such as female foeticide and child sexual abuse, which not only have relevance in India but also around the world with many Indians/Asians living in foreign countries as well. And while the show tackles these difficult issues, Khan is never far away. Whether he is consoling an emotional guest or revealing some horrific facts to us, he is not shying away, and fully embraces his role as someone who is trying to make a difference.
India is certainly a country that is in the process of evolving, but many people and many political groups still have views that can be considered a little skewed. Many of the issues Khan discussed during the show were very controversial, and this ultimately led to people critiquing him and his approach.
‘Satyamev Jayate’ has passed three seasons of television, and the last season averaged four million viewers according to Business Standard. So not only has the show shown people are willing to listen to the problems in their country but with three successful seasons it shows people want to support this protest for change.
This show has even impacted Khan’s movies, as the real-life ‘Dangal’ daughters were first associated with him when they were guests on his show. Also, his most recent film ‘Secret Superstar’ (2017) was inspired by ‘Satyamev Jayate’, as that is where the director learned about various domestic abuse and female foeticide cases.
Aamir Khan is a kind, at times, quiet superstar. He does not seem like someone we would associate with the phrase “living on the edge”, but that is what he has been doing these last thirty years. He has pushed the system in order to create content which is of high quality and content that carries messages viewers can transfer into their own lives.
BizAsiaLive.com wishes the actor a very happy birthday.
By Humza Hussain