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Guest Column<br>Retrofit: Simply Aamir Khan…

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Guest Column<br>Retrofit: Simply Aamir Khan…

In the new gangbuster hit film, Aamir mouths a very simple dialogue, but laced with sarcasm, which will not be lost on those paying attention. Sitting next to Virus Boman Irani, Rancho a.k.a Aamir innocently states that the education system is much like the caste system where B is for ‘Badshah’ (a film starring rival Shahrukh Khan), while G is for ‘Ghulam’ (a film in which he starred some years ago). Clearly hinting at the pecking order in B Town. A pecking order which Aamir Khan surely has been trying to change. For three years running, Aamir Khan has hit pay dirt at the BO by releasing his films on December 24 – ‘Taare Zameen Par’, ‘Ghajini’ and now, ‘3 Idiots’. All indications are that ‘3 Idiots’ will outrun and outgross all the earlier box office busting hits in Hindi cinema.

The bitter rivalry between the two Khans is not lost on anybody in B Town. Yet, SRK graciously came for the ‘3 Idiots’ premiere in a rare show of bonhomie. Aamir Khan has proved that not only is he a shrewd marketer, but an insightful actor and a cerebral director as well. In ‘Taare Zameen Par’, he sensitively handled the subject of a dyslexic child; ‘Ghajini’ was a Southern remake and an out and out masala film; while ‘3 idiots’ is a fabulous critique on the education system.

More than that, AK has understood what the hoi polloi wants, he has delivered fare for both the masses and classes. He is not afraid to experiment with his cinema, he is willing to play a part in an ensemble cast like ‘Dil Chahta Hai’, ‘Rang De Basanti’ and now ‘3 Idiots’. He has grown out of pure play commercial cinema to give the jagged edge of his talent a full range of theatrical experimentation. From a cop in ‘Sarfarosh’ to a boxer in ‘Ghulam’ to a tapori in ‘Rangeela’ and a peasant-turned-cricketer in ‘Lagaan’, AK has been engaging and watchable.

Sometime in 1990, I was asked by my Editor in the Illustrated Weekly, Pritish Nandy, to write a cover story on Aamir Khan. The slug was ‘COOL’ and we hailed him as the next superstar. The visuals were shot by Gautam Rajyadaksha and were in James Dean hue with Aamir posing against a brick wall. People in filmdom thought that Pritish Nandy had lost it completely, for while Aamir had given ample testimony of his talent, he was not quite the big star. Yet. And moreover, the Weekly didn’t put film stars on its cover without reason. Anil Kapoor was the reigning star at that time – ‘Tezaab’ was a smash hit - and he was so upset that he even came to see Nandy, asking him to be put on the cover. Nandy refused. I am sure Nandy had his reasons for putting Aamir on the cover. But believe me, he was proved right. One stream of thought was that Nandy had been influenced by his close friend at the time - Mahesh Bhatt, who was helming ‘Dil Hai Ki Manta Nahin’, starring his daughter Pooja and produced by Gulshan Kumar, which turned out to be a huge hit. Potentially, Bhatt believed that Aamir was a ‘lambi race ka ghoda’. Anyway, Aamir had ‘QSQT’, ‘Dil’ and ‘Dil Hai Ki Manta Nahin’ as big hits behind him, but he had also done a slew of extremely forgettable films in the first flush of ‘QSQT’ and ‘Dil’s success. Names like ‘Love, Love, Love’, ‘Tum Mere Ho’, Dev Anand’s ‘Awaal Number’, ‘Deewana Mujsa Nahin’, ‘Afsana Pyar Ka’, ‘Jawani Zindabad’, which I am sure a more mature Aamir would like to consign to the rubbish heap of history very quickly.

I found Aamir to be an extremely intelligent individual during the time spent with him. Remember that I was dealing with a star who was more or less my age and not somebody who one had grown up watching like say an Amitabh Bachchan or Vinod Khanna. I could relate to this young man and from his recent oeuvre, I likened him to Michael J Fox, who was the rising star in Hollywood those days. AK was refreshing, but one sensed that there was width and depth in his being. He didn’t talk like a star, he was understated. I instantly liked him. He seemed approachable and yet mature for one so young. The cover story created a stir. In retrospect, Nandy’s decision has been proved right. Similarly, Nandy once put Kanshi Ram on the cover of the Weekly and people thought he had gone bananas. The story spelt the rise of the Bahujan leader. As it happened, the BSP is a major political formation in the north today and an important political player at the Centre. So, some of the calls that Nandy took may have appeared suspect then, but are now come out smelling and looking like roses.

Soon, Aamir began to get the hang of B Town and quickly realising his own potential delivered a mixed bag. Some turkeys, but many exceptional films, typecast as he was as a romantic hero. ‘Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikander’, ‘Hum Hain Rahee Pyar Ke’, ‘Andaz Apna Apna’, along with duds like ‘Atank Hi Atank’, ‘Daulat Ki Jung’, ‘Isi Ka Naam Zindagi’, et al. Then came the seminal performance that really ratcheted him to the top – RGV’s ‘Rangeela’. Soon, Aamir stopped doing more than one film a year, choosing his scripts carefully and devoting time, energy and effort to his roles. The flight to quality served him well – ‘Raja Hindustani’, ‘Ishq’, ‘Ghulam’ and ‘Sarfarosh’ followed, all hitting bulls eye. Aamir, the star, had returned with a bang. ‘Mann’ and ‘Mela’ were two aberrations in what began as a march to the top. ‘Lagaan’ and ‘Dil Chahta Hai’ floored one and all, everyone understood that Aamir had metamorphosed into a thinking man’s actor. Also read, very big star.

Then for four years, he was gone estivating and hibernating as the season would have it to do ‘Mangal Pandey’. Taking method acting to a new level, AK grew his hair and sported a huge moustache for the role. The movie sank without a trace, bombing instantaneously. AK appeared to be in a trance in the film, even as Toby Stephens walked away with the plaudits. I guess this convinced AK that he needed to be even more choosy. Since the ‘Mangal Pandey’ fiasco, AK has never looked back – ‘Rang De Basanti’, ‘Fanaa’, ‘Taare Zameen Par’, ‘Ghajini’ and now ‘3 Idiots’ have fulfilled the potential that Nandy and Bhatt saw in him 20 years ago. By turning producer for ‘Lagaan’, he added another arrow to his brimming quiver. ‘Taare Zameen Par’ saw him turning director, but what people forget is that AK wrote the story for ‘Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak’ and was also the screen writer for ‘Hum Hain Rahee…’.

What Aamir Khan has proved over these last few years is that he is as big a bankable star as SRK at the BO. Perhaps that is the genesis of this intense rivalry. Actually, Salman Khan had a head start over the other two Khans because of ‘Maine Pyar Kiya’, ‘Sajan’ and ‘Hum Aapke Hain Kaun’, followed by ‘Karan Arjun’. Salman Khan had an amazing record that several of his films, including ‘Biwi No 1’ in 1999, were the biggest grossers in the year they were released. But while Salman fell away, Shahrukh became the romantic hero of the neophytes churning out hit after hit. It is only after ‘Raja Hindustani’ that the battle with SRK was joined by Aamir and since then he has delivered some of the biggest hits of his time. In fact, the rivalry got so acute that when ‘Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi’ became a big hit last December, Aamir responded with his hammer of Thor in ‘Ghajini’ and swept all comers aside. The previous year had seen ‘Om Shanti Om’ blast its way to the zenith, but again ‘Taare Zameen Par’ landed the kayo punch, garnering critical acclaim and earning many accolades for the sensitive handling of the subject. Imagine, Aamir Khan arrives only in the second half of the film and the hero is without a doubt Darsheel Safary. By producing ‘Jaane Tu, Ya Jaane Na’ for his nephew Imran, Aamir once again proved that he is a thinker. Both AK and SRK are big box office draws, but they are also producers now helming Red Chillies and Aamir Khan Productions. While Salman and Aamir have acted together in the laugh riot ‘Andaz Apna Apna’, SRK and Salman have acted together in ‘Karan Arjun’ and ‘Kuch Kuch Hota Hai’. SRK and AK have never acted together yet. Will that be a casting coup or not remains in the realms of conjecture?

On Monday night I saw a PTI story, which said that the weekend collection of the Aamir Khan starrer ‘3 Idiots’ has surpassed the actor-filmmaker’s last release ‘Ghajini’ by 30 per cent. I wasn’t surprised because the film rocks, you can identify with the cast, their families and of course, characters like Omi, who is simply wow. The gross collection worldwide of ‘3 Idiots’ is Rs 93 crore till Sunday night, which is 30 per cent more than Aamir’s last film ‘Ghajini’, trade sources said. PTI also reported: “Similarly, the movie’s paid previews garnered over Rs 9 crore worldwide, while Ghajini’s paid preview collections were Rs 7 crore. ‘3 Idiots’ was released on December 24 with 1,550 prints in over 1,760 screens and overseas with 342 prints in over 366 screens. This was the widest ever release for a Hindi film in India and overseas”. A spokesperson of Vinod Chopra Films, producers of the movie, said “The Anil Ambani Group firm Reliance Big Pictures said its just-released Bollywood flick ‘3 Idiots’ collected over Rs 100 crore in the first four days.” “The Rs 100-crore collection in four days is phenomenal and we are confident that the film will continue to blaze new records in the weeks to come,” said company chairman Amit Khanna. Commenting on the success of the film, producer Vinod Chopra said, “The response has been overwhelming from all over the world.” Vidhu Vinod Chopra was actually striking a distribution deal with Eros International when Reliance Big Pictures ran interference and picked up the same on a revenue share basis. That, I must say, is paying them in spades now.

Hirani’s film is full of homilies, every scene well crafted, every dialogue nuanced. Hirani is true to type, the nature of the beast is such that he is faithful to the new genre that he has given birth to. The cast of ‘3 Idiots’ needs to be given credit for delivering such a smart and sensible film. To Vidhu Vinod Chopra, who is a better producer than a director. His films like ‘Parinda’, ‘Khamoshi’, ‘1942 Love Story’, and ‘Eklavya’ were good cinema, but never hits. Hirani with his ‘Munnabhai’ and the finely etched characterisations of Rancho, Rastogi and Farhan has delivered the hits. Like ‘Dil Chahta Hai’ and ‘Rang De Basanti’, Aamir doesn’t mind sharing screen space with accomplished actors. In ‘3 Idiots’, you will find that Boman Irani, Madhavan, Sharman Joshi and Omi have all got their space, without Aamir impinging on it. That is the beauty of Aamir Khan’s style of acting. Blend into an ensemble cast and allow the director to be true to himself. This, despite having a reputation of ‘directing’ films helmed by other directors.

Maybe that is why AK plunged into direction. Now watch out for ‘Dhobi Ghat’, produced by him and directed by his wife Kiran. The movie reportedly has Aamir in a meaty role, though it is being billed as special appearance. As of now, this is the only film in which Aamir is acting. He has nothing else on his table, other than producing ‘Delhi Belly’. Now, one needs to see what project will fascinate AK next. The industry and the paying public also wait. For Aamir constantly challenges himself, raising the bar. In ‘3 Idiots’, the 44-year old passes himself off as an engineering student. Maybe that is his genius...

(Sandeep Bamzai is a well-known journalist, who started his career as a stringer with The Statesman in Kolkata in 1984. He has held senior editorial positions in some of the biggest media houses in three different cities - Kolkata, Mumbai and New Delhi. In late 2008, he joined three old friends to launch a start-up – Sportzpower Network – which combines his two passions of business and sport. Familiar with all four media – print, television, Internet and radio, Bamzai is the author of three different books on cricket and Kashmir.

The views expressed here are of the writer’s and not those of the editors and publisher of


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