Aamir Khan: This Khan can - by Nandini Ramnath Back   Home  
Somewhere in Bandra, the port of call of Bollywood’s dreamboats and sinking ships, Aamir Khan is probably rehearsing his Oscar acceptance speech.

It’s a speech that will be genteel and well-said, a measure of the actor himself. Aamir would thank his father, his brother who handed him his first ticket to fame with Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak in 1988, his family, his Lagaan director Ashutosh Gowarikar, his cast and crew, A.R. Rahman... And, perhaps, the game of cricket as well. This would be a speech of few surprises, a bit like the actor himself. Quiet, efficient, measured.

If it were that other Khan, Shah Rukh, the speech would have been a rush of dimpled bombast. And Salman Khan would have probably mumbled something before pausing to snarl at the press gallery and fist a photographer or two.

In fact, if any product from Bombay’s dream factory was most suited to be its first modern export to the Oscars, it is its most obsessive adherent, the Khan without a famous family behind him. Shah Rukh’s back-to-back hits, NRI appeal and his very vocal dreamz had many convinced that Hollywood was the Next Logical Big Thing.

Shah Rukh, then, seemed all set to step on to the globalised stage where a Punjabi-peppered film on a monsoon marriage in Delhi gets the Golden Lion at the Cannes. Why, Shah Rukh had even rehearsed his own Oscar speech — on the small screen for an anti-dandruff shampoo commercial.

But isn’t Hindi cinema full of nefarious twists and turns? Shah Rukh’s Ang Lee failed him; Asoka was no Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. For now, it’s back to chiffon romances and waiting for the Next Big Hit.

Meanwhile, with the same clenched-chin efficiency he is famous for, Aamir helmed a film many wrote off for its length and storyline: a tale rooted in the soil of the land and the gut of its people, that wedded a medium as emotive as cricket with one as intimate as cinema.

Lagaan is actually a bit behind in the war at the box-office — in industry lingo it’s an ‘A-Class hit’; a semi-hit and some lakhs of rupees behind Sunny Deol’s Gadar — but it won the battle of the imagination in a way Gadar didn’t.

Some bit of that credit must go to an assiduous marketing campaign that has given yet another twist to Aamir’s onward march: the Oscar Jeetenge Campaign.

Aamir’s distaste for the system of film awards was publicly documented in 1995, when his Munna got the girl at the end of Rangeela but had to take a bow to the charms of Shah Rukh’s Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge in terms of awards.

It’s a knock that Aamir has nursed with a conviction that has only added to his halo. One of Aamir’s most quotable quotes, surely, has been ‘‘Awards don’t mean anything to me’’. He still doesn’t collect awards given in his name — and has even forbidden his crew or family members from doing so.

Even now, Aamir says the only reason he’s chasing the Oscars is to ensure that Lagaan gets re-released in the US, a proposition that would not be negotiable minus the Golden Oscar glow.

No awardlust or ambition here: this not-so-naughty nineties star has always known the importance of being earnest. There’s none of Shah Rukh’s bald ambition or Salman’s testosterone appeal about Aamir.

Among the Khans, Aamir has always had the image of being the best-behaved, the most outspoken, the least campish. The only tattle you get to hear from Aamir’s sets has to do with a very middle class fastidiousness and an un-Bollywoodesque attention to detail.

He’s a perfectionist, say those who’ve worked with him, both in awe and irritation. He’s a director and a clapper-boy’s nightmare; he’s even lectured some directors on how to make films. All of which makes for bad copy in film magazines and good copy in fanzines. The Aamir star wobbled a bit with competition from the other Khans.

If Shah Rukh imbued his films with a breathlessness and stylish edginess, Salman powered his way up with sheer brawn, copybook good looks and the comedy and action routines that hits are made of. Aamir’s clawback has been just as steely — after Raja Hindustani in 1996, films like Ishq, Ghulam, Lagaan and, most recently, Dil Chahta Hai have underlined his saleability in bold green.

He has moved beyond his QSQT Papa act: Shah Rukh’s K-k-k-Kiran stutter may have been his had it not been for a spat with director Yash Chopra. His ‘experimental’ stints in films like Ketan Mehta’s Holi and Aditya Bhattacharya’s Raakh were lessons quickly forgotten. And films like Ghulam, Sarfarosh and 1947 unmasked the tough guy beneath the layers of chocolate.

In an industry where your individuality is only as good as your next hit, Aamir has managed to build up a body of work that’s not known as much for its radical formula rewrites as for its solidity and dedication to entertainment.

Aamir’s saleability, says a trade source, is among the ‘‘youth and the classes’’. He sat out through several forgettable films signed in the rush of the post-QSQT headiness, only to build up the image of dependability that was only matched by the meteoric rise of his rivals.

And among all the stars who have tried to take their careers in their own hands, the Aamir touch has clicked. Ajay Devgan and Shah Rukh have both tried to make their films their way, but the magic how-to-make-a-hit formula remains elusive.

Thus, it already seems premature to have dedicated the year 2001 to Aamir. If a three-hour 42-minute saga, brimming with nationalism and the charm of cricket, defeats the French and Bosnian favourites, Aamir may have another 300-odd days this year to himself.

Which, in true tradition, will be spent scouring scripts and settling for one, maybe two films. There’s competition in the cans — Devdas is rolling, Hrithik is flexing muscle, several star sons are waiting for a break.

But if this is all about twists in the tale, the nice guy won’t always finish last.
Published in ExpressIndia.
Wish Aamir Khan (courtesy: Rediff.com)