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Before writing anything I want to wish Mr. Perfectionist Aamir Khan a very happy 51st birthday. Though it seems he hardly touched his 30s. But it’s been 28 years since he made his proper debut on silver screen with the trend setting Blockbuster Mansoor Khan’s ‘Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak’ and adding Ketan Mehta’s ‘Holi’ in which he was seen as a 19 years old lad, you’ll be amazed to know that his career is 32 Years old. And still going strong and with every other film he only rises. He is a maverick enigma, different from everyone else. He does what others can’t even think of doing. He is unpredictable, he loves shocking himself and the audiences with every film he does. So, on the occasion of his 51st birthday I thought to write about how he completely changed the work culture and professionalism in the Indian film industry and emerged as the real game changer of Bollywood.
As a teenager he was more into Tennis than films but being from the family of thinkers like Maulana Azad and film makers like his Veteran uncle Nasir Hussain and father Tahir Hussain his creative wires also became active. He decided to assist Nasir Hussain and after 4 years, son of Nasir Hussain, Mansoor Khan came into the scene and wanted to make a light fresh romantic film. Some of the last films of Nasir Hussain were lukewarm at the box office and Tahir Hussain gave big flops too. That was the era when action films were going strong, heavy melodrama was the flavor of almost every film. But Mansoor Khan was firm on making the Indian contemporary version of Shakespeare’s classic drama ‘Romeo and Juliet’. He selected his Handsome young cousin Aamir Khan to play the lead with 1984 Miss India Juhi Chawla. Film was made but nobody was ready to distribute the it because of the light romantic subject which was not running at all then and also because of the new faces with a new director. Even the name of Nasir Hussain failed to excite the distributers as couple of his last films flopped. Young Aamir Khan went on the streets to stick the posters of the film on autos and shops. Nasir Hussain played the biggest gamble of distributing the film in Mumbai himself. Risk was taken and when the movie released it opened little slow but with strong word of mouth the collections went up to 100% in the 3rd week.
‘Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak’ became a trend setting film, ‘Papa Kehte hai’ song ran at No.1 on the then best Radio top 10, Binaca Geet Mala for one year. Aamir Khan became the new heart throb of the nation, teen idol. Girls went crazy over him, every director wanted to make a romantic film with him then. He became a Star, a chocolate boy who can act too. Bollywood saw a change, from action films to romance that was the shift. ‘QSQT’ made everyone to believe in romantic genre and then late 80s and 90s saw some big romantic hits after that. Maine Pyar Kiya, Chandni, Dil, Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge etc. followed the trend of ‘QSQT’ and created history. That change in the industry more belonged to Mansoor Khan than Aamir, as the Latter never wanted to stick with any image. And certainly not the lover boy one. He made some mistakes and then after his decision to work only in films which made him excited, he became only bigger and better. This is a story that everyone knows but I want to tell what many of you don’t. How Aamir Always challenged the set patterns of the industry and yet ended up being a winner, a game changer.
1. Doing the films with 100% involvement: From late 70s Indian films focused more on quantity over quality. Everyone just wanted to make films for the sake of making it, few worked and rest all failed. In 90s our industry became restless, every actor was busy doing 5 shifts a day and worked in dozen of films at one time without knowing the script of many (If at all any script was there). It was 1992 when Aamir Khan decided to do only those films which he loved and which made him excited. He also decided to work on one project at a time. People of the industry reacted negatively to it calling him over serious, some said he won’t be around for a long time in films. But he worked with dedication and made everyone remember that film making is a team effort. Some said that he gets over involved in his films and behaves as if he is the director but nothing stopped Aamir and now except Akshay Kumar every other actor is working on one film at a time including the other two Khans. Youngsters like Ranbir Kapoor, Ranveer Singh etc. also knows the importance of working in one film as it enhances the quality.
2. Emergence of Bound Script: In the era of 80s to 90s nobody ever heard the term ‘Bound Script’ in the industry. Aamir asked about full complete narration from the biggest of directors even. (Because they never had bound script in 90s). He lost on films like Darr, Saudagar and Hum Aapke Hain Kaun because of it, as Yash Chopra, Subhash Ghai and Suraj Barjatya denied for the joint narration. But Aamir never compromised, he constantly worked in films which had full bound script. He mostly worked with new directors because they agreed with Aamir which ultimately made their films stand out. In 90s people called him crazy and arrogant because of his disciplined mainstream film making. When Aamir became producer with Lagaan he gave bound script one month before the shooting to every crew and cast. It was his earnest hard work which inspired everyone and today almost every film has a bound script in bollywood.
3. Bridging the gap between art and commercial cinema: Till the Late 60s people made films in Bollywood because they had something to say with it but after 70s till 90s films were made just for the sake of making it and to increase the number. Still there were some brilliant films made in that period, thanks to Shyam Benegal (Junoon), Sai Paranjpye (Katha), Govind Nihlani, Shekar Kapoor (Masoom), Mira Nair (Salaam Bombay), Kundan Shah (Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro) and Mahesh Bhatt (Arth, Saaransh) etc. But those films were very few and also was labelled under art-house cinema tag. Some worked well at the box office in sections but most of them either failed or had Doordarshan release. But a film is a film and it should work at the box office too and by putting the art house tag you can’t hide away. For Aamir it was like that, he believed in quality cinema can be made in the mainstream zone. After ‘QSQT’ he did ‘Raakh’ which also fell under that art House cinema zone, He won National award for it and the movie was also screened in many international film festivals too but it flopped. Despite Aamir and Pankaj Kapoor’s outstanding performances and solid script it failed because it was shot in dark with no songs. Aamir’s constant effort to merge quality cinema with commercial sensibilities began since then. ‘Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar’ in 1992 with his brother Mansoor Khan was one big push for the mainstream makers to think that they can add substance with entertainment. Aamir was always in the favor to work in films of different genres while the industry was stuck between romance, action and family drama. Aamir continuously churned classics and cults one after the other in 90s (Rangeela, Sarfarosh, 1947 Earth, Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar, Hum Hain Rahi Pyar Ke, Andaz Apna Apna, Ghulam etc.) then after Lagaan, Dil Chahta Hai, Rang De Basanti, Taare Zameen Par, 3 Idiots, Peepli Live, Talaash and PK the entire industry started to make substantial films yet mainstream. Aamir’s impact is so infectious that two of the most celebrated offbeat actors of our country Nasseruddin Shah and Irrfan Khan are in awe of him. As Nasser Sahab said Aamir is the only actor whose work will be remembered for the next 100 years while Irrfan said that he wants to see himself in the place of Aamir Khan after 5-6 years, because Aamir has made a dream place for an artist to be in where there’s nothing called art or commercial cinema. Where films are films.
4. Changing himself with every other Character: Method acting is a term which became popular with Kamal Hassan in India, he in his Tamil films broke new grounds with it. Hindi cinema had Dilip Kumar but Aamir Khan became the 1st one who started transforming his physical appearances for every other role as per the demand. Dilip sahab used method acting with his expressions, Kamal Hassan tried to look different by using make up or prosthetics also with getting into the head of the character. On the other hand, Aamir not only gets into the head of his characters but changes his physicality too naturally giving us a very new outcome as an actor which is called ‘Realistic Method Acting’, as he also researches a lot for his every role before playing it, Daniel De Lewis and Christian Bale are known for it in the west. In 1988 Aamir came and won hearts as a Chocolate boy in ‘QSQT’ suddenly he turned Dark Bearded and nasty in ‘Raakh’. Remember how he spent few days without washing his face to look rough like a Tapori in ‘Rangeela’, even he learned the antics of road side Mumbai taporis by observing a Black ticketeer. Or his famous research on Mumbai Police for Sarfarosh, he even met and interacted with Havaldaars to get the pure feel of Police stations. Be it his Ghajini’s famous Body and hair cut or his sudden weight loss to play a 20-year-old student in 3 idiots just after that. Who can forget his Mustache and long hairs for Mangal Pandey or his Bare body and no eye blink act in Biggest blockbuster PK. Be it learning Punjabi for Rang De Basanti or Bhojpuri for PK, be it learning Tap Dance and Gymnastics for Dhoom:3 or Gaining 30 kgs for his upcoming film Dangal where he’ll play the role of a 60-year-old father he has done it all risked his life many times but the artist in him always won. New actor Tiger Shroff said that Aamir always raise the bar and standards for himself and for others. While Ranveer Singh said that he wants to be the part of significant cinema like Aamir Khan. Even his counterparts Shahrukh Khan (Fan) and Salman Khan (Sultan) are now working on the change. Such is his efforts that changed thinking of entire industry and inspired too.
5. Making Films Technically Strong: In Late 80s and early 90s Priyadarshan-Mohanlal combo did very well in Malayalam cinema, their films were always strong technically but in north films were dull and routine. Aamir Khan with his arrival always forced his directors to make films strong technically. Remember the race scenes of Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar or the 1st ever Slow-Mo song of hindi films Pehla Nasha Pehla Khumar. He gave emphasis on continuity and minute details of his every film. His work discipline was always like Hollywood. Even as an Assistant Director of Nassir Hussain he worked like it which made Amrish Puri angry but later he got praise for his dedication and against the tide of Bollywood work from Puri. Whether it was working on the defined background score for his every film in 90s (Rangeela, Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar, Hum Hain Rahi Pyar Ke, Raakh, Sarfarosh, Akele Hum Akele Tum etc.) which was unheard of then or promoting all the enhanced cinema watching experiences such as Dolby or IMAX Aamir was always the first. With Lagaan and Dil Chahta Hai he brought Sync-Sound technique in Hindi Cinema. Work Professionalism changed completely in India by his efforts, I remember how the cast and crew Bus left Superstar Actor Producer Aamir Khan himself when he was late for 5 minutes to leave for the shooting location during Lagaan schedule as he himself made the rule to create work discipline in the crew. Also when one new actor use to come late on the shooting of Rang De Basanti, Aamir delibrately came late one day and told director Rakesh OmPrakash Mehra to scold him in front of everyone to give the message loud and clear that everyone is equal and they must take responsibility of the film in every way as it’s a team effort. Aamir’s madness of film making has really taken our industry in the right way. We need more people like Aamir to show the path of dedication and perfection. Today Even Shahrukh Khan (Fan, Raees, Gauri Shinde’s next) and Salman Khan (Bajrangi Bhaijaan) has turned over content oriented films as they also know that by doing only one film per year will not take anyone long, it’s all about reshaping yourself and boosting it with good cinema will, the way Aamir Does.
There are several other things off screen too that Aamir redefined such as he revolutionized TV with his home production product Satyamev Jayate. When everyone was busy hosting game shows and reality shows, Aamir came with a social awareness show which highlighted the evils of the country. But many within the industry misunderstood it as a philanthropic and charity in public gimmick, which it was not. It was a show of substance which in the end revealed where the country stands today. The show proved to be another game changer. Later America Honored him with AAM award along with Ace Director Kathryn Bigelow for his work and featured him on the cover of TIME magazine twice, rare feat for any Indian. His recently launched PAANI FOUNDATION is another feather in his humanitarian act. He has given 4 All-time Grossers highest by any actor beating Raj Kapoor who has 3. He has 5 All-time blockbusters which is also highest by any actor in the Industry. A rare actor Superstar who has everything from Cult Classics to Blockbusters from Fans all round the world to respect among intellectuals. We want him to move ahead like this in future too the way he led his journey from last 28 years without fear and filled with innovations.