MUMBAI: Aamir Khan made his debut in Bollywood (with Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak in 1988) at a time when actors doing 12-15 movies simultaneously was an established norm. Mithun Chakraborty and Govinda featured in 17 and 14 movies respectively in 1989. Clearly, the focus was more on quantity than quality. Moreover, most of these movies didn’t have variety. Most of them were mind-numbingly similar to each other.
Actors were loath to experiment and work diligently on their characters. Most of the actors were going through the motions, hopping from one set to another and even oblivious to the continuity of their own movies.
Aamir’s debut movie ‘Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak’ was a runaway hit. The film came as a whiff of fresh air at a time when the silver screen was riddled with monotonous action movies. ‘Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak’ scuppered the hegemony of action films and made Aamir an overnight star. Though, unlike his contemporaries, Aamir didn’t sign 15-20 movies but next two years were tough for him as ‘Raakh’, ‘Love Love Love’, ‘Awwal Number’, Jawani Zindabad’ and ‘Deewana Mujh Sa Nahin’ bombed at the turnstiles.
The media was quick to write him off as a ‘one-film wonder’. Dejected by the debacle of his films, Aamir delved deep into introspection to discover his inner voice. After thoroughly analysing his mistakes, Aamir steadfastly decided to become more prudent about his choice of films. He also vowed to work sincerely on each film and character, without just going through the motions.
At that time Mahesh Bhatt, who was a top director then, offered him a movie. Aamir was tempted to accept because of the stature of the director, though he didn’t like the script, but he stuck with his conviction. Of course, later when Bhatt offered him another movie ‘Dil Hai Ki Manta Nahin’, he gladly accepted it. Since then, Aamir has only done movies he is absolutely convinced about. He has never got carried away with commercial aspects of a film, a celebrated director or a producer.
In one of his interviews, Aamir revealed that he was offered ‘Saajan’ and ‘Karan Arjun’, and he declined both of them even though he knew they would be blockbusters at the box-office.
Throughout the 1990s, Aamir experimented with the genres of his films and didn’t get typecast. ‘Rangeela’ was diametrically different from ‘Raja Hindustani’, while ‘Sarfarosh’ and ‘Andaz Apna Apna’ were like chalk and cheese. During the 1990s, Aamir was by far the most versatile Bollywood actor, though his rivals Salman Khan and Shah Rukh Khan gave bigger hits and were bigger stars. But unlike them, Aamir didn’t work with big directors and banners. More importantly, he marched to a different drummer and didn’t always adhere to conventional, mainstream cinema.
In 2001, Aamir reeled off two path-breaking movies which redefined the dynamics and contours of mainstream cinema. ‘Lagaan’ was a rite of passage in his career as he nailed the character of a rustic farmer in pre-Independent India who raises the banner of revolt against the British and beat them at their own game (cricket). The movie was replete with felicitous symbols and Aamir’s masterful performance lent gravitas and heft to the narrative. released two months after ‘Lagaan’, ‘Dil Chahta Hai’ saw his portraying a totally divergent character in what became the coolest film of its era.
Aamir’s genius lies in the fact that he has the knack of making even off-kilter, rarefied subjects commercially viable. Films such as ‘Lagaan’, ‘Rang De Basanti’, ‘Taare Zameen Par’ were not just critically acclaimed but struck gold at the turnstiles as well. This is unlike SRK who has only dished out duds, ‘Chak De India’ being an exception, whenever he had a stab at off-kilter subjects such as ‘Asoka’, ‘Paheli’, ‘Fan’ and ‘Swades’.
Till 2005, SRK and Salman were ahead of him in the pecking order as far as giving massive blockbusters are concerned. But, as a box-office superstar, Aamir came into his own in 2006 as his ‘Fanaa’ and ‘Rang De Basanti’ outstripped SRK’s ‘Don’ and ‘Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna’ at ticket counters.
Between 2008 and 2016, Aamir unfurled five all-time grossers which is a record. ‘Ghajini’ (2008), ‘3 Idiots’ (2009), ‘Dhoom 3’ (2013), ‘PK’ (2014), and ‘Dangal’ (2016) set the box-office ablaze and became highest grossers of all-time during their respective times. From 2008 to 2017, the biggest blockbuster (grosser) of the year was either whipped out by Aamir or Salman. No other star even came close.
Overall, Aamir has delivered the highest grosser of the year 7 times in his career, and only Salman (10) and Dilip Kumar (9) are ahead of him. Aamir also stands second only to Dilip Kumar in success ratio. While Salman, Amitabh Bachchan and Dharmendra have given more hits, Aamir’s success ratio is better than all three of them.
Be it commercial success, versatility or being a part of classic, memorable films, Aamir is firmly ensconced among the top five Bollywood actors/superstars ever. As for his cinematic ingenuity, assiduity, prudence and credibility, Aamir is head and shoulder above his nearest rivals Salman and SRK.
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