Note- Aamir Khan Decoded is a 6-part series encompassing the Bollywood superstar’s journey in the last thirty years through different phases of being a heartthrob, a method actor, an Oscar hunter, a media contributor and a money-maker.Part I of the series is here , Part II is here and Part III is here.
I vividly remember watching a scene from Satya (1998). Manoj Bajpai’s character is talking to Saurabh Shukla and Chakravarthy right after one of the gang members was shot in a police encounter. Bajpai’s character asks, “why did those damn cops kill him?”. The Hindi word uttered for damn was “saale” where in fact when the scene was shot clearly you can see Bajpai’s lips mouthing a much profane word, “chutiye”, loosely translated as assholes. In other scenes Bajpai’s character could use that more profane version but not for the scene when he was referring to cops. This was a clear cut case of Indian Censor Board exercising their right to interfere in what could be argued as artistic integrity. Moreoever I remember veteran actress Asha Parekh’s, who was at the top seat of Censor Board, interview in Filmfare magazine when she mentioned that when Satya’s script was submitted all of the f-words and intense profanity was cut. Now cut to 13 years later, a movie was released in both English and Hindi and what looked like each and every kind of profanity was released uncut. That was Delhi Belly (DB, 2011). The first thought that went through my mind when I was enjoying DB was what if Satya’s raw uncut version be released. That was the impact of DB, released under Aamir Khan (AK) production.
With multiple storylines and dark undertone threading the comedy DB’s plot looked like a homage to Guy Ritchie’s Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998) and Snatch (2000), as AK’s nephew Imran Khan played the lead role. AK himself has admitted that DB wasn’t the first film to use expletives[i] (Bandit Queen and Omkara), but it definitely was the first commercially successful film to have used f-word (maa-behen) magnificently in Hindi. As the new trendsetters were released back to back in the Bollywood New Wave, which was marked by films like A Wednesday, Black Friday, Manorama Six Feet Under, etc., DB definitely appeared to have pushed the envelope of language. My hopes were high for new films that would capitalize on this new trend which AK can be credited with, given his acumen to identify new trends of Bollywood[ii], and would know how to advertise his productions[iii]. A few films came close to making it to that standard (e.g. Gangs of Wasseypur) but none got close.
DB was one of the three contributions of AK to the entertainment industry, which comprised of both film and television formats. AK had used his brand name[iv] to push the envelope for something that perhaps couldn’t have seen the daylight without. Second such film-making contribution was Dhobi Ghat (DG, Mumbai Diaries, 2011). Written and directed by wife Kiran Rao, DG was the cinema to be categorized under tags such as independent, art-house, etc. which had a good chance of making it on the screen during Bollywood New Wave, if only financed. This is where AK stepped in and pushed for a film that may not have seen the light of the day if it wasn’t for his brand name. Beautifully shot, fantastically narrated[v], DG was the movie that instilled a new hope and reliability for that brand name. The memorable opening scene was shot from the point of view of a character, designed to qualify for ‘found-footage’ genre, which made the introduction of that character without showing the face. Perhaps a homage to American Beauty (1999), that scene grabbed my attention for a ride that I almost had no faith in. DG faired very well with critics but was a commercial failure and AK would think twice before making another film like DG. Nevertheless DG did enjoy some success at film festival circuit.
The third and most important contribution of that brand name was actually far away from film industry, in the form that was meant to reach every single household without the price of a ticket. AK had opted to make and host a television show around social issues in contemporary India, titled Satyamev Jayate (SJ). SJ centered around issues such as female foeticide, child sexual abuse, rape, honor killings, domestic violence, untouchability, alcoholism, and the criminalization of politics[vi], including recent episode covering the topic of LGBT. There were similar talk shows in the past, e.g. Hello Zindagi, but unfortunately they did not have the brand name AK which would push SJ to the primetime slot in order to reach as many viewers as possible. SJ has been both praised and criticized for various reasons, but personally though it is the structure of the show that makes a fan out of me. Consider for example the episode of child sexual abuse. The guests on that episode recited harrowing tales that could shake any average viewer but it was the end section of the show which relieved all that pain like a stroke of magic wand. In that last section AK invited children on stage and gave them a tutorial on how to react and protect themselves in case of an emergency. This was such a light moment that not only it eased the tone but it gave a hope to fight such travesties. The easing of tone was almost along the lines of a quote by Alfred Hitchcock, fear must be gone by the end of a scary movie.
Delhi Belly, Dhobi Ghat and Satyaev Jayate were the most memorable projects AK would bring to the entertainment industry, and let’s face it, all of those needed AK’s brand name to hatch and evolve to the fullest extent and AK should be applauded. However if you show these three to an outsider, unaware of AK’s Bollywood career, then I guarantee that he/she cannot guess that AK is also attached with movies that are meant purely for run-of-the-mill entertainment which have literally created box office monsters. Movies which utilized AK’s brand name to make crores (millions).
[iv] Aamir Khan Decoded Part III: The Resilient Parasite called Oscar, 2014