If one actor has undoubtedly repeatedly raised the bar with his performances in mainstream Hindi cinema, it is undoubtedly Aamir Khan. Aamir is that rare breed in Bollywood, a thinking man's actor, a perfect combination of being an actor-star rather than the other way around. His quest for perfection and nature of questioning the director on every aspect of his role has seen him being labelled as a 'difficult actor' but what it really shows is his total commitment to his craft. In fact, if anything Aamir can at times be accused of, it is his 'over-studying' and 'over-analysis' of his various roles. But there is no doubt that any film that Aamir Khan is associated with immediately acquires the image of having a certain sensibility, of having class, of being a quality product.
Aamir Khan was born in 1965 in Bombay , the son of Producer Tahir Hussain and the nephew of the late well-known producer-director Nasir Hussain. Following roles as a young child in Yaadon ki Baraat (1973) and Madhosh (1974), Aamir made his adult acting debut as part of an ensemble cast with Ketan Mehta's Holi (1983).
Aamir made his debut as a Hindi film hero in Nasir Hussain's Qayamat se Qayamat Tak (1988) or QSQT as it is known. The film, directed by Nasir Hussain's son and Aamir's cousin, Mansoor Khan, began slowly but picked up on word of mouth and went on to become the biggest hit of 1988. QSQT, co-starring Juhi Chawla, sensibly combines a Romeo-Juliet love story set against a backdrop of feuding Rajput families with all the Nasir Hussain 'items' thrown in and had a young, fresh outlook that endeared itself to youngsters and made Aamir a heart throb. The songs of the film Papa Kehte Hain, Akele Hain to Kya Gham Hai, Ae Mere Humsafar and Gazab ka Hai Din were extremely popular and hummed throughout the country. Aamir deservedly won the Filmfare Best Debut Award for the film.
Aamir showed traces of taking the road not taken with his very second film as leading man, Aditya Bhattacharya's off-beat Raakh (1989). Aamir plays a young man who has an encounter with street hoodlums. As a result his his grifriend (Supriya Pathak) is raped by them. Aamir, feeling responsible for the rape, decides to kill those responsible. The film, a dark and intense violent tale, sees fine performances from Aamir and Pankaj Kapur as the suspended cop who helps him.
Aamir then entered positively the worst phase of his career as a spate of terrible films - Love Love Love (1989), Jawaani Zindabad (1990), Awwal Number (1990) came and flopped. What's more, even Aamir's work was largely uninspiring and nothing to write home about in these films. Thankfully for him, Dil (1990) changed all that.
Dil was a typical masala film - a love story leading to the estrangement between the familes of the leading pair, thus gradually replacing the problems of the individual with those of interfamilial relationships. The film, co-starring Madhuri Dixit, was the top Hindi hit of 1990 with hit songs like Mujhe Neend Na Aaye, Khambe Jaisi Khadi Hai, O Priya Priya. Dil brought Aamir back into the reckoning as a saleable actor, further cemented by the success of Dil Hai ki Maanta Nahin (1991), a re-make of It Happened One Night (1934). Here, Aamir was extremely likeable as the rouguish journalist Raghu Jaitley helping heiress Pooja (Pooja Bhatt) elope and be along for the ride so he could get an 'exclusive ' story.
After QSQT, Mansoor Khan and Aamir Khan re-united for Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikander (1992) or JJWS. Inspired from Breaking Away (1979) and the idiom of Archie comics, the film is one of the few sports films in India and one of Aamir's finest films. He is spot on as the lovebale pranskter who turns serious and responsible when it matters most. The climactic cylce race is involving and rousing and you cannot help but cheer at Aamir's victory. A highlight of the film is the picturisation of the song Pehla Nasha Pehla Khumaar, shot with lip sync in slow motion, thus effectively giving the flushes of first romantic love the necessary heady feeling of floating in the clouds. Though Aamir's was undoubtedly the performance of the year, he lost the Filmfare Award for Best Actor to Anil Kapoor for Beta (1992), one of the most shocking decisions in Filmfare's history. Aamir has never bothered with award ceremonies in India since.
By now Aamir slowly began reducing the films he was doing to concentrate on quality rather than quantity. Some major films where Aamir made a solid impact as always include Mahesh Bhatt's Hum Hain Raahi Pyaar ke (1993), Raj Santoshi's Andaaz Apna Apna (1994), Ram Gopal Varma's Rangeela (1995), Mansoor Khan's Akele Hum Akele Tum (1995), Raja Hindustani (1996), Ishq (1997), Ghulam (1998) - where he sang the immensely popular song Aati Hai Khandala, Deepa Mehta's Earth: 1947 (1998) and Sarfarosh (1999). He did win the Filmfare Best Actor Award for Raja Hindustani and sticking to his aversion of the Indian film award scenario, did not come to collect it!
Of the above films, special mention must be made of Rangeela and Sarfarosh - both films where Aamir successfully played against type a 'tapori' in the former and a tough ACP in the latter. Rangeela, in particular sees Aamir get the Bambaiya lingo, the attitute, the body language absolutely perfect be it stealing a banana off a street vendor or creating a ruckus in a movie hall. It is perhaps his most uninhibited performance. The scene where dressed in a yellow suit, he takes Urmila Matondkar to a five star restaurant to impress her and propose to her is a highlight of the film.
For an actor noted for his histrionic ability and ability to choose exactly the right project, Aamir went disastrously wrong with Mela (2000). A loud and terrible reworking of Caravan (1971) and Sholay (1975), the film was a disaster of the highest magnitude in every sense including Aamir's hammiest ever performance. It was an embarrassment for all those connected with the film. especially Aamir.
Thankfully, Aamir was right back on form in Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India (2001) and Dil Chahta Hai (2001), two of the finest films of his career. Lagaan looks at a village in India in 1893. The rains have failed, and the people of the village hope that they will be excused from paying the crippling land tax that their British rulers have imposed. Instead, the capricious British officer in charge challenges them to a game of cricket, a game totally alien and unknown to them. If they win, they get their wish; if they lose, however, the increased tax burden will destroy their lives. Lagaan is a fine triumph-of-the-underdog film and went on to be nominated for Best Foreign film at the Oscars though it lost to the Bosnian film, No Man's Land (2001). Still, Lagaan and Aamir got pretty good reviews from critics the world over. To quote Edward Guthmann in the San Francisco Chronicle, "There's a tremendous kick in the musical numbers, in the David-vs.-Goliath rivalry of villagers and Brits, and in the dazzling performance by Khan, who also produced the film. How many movie stars can pull off rousing heroics, give credibility to plush love scenes and then be perfectly convincing as song-and-dance men? Smoke on that, Mel and Tom." Or well-known film critic Roger Ebert, "Leaving the film, I did not feel unsatisfied or vaguely short-changed, as after many Hollywood films, but satisfied: I had seen a movie."
Dil Chahta Hai takes a look at the friendship of three young graduates Akash (Aamir Khan), Sameer (Saif Ali Khan) and Siddharth (Akshaye Khanna). The director Farhan Akhtar gives us a warm, witty, poignant and humorous portrayal of young friendship treated in a refreshingly candid manner without bowing to the dictates of loud melodrama and self-sacrifice. Aamir, though a trifle studied, still manages to let go and infuse Akash with a zany sense of fun thus endearing him to audiences. His metamorphisis as he falls in love with Shalini (Preity Zinta) comes through extremely convincingly.
It would be another four years before Aamir had another release as he exclusively prepared for and gave full commitment to playing Mangal Panday in The Rising (2005). He grew his hair, his moustache, he lived and breathed Mangal Panday for four years. However the overhyped final film, directed by Ketan Mehta, looking at the man who was the catalyst for the1857 uprising against the British was a major dud in all departments including Aamir's over-studied performance.
Aamir scored heavily at the box office with Rang De Basanti (2006) and Fanaa (2006). Aamir, though too old for the role, is the life of Rang de Basanti, a film that asks the younger generation to awaken and think of the country and not just themselves. Part of an ensemble cast yet standing out, he never hits a false note - be it in the lighter moments of enjoying life where his sense of timing is spot on or the more serious moments as his conscience wakens or his breakdown sequence taken in extended long takes so as not to interrupt his performance. Fanaa, an extremely disappointing film, sees him giving in an effiecient enough performance as a tour guide having another side to him. But, unfortunately for him as the tour guide dropping cheap one liners and shitty poetry and declaring he doesn't believe in love, Aamir's role is simply an amalgamation of all that he has played in the past from Raja Hindustani, Rangeela, Dil Chahta Hai, Earth: 1947, Rang de Basanti and Mann so in that sense you are seeing nothing new in that part of his performance.
Always considered an interfering star, direction was the next logical step. Aamir turned director with Taare Zameen Par (2007), a sensitive take on a child who is differently abled. It is a confident and assured start to what could be a fascinating filmography as a filmmaker for Aamir. By choosing to make Taare Zameen Par his first film, he has ensured that we can look forward to his future films as director with the same anticipation as his films as actor.
Returning to hardcore commercial cinema with a vengeance, Ghajini (2008), sees Aamir play a man with short-term memory who keeps refreshing his memory so that he can avenge his girlfriend's killers. Inspired from the Hollywood indie masterpiece Memento and a Tamil version made in 2005, the film is a major over hyped and overblown disappointment, including Aamir's OTT at times performance. Still, his charisma and draw ensured it getting one of the biggest ever openings in Hindi cinema and ended up being the highest grossing film in Indian cinema till then!
His latest film, 3 Idiots (2009) overtook even Ghajini but it has to be said that in spite of having its moments, the film comes a distant third behind Rajkumar Hirani's earlier Munna Bhai films with Aamir himself handicapped by a flat and uni dimensional role. Again, his charm and energy ensures that he rises above the script with a likeable enough performance.