In the recent past, Aamir Khan’s public image has become something of a caricature, an actor who cries after every movie and was much-maligned after his comments about rising intolerance which to be fair were taken a tad out of context and blown out of proportion.
But there’s an Aamir Khan beyond the actor, beyond the caricature and he’s a man who is to be adored immensely, simply because of his contribution to society. A lot has been said about Satyamev Jayate and how much Aamir Khan charged per episode, or cried fake crocodile tears. But Aamir’s social battles started long before SJ came along, as he was part of the Narmada Bachao Andolan.
And ask yourself, when was the last time you cared about generic medicines, gender discrimination, malnutrition, disability or pesticides. And it’s not just Satyamev Jayate where Aamir has talked about these issues. He is an official UNICEF ambassador against malnutrition and has shot over 40 short films.
His episode on child sex abuse was, in particular, revolutionary, which led to a huge debate, in both houses of parliament (and a more comprehensive child sex abuse bill was passed, not that it implies a causal link) and talked about an issue which gets shoved under the rug more than anything else.
He has also touched upon non-sexy topics like the woeful healthcare scenario, an episode which earned him a lot of brickbats from doctors, but did promote the issue of generic drugs and he was even called by a Parliamentary Standing Committee to discuss the issue.
He also talked about mental health issues, problems faced by the disabled, alcohol abuse and the paucity of safe drinking water.
In 2011, when Aamir Khan and Kiran Rao had a baby through Invitro Fertilisation, he didn’t’ hide the fact, and this helped raise public awareness about procedure and fertility clinics. This led to praise from within the film community. Mahesh Bhatt was quoted saying by Hindustan Times: “When an icon like Aamir opts for surrogacy and talks about such a medical procedure openly, it helps remove taboos associated with it.” Even Raveena Tandon said: “Thanks to Aamir, couples will be able to discuss such things more openly now.” Even doctors acknowledged that Aamir talking openly about it would let regular people consider the advice
The intolerance row
When Aamir Khan’s intolerance comments blew up, despite not agreeing with the tone or facts about his comments, the author has to accept that he handled himself with extreme grace. Despite pressure (including box office losses), he refused to retract his statement. He said in an official statement:
“First let me state categorically that neither I nor my wife Kiran, have any intention of leaving the country. We never did, and nor would we like to in the future. Anyone implying the opposite has either not seen my interview or is deliberately trying to distort what I have said. India is my country, I love it, I feel fortunate for being born here, and this is where I am staying. Secondly, I stand by everything that I have said in my interview.
To all those people who are calling me anti-national, I would like to say that I am proud to be Indian, and I do not need anyone’s permission nor an endorsement for that.
To all the people who have stood by me, thank you. We have to protect what this beautiful and unique country of ours really stands for. We have to protect its integrity, diversity, inclusiveness, its many languages, its culture, its history, its tolerance, its concept of ekantavada, its love, sensitivity and its emotional strength.”
Even when his services were discontinued for the Incredible India campaign, he was extremely gracious with his comments. He said: “It is the prerogative of the government to decide whether they need a brand ambassador for any campaign, and if so, who that ambassador should be. I respect the decision of the government to discontinue my service … Whether I am a brand ambassador or not, India will remain Incredible, and that’s the way it should be.”
In these days of extreme political correctness, where most actors stay far away from political issues, it’s refreshing to have an actor who is willing to call a spade a spade. In fact, when he met PM Modi, he told him that he thought India was ‘very tolerant’ and it was only some people who were spreading hatred. He told Rajat Sharma in his Aap Ki Adalat Show’ on India TV: “Our country is very tolerant, but there are people who spread ill-will…Those who speak of breaking up this vast country, such people are present in all religions, only Modiji can stop them. After all, Modiji is our PM, we have to tell him.”
He had also said: “Till this date, I continue to be India’s brand ambassador, even though the government may have discontinued me.”
When Aamir Khan appeared on the TIME cover in 2012, the title was Khan’s Quest with the caption ‘He’s breaking the Bollywood mould by speaking out against India’s social ills. Can an actor change a nation?” Maybe one actor can’t change a nation, but for millions of us, Aamir Khan has raised issues and made us think about things that we’d seldom contemplate. And for that we adore him.
Happy 51th Aamir and may you continue making waves and fighting for social change.