All hell broke loose after one of Bollywood’s most outspoken and successful actors, Aamir Khan, complained of rising religious intolerance in the country and revealed that his family contemplated moving abroad because of the recent spike in communal conflicts.
Amid a torrent of attacks — some outright abusive, such as branding him a traitor — by BJP leaders and Hindu right-wing groups, the 50-year-old actor known for his social activism remained defiant. He stood by his comments, and asserted through a statement on Wednesday that he doesn’t need any endorsement or permission for his views.
A look at his work over the years reveals his strong, independent opinion on various ills afflicting society. From playing a wide-eyed alien wobbling though India’s religious web in PK, that ran to packed houses even in China, to highlighting sensitive issues such as female foeticide, rape and corruption through a popular television show, Satyamev Jayate, Khan has earned the reputation of being an actor with a social conscience.
Here’s a list of five movies where his social messages stood out and left a lasting impression.
1. Sarfarosh (1999)
Besides being a thriller with Aamir playing tough cop ACP Rathore on the trail of gunrunners from Pakistan, the movie touches upon issues festering India’s unique social fabric. The upright Hindu officer’s closest ally is inspector Salim (played by Mukesh Rishi), but the department is reluctant to trust a Muslim officer.
Patriotism and communal harmony pour out from every pore in a scene where Rathore reacts to Salim’s accusations that he was not considered for the assignment because he’s a Muslim. He explains why religious conflicts should not come in way of duty.
2. Lagaan (2001)
Aamir as Bhuvan, the country bumpkin with an attitude. And not only that, he accepts a challenge to play the English and beat them in their own game of cricket to win tax concessions for his village. He achieves the impossible with a ragtag team; the hidden weapon being the village scavenger born with a twisted arm turning the tide as his key bowler. The metaphor was not lost — David versus Goliath. But it was his motivational speech to his folk that underpins the message: the strength in unity.
3. Mangal Pandey: The Rising (2005)
Khan plays 1857 freedom struggle hero Mangal Pandey in this Ketan Mehta film which narrates the story of the first uprising against British rule. “Yeh azaadi ki ladai hai ... ghuzre hue kal se azaadi ... aane waale kal ke liye,” Pandey tells fellow soldiers in Meerut as he inspires them to rise against the British masters.
4. Rang De Basanti (2006)
Impressed with the story of the Indian freedom struggle, a foreign filmmaker arrives in India and selects some youngsters to play important characters in her film. During the shooting, youngsters led by Khan as DJ, starts experiencing an inward journey which make them understand the true meaning of freedom. It gives them moral strength when they stand tall opposite some mighty politicians.
5. PK (2014)
Aamir as PK — a non-blinking, paan-chewing alien lost in India’s socio-religious labyrinth — explores paradoxes that surface every day in the form of godman, sycophantic devotees, thieves and riff-raffs. For all these he had a simple name, ‘wrong number’. “Kaun Hindu, kaun Musalman ... thappa kidhar hai dikha ... ye farak bhagwan nahi tum log banaya hai ... aur yahi is gola ka sabse danger wrong number hai.”