Often considered to be the finest actor of his generation Aamir Khan is at the same age when Marlon Brando played Don Corleone in The Godafther (1972) and Amitabh Bachchan rediscovered the hidden actor in him with his iconic Vijay Dinanath Chauhan in Agneepath (1990). The two roles attained a status of veneration beyond description and have since come to be the yardsticks of actors hitting midlife. Celebrated as he is, Aamir Khan might not have gotten his Don Corleone moment, yet, and the characters that he created may not enjoy the same cult like status as Vijay Dinnath Chauhan but he hasn't really suffered the identity pangs that swamped the two thespians at 48. Even though Khan appears to be more evenly poised than many at the age when most actors find themselves to be neither young nor old enough to play a majority of popular roles, has the most promising actor of his times failed to make the best of his potential?
Actors put in truckload of performances and years before they go on to become stars but Aamir was an actor who was a star right from his first commercial release. Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak (1988) showed him as a Hindi film hero who was same, same but different and his next release Raakh (1989) showcased him as the star who hadn't forgotten where the actor within in resided. One of the first actors in commercial Hindi cinema who became extremely picky about projects and the one who started the trend of doing single, at most two films at the same time, the trade took its time in considering Aamir a star as big as some of his contemporaries. It was as late as 2006 with Rang De Basanti that the industry finally put his stardom and his box-office draw at par with his acting abilities. It's strange that in spite of delivering commercial hits and critically acclaimed performances on a regular basis the exalted status that is almost his shadow today, came about in the last decade or so. In the last five years he's had more hits than anyone else and every release of his is nothing less than a event that the world awaits but it's also in these five years that he has chosen to be a star more than anything else. In his recent films Taare Zameen Par (2007), Ghajini (2008) and 3-Idiots (2009) he appears to be more of a hero than ever before in his career where he played characters who didn't seem so desperate to succeed or be correct. There might be a streak of political incorrectness in Rancho (3-Idiots), DJ (Rang De Basanti), Ram Shankar Nikumbh (Taare Zameen Par) or Arun (Dhobi Ghat (2011) but that is just at the forefront; scratch a little and there's nothing as organic about them as Raghu Jaitley (Dil Hai Ki Maanta Nahin (1991), Sanjay Lal (Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar (1992), Amar (Andaaz Apna Apna (1994) Amar Ajay Singh Rathod (Sarfarosh (1999), or Dil Navaz (Earth (1999).
The one-man industry like of fare that Amitabah Bachchan came to be known for with films like Lawaaris (1981), Sharaabi (1984), Inquilaab (1984) and Mard (1985) were a far cry from the characters he immortalized in the first phase of his career. His deterioration as an actor at the hands of the star that he had become needed an Agneepath to help him find his way. Similarly the Brando of A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) or On the Waterfront (1954) had been eclipsed by the star of A Countess from Hong Kong (1967), Candy (1968), and The Nightcomers (1971) before The Godfather reminded us just what an actor he really was. The passage of time has seen Aamir Khan's stock as a star increase and that could be a reason where the older he gets, the lesser risks he takes. Of course, we aren't talking of risks such as playing a college student at 44 (3-Idiots) or a Greek deus ex-machina like teacher whose mere presence sets everything right (Taare Zameen Par). One's also not talking about the risks he takes as a producer where he's as much at ease producing a Peeli: Live or Dhobi Ghat as he is putting his money in a Delhi Belly. The question that you need to ask about Aamir Khan's last few acting jobs is that which recent Aamir Khan film has the same repeat value as his earlier films? I haven't had the heart to revisit an Aamir Khan film since Lagaan (2001) and the last Aamir Khan character I truly enjoyed was a toss up between Dil Navaz (Earth) and Ajay Singh Rathod (Sarfarosh). And yes, Arun from Dhobi Ghat had more than a few sparkling moments.
Who knows what his roles could have become had Aamir not attained the mega-star status? Maybe he wouldn't have exhausted filmmakers like Vishal Bhardwaj or Mani Ratman with whom he spent months developing projects only to walk out. Maybe for every one Dhobi Ghat he wouldn't be compelled to do a Dhoom-3 (2013), Ghajini or Fanna (2006). Maybe he would have given up playing a college student, however justifiable from the script point view, once every five years. Beyond the Brandos and the Bachchans there was a Dev Anand who managed a Hare Rama Hare Krishna (1971), Gambler (1971) and Tere Mere Sapne (1971) in the year he turned 48, a Balraj Sahni who donned the greasepaint to play one of his most memorable characters in Kabuliwala (1961) when he turned 48 or a Jeff Bridges who became the Dude in The Big Lebowski (1998) around the same age. There's much more to Aamir Khan than being an actor and there's definitely much more to him than films. Just like his off-screen existence has inspired his on-screen persona, his film characters have helped create an aura of Aamir Khan that is nothing less than sure shot sign of something good, and more importantly something right. I guess Aamir Khan fans, this writer included, need to look at things from a broader perspective. The balance that Aamir Khan, the star, strikes with Aamir Khan, the actor, make Aamir Khan, the persona something more than a mere matinee idol. The impact of Aamir Khan beyond the arc lights through his social appearances such as Satyamave Jayate are testimony of how he's chosen to use the spotlight that could be blinding to light the path that he prefers to tread. And 48 ain't the end of life.
Aamir Khan turned 48 on 14 March.