I am rather fond of Aamir Khan and it’s not because of his acting capabilities. You don’t have to be a Khalid Mohamed to see that he’s a ham — clenching his jaws and narrowing his eyes whenever his character needs to emote, whether in a scene with British imperialists waving their bats at him; or in another scene where a villainous chap has just set his eyes on the girl; or in yet another in which his character is admiring the tremendous life-affirming qualities of an eight-year-old boy. Give me Saif Ali Khan any time.
I am fond of Aamir because in 1988, Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak was the last Hindi movie that I went to see in a cinema. Given this nostalgia-fuelled fondness, I have always been willing to give Aamir a mile when I have given Shah Rukh Khan 5 feet 8 inches. But this time round, Aamir has not only made a fool of himself but he’s made me look like a fool for being fond of him.
Aamir, like L.K. Advani or Shoaib Akhtar or my building maintenance guy, wants everyone to think that he’s a Good Person. Nothing wrong with that. When he joined the Narmada Bachao chaps for a sit-down, I thought that if Lady Di could have had a thing for land mines without going into the nitty-gritty of the 1997 Ottawa Treaty, it’s sweet of our People’s Prince to have something for big dams even if he didn’t know much about the ‘136.5 metres or bust’ debate. When he mumbled something about the possibility of aerated drinks not being the right choice, baby, (even as he burped his way through Coca-Cola ads), I thought that this was an honest man fumbling for truth in the imperfect PR vs propaganda world that we all live in.
But this week, Aamir, in his continuing quest to be a Good Person, has made such Bad Sense, that I can’t help but think that he’s a moron. He had reportedly received many requests asking him to refrain from participating in the Olympic torch run on April 17 as it would give out the wrong message at a time when Good People all around the world are shouting against Tibetans being boot-crunched by the hands-free Han Chinese. The actor responded by stating that the “Olympics do not belong to China” (in the same way that the Roman salute did not belong to the Nazis) and that he saw the Games as a “coming together of different people across the world, despite their differences and difficulties”. Which is absolutely fine considering that unlike, say, Bhaichung Bhutia, he has to take into consideration the struggles of people all around the world.
But something — a worry that he may not be coming across as the Noam Chomsky of Bollywood? — made him go on. Aamir explained that he has the “highest regard and respect for the struggle that the people of Tibet are going through”. Just to cover a few more bases, he has similar feelings for the “struggles” in Iraq, Kashmir (displaced Kashmiri Pandits and “Kashmiris in general”) and Palestine. I’m sure Aamir will very soon add Kurds in Iraq, Armenians in Turkey, Whites in Zimbabwe, North Indians in Mumbai, Falun Gong members in Tianjin province, and Eskimos in the Sahara to the list. But the bottomline is that he will take part in the Beijing Olympics celebrations “with a prayer in [his] heart for the people of Tibet”. That’s like someone munching on a chicken leg and announcing that it is simply to put the chicken out of the misery of existing in an overcrowded coop.
Now I don’t know whether the Great Hall of the People in Beijing ever showed QSQT or any of Aamir’s movies on its giant screen. But Hu Jintao can be forgiven for summoning Jackie Chan and Indian ambassador Nirupama Rao at 2 am to know why India has a far superior comic hero than China. Aamir, our Good Person Not From Sezuan wants to have his darsaan and eat it too. In fact, the guffaws from the Great Hall have already started to waft around Potala Palace in Lhasa, where the people of Tibet will slowly but surely realise that the best way to support their own cause is to stop chanting, ‘Buddham saranam gachchami’ and sing ‘Papa kehte hain faster, higher, stronger...’