On Aamir Khan’s birthday, here’s why Sarfarosh will remain a watershed moment in his long career
Aamir Khan is a chameleon when it comes to his roles and repertoire. The actor is known to vanish behind his characters and each of his films are dramatically different from the other. On Aamir Khan’s birthday today, it is perhaps time to look back to the film that started it all.
When Aamir Khan made his Bollywood debut with Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak (1988), he was hailed as the chocolate hero. His youthful good looks and boyish charm ensured that the nation swooned over him. He was the new pin-up poster boy and every girl’s dream. For the next 10 years, he would rule Bollywood as the romantic hero and later as a comic star. Films like Dil, Dil Hai Ke Manta Nahin, Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikander, Hum Hai Rahi Pyar Ke, Andaz Apna Apna and Raja Hindustani will cast him perfectly as a boy-next-door and a lover and he found a general approval from the audience. It was around that time that Aamir, who turns 54 on Thursday, decided to change the image and his profile.
When in 1999, Sarfarosh released, it took audience by surprise. The film, directed John Mathew Mathan, cast Aamir as an Assistant Commissioner of Police, Crime Branch, Mumbai Police, and it certainly came as a surprise to many. For Aamir — not exactly a tall, beefed-up man — to play a cop was hard to sink in initially.
However, not only did Aamir ace the role, Sarfarosh would completely alter his image — from a romantic and comic star he would transform into an actor who picked up socially relevant issues and could excel in almost all genres. A number of films followed — 1947: Earth, Lagaan, Mangal Pandey: The Rising (though Mangal Pandey wasn’t a commercial success), Rang De Basanti and Ghajini. All these would seal Aamir’s reputation as a commercially successful yet sensible actor, a go-to guy for realistic roles within commercial cinema.
How was this possible? For one, the way director John Mathew Mathan approached his story made a lot of difference. Having begun his career assisting parallel cinema greats like Govind Nihalani (Aakrosh) and Richard Attenborough (Gandhi), Mathan understood the need to stay grounded when narrating a story rooted in reality. Yet, with Sarfarosh he seemed to put a finger on commercial elements too, which ensured that it appealed to the masses as well. In fact, so strong is the film’s impact that its influence is visible even in recent films like 2018’s Raid.
As ACP Rathod, Aamir could portray cops really are — to be a good cop, one doesn’t have to be a tall, strapping man. It helps if one is, but much of the cop-versus-criminal game actually happens in the mind. Aamir, despite his short height, could therefore bring a certain believability to his role. Aamir’s Rathod was not brawny but, if need arose, could land a punch too. Sarfarosh actually showed for cops really worked — intelligence gathering, plunging into crime scene without much protection (bullet proof vests for example), the state of Indian policing where cops tackle AK 47-wielding ‘criminal elements’ with pistols etc.
With Sarfarosh, Aamir’s image of a chocolate boy too went out of the window; his Rathod was a man of the world — with responsibilities, a sense of authority and power, a far cry from a day-dreaming lover, who is also up to pranks.
Aamir would also discover his mojo as an action hero — one who could indulge in fist fights and take on his adversary head-on. The only difference was that even his action was believable. If you see him hitting someone, it was equally possible that he too would get hit.
In all, Sarfarosh would provide him with a blue print to kind of films he would do later. Lagaan’s Bhuvan, Rang De Basanti’s Daljit ‘DJ’ Singh/Chandrashekhar Azad or for that matter, Dangal’s Mahavir Singh Phogat would not have been possible, if Sarfarosh hadn’t happened.
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