Mr Aamir Khan, whose recent output ranges all the way from Mangal Pandey to Dil Chahta Hai, has often been hailed as a genius because of the quality of his work. His consistency in hitting the bull’s eye over and over again, by making films which connects with the nation, has been heralded unanimously. It seems like the man only goes from height to height: if being a part of Indian cinema’s biggest success story, 3 Idiots, wasn’t enough, he is now making people all over the country weep every Sunday through Satyamev Jayate.
Obviously, I have a slightly different take.
Mr Khan’s success has nothing to do with quality of the output: if quality work was the only criteria, we would not have witnessed Aamir Khan in Sunny Deol mode in that woeful remake, Ghajini. And like I have done over the past decade, I will continue to pretend that films like Fanaa and Mela do not exist.
The reason he seems to be so unerringly consistent is because of an altogether different – and in these marketing-heavy times, perhaps more important – reason: his razor-sharp understanding of the Indian audience.
He understands that the Indian audience is a particularly emotional one. Indian films are the only thing, besides cricket, that provide our people with a collective, common conscious – one which allows us to both take out or frustrations, as well be inspired to carry on with our daily struggles. Hence, his films always deliver on the emotional quota: they’ll make you laugh, they’ll make you cry, and, crucially, they’ll make you think an important point has been raised.
That is the fulcrum of his success.
Examine the spread of issues he has dealt with in the recent past: the faulty Indian education system (3 Idiots), the faulty Indian media (Peepli Live), the faulty parenting styles (Taare Zameen Par – let’s face it, more than dyslexia per se, it was a film urging you not to force kids to conform) and now the many faulty things in our country. In each of these, he has made a point about how wrong things around us are. And we, burdened with the unimaginable weight of survival in our country as well as the stifling inability to do anything about our problems, have vigorously nodded in agreement. In the process, Aamir Khan has been hailed as a genius for the ‘insightful’ manner in which he confronts us with ‘uncomfortable’ questions.
Yes, he is certainly a genius – but of an entirely different kind. He is a genius because he has understood a peculiarly idiotic thing about us: we seek neither insight, nor discomfort. We like affordable, comfortable revolutions, ones which demand nothing more from us than to murmur outrage. While we are smart enough to understand our issues and start uproar over injustice, we are too lazy and near-sighted to seek a resolution. To us, the uproar is the resolution. Once an issue has been raised, we are content to mull over it, express our agreement, voice our conviction that something must be done, and then patiently wait for the next issue to be raised. Brought up in a country where we continuously rely on others to solve our problems, not one of us notices that we have conveniently skipped over the resolution.
Think about it yourself: in which of the afore-mentioned works has he ever provided a viable, practical solution? No. But has that lack of a possible way out being shown ever disturbed us? Not at all – seeking solutions is not a part of our nature, and he knows that. He knows that we are content that someone has raised the question. The more populist and obvious the issue, the more we appreciate it. Honestly – did we need Aamir Khan to convince us that there are faults in the Indian education system, or that dowry is a widespread disease? What we needed was information on how to change – something that is unavailable. And I’m sorry – it is a ridiculous argument to say that at least someone has raised the question. These questions have always been raised, standing tall and erect in our hazy collective conscience, always relegated to the distant horizon, where they will be promptly returned to once we find a newer question.
We are worse than armchair activists – we are philosophical hypochondriacs. We love discussing all the things that plague us, but somewhere are morbidly afraid of finding a solution. Which is why films like Swades and Yuva, which have offered semi-practical solutions to our national problems, never work here. And Aamir Khan, the ambassador of psudo-transformation, has understood this better than anyone. Aamir Khan is simply the man who looks at his neighbor and says that the streets are too dirty. He is never going to pick up a broom – and neither are we, so we nod in agreement, convinced that having nodded, our part in this revolution is complete.