April 2017 Some people wear success so lightly on their sleeves that it never overshadows their humanity. One such person is Aamir Khan, a role model to many as an actor, an activist and ultimately, a complete human being, says Jamuna Rangachari In the world of cinema, there are many film-makers who venture into socially relevant subjects aiming to make us think but fail as they do not capture the imagination of the audience. Then there are those whose only purpose is to give the viewer three hours of entertainment. There are others whose work is so mindless that watching them pulverises our brains. There is a fourth lot whose sights are set on showcasing glamour and spectacle. In this world there are only a few like Aamir Khan who provide what I would consider holistic entertainment. The quality of his work is so excellent that his films include wonderful songs, outstanding acting and cinematography, a rivetting story line that touches our hearts, and an inspirational theme that lingers in our minds long after we have walked out of the theatre. It is always a challenge to depict people who are still living, because of the difficulty of portraying them realistically. Perhaps only Aamir could have succeeded as well as he did in his recent film, Dangal, that showed us the amazing story of the wrestling family, the Phogats. He spared no efforts in achieving excellence, going to the extent of learning the art of wrestling, the Harayanvi lingo, and even put on weight to make his portrayal look realistic. He did so much justice to the role that after a special screening of the film exclusively for him, Mahavir Singh Phogat, the wrestling ace on whose zeal to make his wrestlers out of his daughters the film is based, simply held Aamir Khan and wept. I remember watching the movie, Tare Zameen Par, crying a bit, laughing a lot and while walking out, reflecting poignantly on the ‘stars’ we seem to have forgotten. The film's release set off a wave in society. Many started acknowledging that each child was different. The film's mention of the chilling practice followed by residents of the Solomon Islands, who shouted abuse at a tree when they wanted to cut it down, was a stark reminder of the damage criticism and condemnation can do. Parents began thinking about how to correct their children without damaging them, and teachers started thinking about how to teach humanely.The movie was so remarkable that it made even the BJP leader, L K Advani, say at that time, "Both the director and the script writer must be complimented. In many years, I have not seen such a film. I must express my gratitude to Aamir. It's a brilliant film in every respect. In spite of being a difficult topic, it has been presented so well that it touches the heart of the audience”. The movie, Lagaan, showed a story about a village’s rebellion against the British. Many may have thought such a movie would never succeed, but succeed it did, and remarkably so, being a pathbreaker in many ways. Though the theme is primarily about fighting against the British Raj, the message of equality of all beings, whatever caste or religion they may belong to, was also woven in, making it a movie one could never forget. In Rang De Basanti, though the movie is primarily about college students and the message of Bhagat Singh, the patriotic fervour of all faiths in fighting for the Independence of India is shown beautifully. Three Idiots, while being rip-roaringly funny, also made people think about the stress they were subjecting their children to. Except for the first two, the other films were neither produced nor directed by him, but he injects his own extraordinary power of focus and passion to any project he takes up, and the product is inevitably excellent. Aamir carried through almost all the causes he espoused beyond the screen. He associated with NGOs and even the municipal government to become the face for the campaign to prevent stress and suicide among the young, after acting in Three Idiots. Indeed, apart from his prowess as an actor, Aamir has always been a humane activist. Actor-crusader In 2006, he joined hands with activist Medha Patkar, the leader of the Narmada Bachao Andolan committee, and protested against the Gujarat government's decision to raise the height of the Narmada Dam. He raised concerns about the tribes, who were to be displaced from their homes, without a concrete rehabilitation plan in place. He has also spoken out in support of the victims of the Bhopal gas tragedy. He had said that the government of Madhya Pradesh had failed its people by not providing basic rights like safe drinking water and compensation, even after 20 years of the tragic incident. But Aamir is not just a grim chronicler of what does not work. He recognises the importance of focussing on what works, and on role models doing positive work for society. That was the birth of the reality show that touched many hearts. The triumph of truth Aamir made his television debut in the wonderful serial, Satyamev Jayate, in 2012, that portrayed various social evils, challenges, as well as success stories, that showed the country the way to resolve the travails. The show focussed on sensitive social issues prevalent in India such as female foeticide, child sexual abuse, rape, honour killings, domestic violence, untouchability, alcoholism, and the criminalisation of politics. It aimed to highlight the great achievements of the common man, which often goes unnoticed, in order to inspire the nation to take matters in their own hands and contribute to a better India. While the primary language of the show was Hindi, it was also telecast in eight languages such as Bengali, Malayalam, Marathi, Tamil and Telugu, and subtitled in English, to ensure maximum reach. Commenting on the theme of the show, Aamir had said, "The show is about meeting the common man of India, connecting with India and its people." Rajinder Johar, a quadriplegic, who was featured on the programme, recounts how the Satyamev Jayate team approached him to share his story and cover his NGO, The Family of the Disabled. More than just the stupendous amount of money that was raised through donations, Mr Johar was extremely touched that a superstar like him was spending so much time and energy on causes such as his. Rajender Johar's son, Pankaj, who has also been associated with some episodes of the programme, says he has seen Aamir break down when certain sensitive stories were shared with him backstage. "He is a genuinely humane person who truly cares for all the issues that are throttling the nation," he avers. Social worker, Harish Iyer, who was featured on the show as a victim of child abuse, says, “Anyone who was with Aamir on the show will vouch for his genuine love and compassion for the causes he stood up for." Harish also recounts the time when he and his mother were invited for lunch in his room, and Aamir asked everyone else to leave, personally made space for them, and even served them the food himself. Though Aamir accepts that he alone cannot provide the solution, his sincerity in doing all he can, is evident. For instance, when he exposed a seven-year- old sting operation that had caught nearly 100 doctors practising female foeticide, he raised the matter with the chief minister of Rajasthan, and requested him to mete out suitable punishment to the maximum extent possible. In fact, Aamir Khan has often said that he believes Satyamev Jayate to be the most important work he has done in the 25 years of his career. Handling negativity with positivity Famous people are often berated for all that they say or do. When one happens to be an idealist and a success like Aamir, the negative backlash is proportionately higher. Aamir has always handled such controversies with grace. While speaking at a Ramnath Goenka Awards function in the recent past, he had said that he was "alarmed" at the low tolerance levels in the country, mentioning in passing that his wife, Kiran, had even suggested moving out of the country. This was blown out of proportion by many and Aamir was divested of his brand ambassadorship of the Incredible India initiative of the government. Aamir took this graciously and said to the press, “Whether I am brand ambassador or not, India will remain Incredible, and that's the way it should be”. In another controversy regarding the Kashmiri actor Zaira Wasim of Dangal where she was trolled on all social media platforms for not being an ideal role model for the young, Aamir stood by her and appealed to everyone to “leave her alone and respect the fact that she is just a 16-year- old girl trying her best to deal with life”. Multifaceted success “To thine own self, be true,” said Shakespeare. Aamir has always done this. He has stood by his principles, his nation, and all of humanity, by doing all that he can to the best of his abilities. He has excelled in his craft, listened to his conscience, and never compromised on any of his principles. This is why, I, among many others, consider him a true success and a role model.
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