Aamir Khan’s commendable work through the years proves why cinema should contain powerful social messages

14th Mar 2017
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It’s a widely accepted fact that Aamir Khan is the proponent of cinema for social change. The 52-year-old is known to take on hard-hitting projects that he believes challenge the hypocrisies of modern society, as seen by his lead roles in movies like Dangal, PK and 3 Idiots.

Image credits: Creative Commons

In an interview with The Hindu, he had once said, “I also believe that an entertainer has a much larger role to play in society, one that perhaps only he/she can play best. And that is to bring grace to society, to help build the moral fibre of society, to instil higher values in young children. This can be a great contribution in nation-building, and in creating a healthy progressive society.”

Through the rough three decades of his career in Bollywood, Khan has played a series of differential characters, earning himself the tagline of being a ‘diversified’ actor. His stint with production began with the Oscar-nominated movie Lagaan (2001), directed by Ashutosh Gowarikar and in which Khan played the lead role of Bhuvan.

Khan was also critically acclaimed for his programme Satyamev Jayate, a talk show centring around social issues like abuse, honour killings, female foeticide, marital rape, criminalisation of politics, untouchability, and other harsh realities that society usually prefers to brush under the carpet. The show witnessed positive responses from viewers across 165 countries, even in places like Papua New Guinea and Seychelles.

While Khan does accept that entertainment is the foundation of cinema, he also strongly holds that this ‘entertainment’ can also be used righteously and instigate reflection. To him, that is the dream – to tell the truth through cinema and make people recognise and understand it. This may sound like an oversimplification considering that there are many more factors active in this play – for instance, production costs and casting almost always hints at high returns when it comes to making a highly commercial movie. However, making a movie that attracts the same kind of numbers, while also depicting serious issues, is difficult, to say the least. However, as Khan puts it candidly, do not be afraid to walk on a new path and take risks.

“I believe that one should never compromise with one’s dream. One should be willing to compromise to achieve that dream – but never with the dream itself. Finally, it depends on the individual. Across the decades, you will always find people who guarded their dreams with insurmountable passion,” he said.

Today, as he turns a year older and looks glamorously younger, let’s take a look at some of his most powerful movies to date:

Dangal

“Gold to Gold hota hai…chhora laave ya chhori.”

Nitesh Tiwari’s Dangal was a pro-feminist narrative about how women from even the most constrictive sections of the Indian society are fighting the stigma of patriarchy. The movie is based on the real-life story of a Mahavir Singh Phogat, who faced ostracism from his village society in Haryana, for training his daughters – Geeta and Babita – in the ‘manly’ sport of wrestling. The movie focused on battling one of the greatest stereotypes that exist in our country, and even a large part of the world. Its humorous undertones and fast action sequences not only kept the audience engaged, but its transparent message to treat women as rightful equals to their male counterparts left a powerful imprint in their minds.

Peepli (Live)

“Kapda hai bahut zyada par kameez bahut tang hai ...badal hai bahut zyada par baraste kitne kam hai.”

Co-produced with his wife Kiran Rao, Khan roped in the talented Anusha Rizvi and Mahmood Farooqui to create a satire on the ongoing crisis of farmer suicides in India, which in the last five years has seen an almost fourfold increase in its rates. With its hard-hitting narrative and rib-cracking humour, Peepli (Live) effectively explains the reality of the alarmingly increasing farmer suicides in India through the journey of farmers Natha and Budhia, who are advised by a local authority figure to commit suicide in order for their families to receive “compensation benefits”.

Rang De Basanti

“Zindagi jeene ke do hi tarike hote hai...ek jo ho raha hai hone do, bardaasht karte jao ... ya phir zimmedari uthao usse badalneki.”

If you didn’t feel a surge of patriotic responsibility after watching this movie, then we’re assuming that you didn’t watch it at all. Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s 2006 brainchild had the nation stand together, if only briefly, in light of one of Bollywood’s most powerful narratives. Rang De Basanti urged the audience to get over their complacency and save the nation from the corrupt bureaucrats. With a special focus on the theme ‘today’s youth will be tomorrow’s leaders’, the story awoke the collective nationalism of the Indian youth, giving them the first push towards taking an active interest in the happenings of the nation.

PK

“Jaise deewar pe bhagwan ka photo lagate hai na, taaki kauno moote nahi ... hum iyaan lagata hoon, taaki kauno peete nahi.”

Rajkumar Hirani’s PK explored one of the most unchallenged practices in our society – religious superstition. Khan’s character PK, an alien lost in the world of humans, brings to light the absurdities of practices that are accepted without question. From erecting a Shiva linga out of ordinary stones to prove that students would pray to it on their way to class, to speaking out against the unquestioned authority of so called pandits and yogis, and the ‘horoscopes’ they give, PK humorously examines the serious issue of man-made superstition and blind faith that plagues Indian society.

Taare Zameen Par

Duniya mein aaise aaise heere paida huye hai, jinhone sari duniya ka naksha hi badal diya ... kyun ki yeh duniya ko apni alag nazar se dekh paaye.”

Too often, society refuses to recognise or acknowledge a disability, especially one that ‘needs help’. Individuals who face such challenges are ostracised for being ‘weird’ and ‘different’. Aamir Khan’s Taare Zameen Par focuses on an eight-year-old Ishaan, who suffers from Dyslexia. But instead of getting him help to overcome it, his parents ship him off to boarding school for his apparent lack of interest when it came to studying. This shatters his self-confidence and self-worth. However, Ishaan’s art teacher, Ram Shankar Nikumbh, (played by Khan), having suffered from the disability himself, helps him overcome it. ‘Nikumbh Sir’ makes the boy’s parents understand the truth of what they had been conditioned to ignore, urging them to give their son only one important thing – their acceptance.

Khan’s aim through all this: “Our society covers these problems with a veil. All I want is an open discussion.” And no doubt this is what the world needs right now.

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