How Aamir Khan started his acting career in Bollywood

Bollywood superstar Aamir Khan turns 58 today. He was last seen in the 2022 film Laal Singh Chaddha

How Aamir Khan started his acting career in Bollywood

Subhash K Jha

Looking back, it seems providential that Javed Akhtar wrote all the strikingly unusual and vivid lyrics of Aamir Khan’s first homeproduction Lagaan.

35 years prior to Lagaan when Aamir was nursing seemingly impossible dreams of becoming a celluloid actor, it was Javed Akhtar who told Aamir’s uncle the distinguished filmmaker Nasir Husain, “Why’s this boy assisting you? He’s out-and-out hero material.”

That’s how Aamir Khan’s career as one of India’s most adventurous and relentlessly searching star-actors began. Of course he had done a couple of sweet stints as a child in his father Tahir Hussain’s Madhosh and uncle Nasir Hussain’s Yaadon Ki Baaraat. But Aamir doesn’t see them as his authentic beginnings as an actor.

While Nasir Husain zeroed in on his shy and intense nephew to play the lead in his son Mansoor’s directorial debut, Aamir went ahead and did Ketan Mehta’s Holi (during which Aamir shaved off his dead in protest against an unresponsive girlfriend) and Aditya Chopra’s Raakh—two films about the unstoppable angst of the young and the restless which indicated the way the actor’s career was going to go.

Today Aamir’s restless quest for roles that demolish the walls of mainstream entertainment and extend the frontiers of conventional entertainment have taken him to celluloid adventures as disparate in content and intent as Dhoom 3, PK and Dangal.

The journey of that tonsured rebel in Raakh to the role of the mutinous peasant in Lagaan has been long steady and deeply satisfying. What makes Aamir the most unique and exciting star-actor of the 1990s? It’s his penchant to go against the grain and do what he wants to rather than what the boxoffice dictates. His commitment to seeking out a refined idiom of cinematic expression seldom suffers a setback. This actor knows exactly what he’s doing and where he wants to take his stardom.

Whether it was the hotheaded tourist guide in Raja Hindustani or the ISI-grappling cop in Sarfarosh, in every part that Aamir plays he flirts with hazardous histrionics, tackles challenging emotions and tensions headlong, and emerges unscathed and triumphant.

“Before I agree to be in a project I have to be comfortable with the director because I’ve to spend the next one year of my life with him,” Aamir once declared about his methods and manoeuvres as an actor in search of substance beyond the shimmering shallowness of the average mainstream film.

Whether it is Ashutosh Gowarikar in Lagaan or Farhaan Akhtar in Dil Chahta Hai or the current favourite Advait Chandan in Secret Superstar and Laal Singh Chaddha, Aamir’s directors are people who are as consumed by the chimerical idea of flawless filmmaking as Aamir. In his 32 years as an actor, Aamir has never done the expected. The admirers of his art do not expect the expected from Aamir Khan.

Most of the time, he doesn’t disappoint them.

Today at 58, Aamir is at the power-peak of his career. He can do anything he likes, play any role he wants. But he has chosen to take a break after the resounding failure of Laal Singh Chaddha. It didn’t deserve to be a failure. But then life is not always fair. Who knows this better than Aamir?

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