Who exactly has made Aamir Khan a star?

Ever since Aamir Khan publicly declared that his wife is so scared of increasing intolerance in India that she is thinking of (just thinking of) moving out of the country, there has been a backlash from multiple quarters. There are many who are viewing Aamir’s comments in isolation — he had an interaction with his wife and then he talked about that interaction in an award ceremony that was being broadcast all over India, so nothing out of the ordinary.

The people who are angry at him look at his statement from the perspective of a collective attack on the current Narendra Modi establishment. Why suddenly India has become intolerant? Just because there is no Congress government at the Centre? Besides, remarks like these are coming in the wake of intellectuals and writers returning the awards in recent months. The statement is being seen as a carrying forward of the same “extreme intolerance” debate. Since there have already been heated exchanges on the topic of whether there is actually “extreme intolerance” in the country or people are simply trying to tarnish the country’s image because they’re not comfortable with the prospect of Narendra Modi doing well. Many say that in order to harm Modi these actors, intellectuals and writers (propped up by the so-called secular political parties) may even go to the extent of harming the country. People angry at Aamir Khan say that statements like these send a very wrong signal to the international community. The direct outcome of such statements is these sort of articles in Western publications:

Although there have been different peaceful and democratic ways people have been trying to hit back (for example, boycotting Snapdeal whose brand ambassador Aamir Khan is) one of the prominent arguments have been that Aamir Khan is pointing an accusing finger at the very same audience who has made him a star. By calling India an intolerant country (or a country where intolerance is increasing) he has called the people of India intolerant.

In one of his recent movies — PK — he locks up a man dressed as Lord Shiva in the bathroom. The man, looking like Lord Shiva, is shown in a pathetic disposition, all scared and pleading, hiding under chairs and running around here and there like a scared monkey. There were protests from different quarters, but all in all, the movie made a record of sorts at the box office and it turned out to be a hit movie. It shows that although Aamir was making fun of mostly Hindu gods and traditions (just for the heck of it the character in the movie also goes through funny experiences with some Christian and Muslim practices), his movie did well and it did well mostly because of millions of Hindus went to watch the movie. When my wife and I went to see the movie the entire hall consisted of a Hindu audience and people clapped at many scenes. So people are arguing, since we are the ones who buy the tickets and go watch the movie, we are the ones who make him a star, and he is being ungrateful by pointing a finger at us that we are intolerant. The acquisition would have been fair if the movie had flopped at the box office despite being a good movie. It was a well-made movie (by cliched Bollywood standards) and it did well. So where does the question, as far as Aamir Khan goes, of intolerance arise?

Of course articles are being written in his support. Take for instance this Huffington Post article that says it’s not the people who have made Aamir Khan a star:

So have people made Aamir Khan a star or he himself has become one? It’s a two-way traffic actually.

Not everybody becomes a star. There might be better actors. There might be more intelligent actors. There are certainly more good-looking actors. Still, certain people become stars. Why does it happen? They play their cards right that’s one. They perform, of course. They have a knack for choosing the right scripts. They are in the company of the right people (Bollywood coteries are legendary).

It is a mutual reciprocation phenomenon. A person cannot become a star on his own or on her own and the public cannot turn a person into a star just because the person exists.

The author of the above-linked Huffington Post article says with lots of despise:

The argument ‘we didn’t care about your surname while watching your film’ is an empty one. We watch films for ourselves, often as a distraction from the daily drudgery of our lives and not because we care about the well-being of the people who made the film. Aamir Khan and Shah Rukh Khan are stars because they are entertainers loved by millions, considered worthy of the ticket price people pay to watch them. They can actually claim to have delivered the occasional tangible ‘achche din’ in our humdrum lives. And when they didn’t, their films bombed, having direct consequences for their careers and bank balances.
And what have we essentially paid to be entertained by? These Muslim actors, obliging every Hindu majoritarian fantasy, by playing alpha Hindu men who are noble, smart, talented, religious, romantic and oh-so-awesome, often fantastic slayers of Muslim thugs with names appended with the word ‘bhai’. The moment Aamir Khan did something mildly critical of the religious majority with PK, people turned up at theatres with clubs and hockey sticks in protest. So attributing Aamir Khan’s success to your pluralism is rich.

Although the argument made by the author might be well-meaning, she gets carried away and attributes Aamir Khan’s great success to, none other than the Constitution!

No matter how great a person is, ultimately it’s the acceptance by the people that decides the fate of the person and that’s the reality. Just the fact that people are crazy about Muslim actors like Aamir Khan, Salman Khan, Irrfaan Khan and Saif Ali Khan prove that their being Khans doesn’t matter. They’re certainly not doing a favour by watching Khan movies by consciously deciding to see Muslim actors playing Hindu protagonist roles, it just doesn’t occur to them to discriminate. It comes naturally to them. When you’re watching PK or Bajrangi Bhai you are not constantly thinking, “Oh, I’m watching a Muslim actor and what a great thing I am doing!” You’re simply watching Aamir Khan or Salman Khan.

This, is what makes us tolerant. Tolerance is ingrained within the majority community.

The anger is not due to the intolerance, the anger is towards the fabrication of intolerance that is being created. The anger is towards the dismantling of the real secularism that lives among people. The anger is towards the concerted effort to raise the bogey of intolerance to create disturbance in the country.

Anyway, coming back to whether it’s the people who have made Aamir Khan a star or not, it’s a mixture of both. Our secular, tolerant nature allows us to enjoy movies by Aamir Khan and other Khans without getting worked up about their religion. Without this acceptance, without this tolerance and without this inherent, secular attitude, people like Aamir Khan wouldn’t have become stars in our country.

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