A Look At How Brand Aamir Khan Was Built

It was not the first time Aamir Khan shared a video that showcased his transformation into a character for one of his films. Yet when Aamir shared a “fat to fit” video of how he put on oodles of weight and then got fit in mere three months, he broke the internet yet again. This video showcased his transformation for Dangal, where he plays wrestler Mahavir Singh Phogat.

And while the video in itself is inspiring, to say the least, it adds to the persona that Aamir Khan has managed to create for himself. An image that keeps him right at the top of the game, even at 51! This certainly did not come easy for an actor who had was primarily known for his chocolaty, lover boy image right through the ‘90s. But with the turn of the new millennia, something had changed. The actor managed to do something that most others failed to. He worked at changing how people saw him. And for that, he refused films… a huge risk.

Testifying to Aamir’s conscious efforts, his cousin and filmmaker Mansoor Khan recently commented, “Aamir wanted to change his image and no longer wanted to play the lover boy or romantic hero.” Mansoor was talking about his film Josh, which Aamir had turned down. The actor was offered that finally went to Chandrachud Singh.

Subsequently, he gave his consent to the film that perhaps changed his career-graph – Lagaan, a film that Ashutosh Gowariker was trying to make for almost five years. The director had almost given up on the film when Aamir not only agreed to act as the lead but also decided to produce it. This was his first film as a producer. Lagaan established his credentials as an actor who was out to do something different. Luckily for him, Lagaan was followed up by an urban Dil Chahta Hai, which was not just a sleeper hit but also helped Aamir moved out of clutches of stereotypical characters. While Lagaan got him worldwide acclaim, with Dil Chahta Hai the actor set fashion trends – something that was usually the ground of Salman Khan and Shah Rukh Khan. These two films set the course for what has followed over the last 15 years.

Commenting on his ability to adapt to a character, director Ashutosh Gowariker says, “Aamir takes great joy in attempting different characters. With me, he has played multiple roles while portraying Amar Damji in Baazi – wherein he also played Akhtar Hyderabadi and Julie, the cabaret dancer. Then I made 5 Coca Cola commercials with him in which he essayed the characters of a Tapori from Mumbai, Mishra Ji from UP, Dilawar Singh from Punjab, Akhtar Hyderabadi and Bahadur from Nepal. And then, of course, he played a farmer – Bhuvan! During the prep in Bhuj, Aamir would wear his dhoti and sit for hours in the sun to pick a natural tan; he would rehearse his lines again and again to get his Awadhi right. After Ghajini, I would think now where will he go with regards to his physique. But he surprised me with the Phogat characterisation while portraying the ‘Before and After’ of his physical appearance. Aamir chooses a part based on this kind of a new challenge as far as a character is concerned! The day is not far when he will be known as ‘a man with a hundred faces’!” Reema Kagti, who directed Aamir in Talaash, has something similar to say. “It is his dedication. He is always looking to do something new and keeps trying new things,” she says. Aamir tried various looks before getting the look that he settled for Talaash.

Sometime in the middle of all of this, Aamir was also toying with the idea of taking his father’s legacy ahead as a filmmaker. His second film as a producer, which also became his first film as a director was Taare Zameen Par. The film not only became a major grosser, it was the first time a superstar like Aamir played second fiddle to a child. While Darsheel Safary got awards nationally, the film also was selected India’s official entry into Oscars.

Soon he also made way into television with Satyameva Jayate, a show that was multicast across multiple channels – something that Indian television never saw before.  He managed to raise awareness regarding various issues that ail the country. Aamir fast grew into the superstar of the thinking audience.

Superstar indeed, as he brought in Bollywood’s first 100 cr grosser in 2008, Ghajini. And with the very next film, 3 Idiots, he broached the 200 cr mark. Interesting because the very next film after 3 Idiots, Dhobi Ghaat, saw him as a part an ensemble, playing a smaller character than newbie Prateik Babbar! The film helped him establish, what could be termed the most significant career move – Aamir was finally out of the number game. Dhobi Ghaat had meager collections of a few crores, and yet did not make a dent in his stardom. Aamir Khan had become the face of the differentiated content, irrespective of the figures he films collected. And this is why even the mediocre success of Talaash did not hurt him. In contrast, when a Shah Rukh Khan did similar figures with Fan there were people ready to spell out the crisis in career-graph.

Aamir had successfully transformed from being one of the most loved stars of the pre-multiplex screen era to the most sought after star of the multiplex era – when his films did equally astounding business across cities and non-metro audiences. A proof of that – his film Dhoom 3 became the first film to cross Rs 250 crore domestic business and PK went on to touch 340 crores. At 51, as Aamir readies of his next film, Dangal, people this time around expect him to break the Rs 400 cr barrier – yet again a first to his name.

“He has been the person who started the 100 crore, 200 crore and 300 crore clubs! Naturally with Dangal people expect him to introduce a new club. Maybe a Rs 350 crore or even a Rs 400 crore! The fact is that there is trust he has managed to build over the years with the audience. We know that when Aamir Khan does a film it has to be different,” says Atul Mohan, trade pundit and publisher of the Complete Cinema magazine. Atul has closely observed Aamir’s growth over the years and observes that Aamir’s ability to keep his vision clear has helped him score. “The man is remarkable because of his aptitude to select the right scripts and directors. He does not repeat his directors often, except possibly Indra Kumar early in his career, and now Hirani. He looks at imbibing fresh ideas from different filmmakers. And he has been a perfectionist throughout,” adds Atul.

In the last decade and a half, Aamir managed to become the unbeatable box office sultan, through clever execution of the following – select differentiated scripts, make people understand that he is not here to do something run of the mill, and ensuring that he looks every bit the part – so much that he ends up creating fashion trends, from goatee to handlebar moustaches!

At 51, Aamir just gets better!

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