Is Aamir a star only because we’re too dumb?

This week we kick things off with a direct quote, from the occasionally great Aamir Khan:

Mujhe yeh dar lagta hai ki Dhobi Ghaat shaayad audiences ko — matlab jo masses hai — unko pasand nahin aayegi. Kyonki yeh bahut hi fine film hai. Matlab jin logon ko cinema ki samajh hai, jo log sensitive hai, dil se jo jazbaati log hain, unke liye ye film hai.

“I fear that maybe audiences — the masses — won’t like Dhobi Ghaat. Because it’s a very fine film. I mean people who have knowledge of cinema, who are sensitive, who think from the heart and are emotional, this film is for them.”

Really, Mr Khan?

Do please put a sock in it, sir.

Suddenly your new film is too good for your audience? And your audience, the reason you are who you are, perceived as cerebral even while hawking low-fat snacks, is suddenly not sensitive enough, not emotional enough — and not well enough versed in film theory — for you? Bah, humbug.

The sheer level of condescension in that quote is alarming. For one, calling the Indian audience short of sensitivity or emotion is a stretch in any book. We’ve always been suckers for high drama, even in comic scenes. You know, the kind of films where vacuum cleaners birth infants just so caricatured fathers can have changes of heart? Yeah, those wouldn’t work if the audience didn’t react with its heart and forgive all the farce.

Said at the Peepli Live DVD launch last week, the lines are also particularly jarring coming from Aamir, an actor whose biggest hits — Raja Hindustani, Fanaa, Ghajini — are widely considered the weakest of his films. Does it then imply that the perfectionist knows his audience so well that he confidently feeds them tripe? And in that vein, is it an admission, an inadvertently candid confession of mediocrity, saying that while the other films are ‘simple’ enough for masses to get, this one — produced by Aamir and directed by wife Kiran Rao, currently nabbing killer reviews on the festival circuit — is the sole exception? That Khan himself is frighteningly aware that everything else he serves up is not, um, ‘fine’?

And since when did you need to be cine-literate to appreciate a good film? A masterpiece is a masterpiece is a masterpiece, and hits you right between the eyes — and shoves you in the heart with the force of a roundhouse right — no matter what you know about the craft of cinema. A good film is a visceral experience, and you do not need to be aware of technique or predecessors to be overwhelmed by it. Sure, film theorists and critics and their mothers all have different ways of consuming a film, but a solid film — which could be personally smashing for any single one of us — doesn’t need cinematic education to show off its chops. At all.

Then again, as a friend suggests, perhaps this too is strategy on the part of the masterful marketing maestro. Berate the masses, and dare them to come see a film in defiance of the claim that they won’t get it. For all you and I know — and Aamir’s track record suggests he knows better than anyone else — it’ll work, and Dhobi Ghaat will be an unquestioned success. Maybe just because of those reactionary words.

Yet that isn’t the point. As a member of your audience, Mr Khan, that quote just hurts. It is thoughtless, callous, dismissive and most uncalled for. Suggesting that you are smarter than the people who make you a star betrays a hint of smugness that, when heightened, invariably culminates in increasingly sloppy, manipulative cinema. Coming from you, one we have tremendous expectations from, a barb like that stings and disappoints in equal measure.

And a plea for sensitivity from the audience could certainly have used some of its own.


Originally published Mumbai Mirror, November 17, 2010


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  1. Aarti Varma

    I know its a little condescending, but in the end we all know its true don’t we? It is true that Aamir’s biggest hits have been weaker films that cater to the masses. I don’t think he minds doing it, but he is aware enough to know what he’s doing. And he knows that the Indian masses love films like Golmaal 3 over Black Friday anyday. He’s just stating facts.

    1. Rakesh

      I have my reasons to like a film and likewise dislike…lets take another look at Amir’s statement…..
      It could be a fine film to him and many others but might not be so for the rest of the world. He is being presumptuous to prematurely indicate that the masses would not be able to emotionally connect to a fine film such as Dhobi Ghat. The preference of the masses comprise a set of common tastes of the majority of its individual entities and a movie appealing to such sensibilities is a movie that is for the masses. Charging the masses to be unappreciative of fine movies is insolence. Its stupidity and its everything that Raja claims in his article……and why do all the talking now? shut the fuck up…. release the movie….then if you have to, sit and analyze why it bombed ….unless….unless its a marketing ploy….which I think, it is…..

  2. Nishit

    I am surprised that you’re surprised. Aamir Khan has always been condescending towards the “masses”. His “holier than thou” attitude is visible any time you see him talking like a smug. Always a pretentious one. That’s the reason I’ve never had respect for Aamir Khan despite being a fine actor.

  3. Vijay

    Whether the audience as a whole isn’t smart enough is for nobody to judge. But the fact remains that it is tripe that makes the money. A ridiculous, unoriginal Ghajini, a Dabangg makes more money that all the niche market Indian films of the last decade put together. Khan could have worded his thoughts in a more positive way as you said, but I can’t blame him for the message he’s sending out. And to be honest, if he really wants to take a jab at the audience, I’ll take it. Because he’s the only producer in the country making indies actually sell.

  4. reachpraty

    i think he really meant what he said not because he underestimates his audience,but he is a little worried because this is his wife’s baby.Remember he is the man who came up with taare zameen par and did’nt say something like this,so you have to give the man another chance and not attack him.Whatever he said,at least he is one of those who have the guts to come up with something different unlike other “stars”..I disagree with this comment of his,but give the guy another chance please!!

  5. Salam pottengal

    The thing is that Aamir has done a couple of tolerable movies compared to the other run-of-the-mill melodrama bullshits by the Bollywood. Other than that, it’s illogical to look for traits of character perfection in Aamir the person.

  6. emma

    i love india and indian movies,culture,poeple !!!!!!!!!

  7. Vamsee

    Well, 3 Idiots was manipulative enough for me. I was groaning through out the movie. C’mon. This is nothing new. He’s always been too smart by half, and I never liked his overtures for the “dumb” filmgoer (remember his over-the-top intro song in TZP that jarred with the whole movie?)

  8. Asif Ali

    The whole industry outdoes each other in trying something sillier than the other..for example the TZP song, Om Shanti Om, Dabang, Dhoom series and so on.
    The audiences lap these up because there is nothing else substantial available. If they think they’re so good, why do they have to go salivating over an Oscar nomination and why don’t they actually win something at Caanes, Oscars or elsewhere.
    I am sick and tired of seeing a 6.5′ tall Amitabh playing a 12 year old and a 45 year old Amir playing a college student.
    Closing point – Amir – your fine films are the most crappiest ones..the fools are the 0nes that the audiences are looking at..

  9. Ameen Majeed

    Your initial paragraph has summarised it all.

  10. Ravi

    Ok,I take it back, you gave only 2/5 to Rab ne…! :P

  11. Rahul Priyadarshi

    Amir is a good actor,It is good that he seeks for perfection,but he must keep it in his mind that those who have made him,whatever he is,too posses something called sense,and they are not supposed to be taught everytime,in order to earn respect,he should be giving a bit to the audiences too.
    He is not the best as far as acting is concerned,It is us who helped him in being called a ‘perfectionist’ and I seriously think Amir should show some respect towards audience instead of making such silly remarks

  12. Athul


    With great respect to your cinematic wisdom and noble intentions, I would like to vehemently disagree with your latest thought process.

    Firstly, you of all people, would know only fully well what Aamir said is absolutely true. Maybe he should have chosen better words or coated it in fake cushioning, but it is TRUE. A classy film with no semblance of masala or gallery-playing manipulations has minuscule chances of working with the masses, however sensitive or full of heart it maybe. Think LSD, Rocket Singh and the likes. Having said that, the fate of Dhobi Ghat might be a little different, owing to the presence of this one man. But that cannot stop a sensible film person like Aamir have apprehensions about a movie he is acting in and producing.

    Secondly, YES, Aamir became a star by crowd-pleasing movies less on class, realism or world class storytelling. But, guess what, so is every other actor to have ever reached superstardom in India! And in that mill of mediocre, Aamir’s movies (at least, of late) are leagues (and i mean leagues) ahead of the rest of the pack. He is one man who is insistent that his movies exist as a near-perfect marriage of entertainment and insight.
    So, isn’t it a little weird that you chose Raja Hindustani, Fanaa and Ghajini to mention as his biggest hits when you are looking at a CV that has Ghulam, Lagaan, Dil Chahta Hai, TZP, 3 Idiots etc? What is that supposed to mean, really?

    *thoughtless, callous, dismissive and most uncalled for*
    Oh come on sir! All he was, was nervous. From what we have read and heard about Dhobi Ghat from international forums, it is unlike anything ever made in India; shorn of any kind of massy attributes whatsoever. As the producer of the movie and one of the actors (on whom the height of expectation is getting taller by every passing movie), he has every right to express his concerns and fear. And doubly so this time, as it is his wife who is behind this venture.

    On second thoughts, those adjectives you showered could have well been the title of your latest post. If i may, would love to add careless, impulsive and sensation-mongering too.

    As a passing note, here’s a line from one your favorite movies this year.
    Erica to Mark: “It’s as if every thought that tumbles through you’re head is so clever, it would be a crime for it not to be shared.”


    1. iamoutofideas

      talking about “international forums”, well slumdog won so many oscars that maybe these forums are not the right yardstick!

      and if you call 3 idiots a good movie, then no comments!

      1. Zoeb

        Righto. I Think That Aamir tries too hard to convince people that he makes sensible films. He is too preachy as if he is genuinely concerned about some serious issues. He is a fine actor but he is a pretentious guy.
        Okay, Lagaan, TZP, Dil Chahta Hai were good films. However, look out for other films. Dil, Fanaa, Raja Hindustani, Tum Mere Ho, Ishq, Mann…..even Ghajini, a shamless Hindi version of the Tamil version and Ghulam was a copy of On The Waterfront.
        Hell, my favorite Aamir film is Andaz Apna Apna the only film in which he did not pretend to be serious. and as Raja Sen would agree, even in that film Salman Khan stole the show.

  13. Athul

    And hey, you and I both forgot Rang De Basanti. Silly us!

  14. hardik mehta

    its the whole idea of balancing between masses and classes and between being an actor and a producer – as an actor obviously one should do every kind of genre from golmaals to the oye luckys – but sadly the producer aamir khan has to keep thinking of these cheap tricks to get the crowd in – (coz brand Aamir Khan Prodns can’t produce films like golmaal or david dhawan stuff – right?)
    its like the difference between elite india and delete india: Ask the Delete India to match their steps and step into a mall and automatically they have upgraded themselves! in the same way – its a call for masses – ‘step in for Dhobi Ghat (a title that is right from your world) and make yourself feel intelligent’! – and maybe receive an autograph from Mr. Intelligent.

  15. Adarsh

    Right on target. This is the same mass psychology that stars like Aamir Khan have been using for a long time. The masses lap up mediocre movies, and to satisfy their conscience, they occasionally boost a movie they imagine to be different. It is something similar to people playing farmville in facebook and convincing themselves that they environment conscious. All that the stars have to do is to explore this weakness of the masses. Similar arrogance is often displayed by ‘Ulaga Nayagan’ (Universal Hero) Kamal Haasan, who recently said something to the effect ‘people like us can sleep well only when we get to see ‘fine’ films”.

  16. mayuri

    well i agree the quote is belittling in its tone, but the fact still remains that the Indian audience as far as cinema is concerned is as varied as India culturally is as a country. An absolute retarded attempt called Dabangg, and aamir khan/s movie Ghajini are a hit with a masses, whereas a movie like do duni char, or khosla ka ghosla though may be critically acclaimed and watched by people like you and me and appreciated as well, need not fare as well in the box office. So somewhere he is right in categorizing his movie… a movie like fire though according to me a very well made film would never appeal to the masses. When we say masses we mean the population of India that comprises of the Lower middle to lower income group and they definitely have their own opinion as far as good or bad cinema is concerned…. their view of cinema is herocentric, and just like our society patriarchal…. they would most definitely find a very intense and sensitive film boring they need movies that generate whistles , where there are over the top action scenes, heroines wearing skimpy clothes and the hero is the macho man. So, even the the comment was condecending in its tone, I quite agree with the logic behind it.

  17. Arcopol

    Aamir is right. And you’ve just over reacted. The masses don’t make a living out of watching films and commenting about them. They’ve got other things to do.

    Aamir is simply reiterating that there is a class v/s mass divide in films. You already know that, don’t you? I’m surprised why you’re even reacting to his statement at all.

    The film distributor and exhibitor has been the bigger cause, in creating this divide. Amongst other causes.

  18. Ash Of Roses

    In the speech Balachander gave when Aamir won the Gollapudi Award should be imprinted in his mind for ever! Balachander is so humble, Modesty is indeed humility in action with this man.
    Aamir surely is evolving with each off beat movie he is associated with, still lot to learn. Rejoicing aspect is, he is dreading the right path….

  19. A

    It’s now a known fact that you don’t really like Aamir Khan as a person, but it’s wrong of you to let that bias seep into almost everything you write about him or his movies.

    What he stated is true. Do you think the masses will enjoy a movie like Dhobi Ghat? Most won’t go for it, and if they do, it will only be because he’s in it. Take most of the movies you have liked recently, have all of them been lapped up by the masses? You say ‘a masterpiece is a masterpiece is a masterpiece’. Sorry but that is so wrong! What is a masterpiece for you might not be a masterpiece for someone else. What would you say then?

    It’s ironic that you are talking about someone else being smug Mr.Sen. At least Aamir has done enough in his career to justify a bit of it! :)

  20. A

    Take the film for which you wrote dialogues. 99, right? You liked the movie, I’m sure. To be honest, I liked it too. But was it a hit? Pre-release, would you have said, or even truly thought, that it was a movie for every Indian, if someone asked you that question? The answer is obvious.

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