Aamir Khan is a superhero. In reel life and real life. He can do no wrong as an actor or a producer – he is even a secret superstar in China. But every good superhero has an origin story – a time where not everything he did worked. Some did, most didn’t. This is about a bygone era, much before Dangal, PK or even Lagaan. This is about Aamir Khan – the Origins.
In 1988, Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak (QSQT) with its spin on Romeo and Juliet became the definitive romance for an entire generation. The leads of the film, Aamir Khan and Juhi Chawla, became instant teen sensations. Weeks into the release of the film, the makers did a poster campaign which simply said, ‘Who is Aamir Khan? Ask the girl next door’. The girl next door was smitten – so much so that in my hometown, the girl next door who went by the name of Rashmi fell in love with a man called Raj only because he was called that (Aamir and Juhi played characters called Raj and Rashmi).
QSQT is a lovely film that told its story of star-crossed lovers sans any over-the-top melodrama – which makes it a film that can be loved in equal measure in 2018 too. A pity that its director, Mansoor Khan, chose cheese-making over filmmaking eventually. (Aside: The Raj and Rashmi in my hometown didn’t end up together either in spite of the very strong basis to their relationship. Shocking.)
But not all of Aamir’s filmic choices in the years that followed QSQT would stand up to scrutiny in this era. Proving that even Aamir Khan can have dodgy script sense (believe it or not).
Right after QSQT, the lead pair signed up for a B Subhash film called Love Love Love. (B Subhash had earlier made Disco Dancer and Dance Dance). I have no recollection of the film except for a song that went, Nachenge hum, gayenge hum, disco dandiya. That sums up the posterity value of that particular film. In fact, Aamir and Juhi (unlike SRK and Kajol) would never reprise their winning act of QSQT as successfully ever again. After Love Love Love, the two went on to star in duds like Tum Mere Ho and Daulat Ki Jung. It took Hum Hain Rahi Pyar Ke, which came five years after QSQT, to redeem them finally. But only somewhat.
In between QSQT and Hum Hain Rahi Pyar Ke, Aamir Khan played a snake charmer (don’t even ask!) in Tum Mere Ho; an anti-dowry activist in Jawani Zindabad and a stalker in Deewana Mujh Sa Nahin. It is fortunate that no one has any memory of Deewana Mujh Sa Nahin (1990), a film which co-starred Madhuri Dixit. Aamir Khan plays an obsessive lover in the film who manages to win over the unwilling girl just by relentless stalking. Luckily, the film tanked and no one noticed. Aamir also acted in Awwal Number – in the only role that Dev Anand didn’t do in the film.
Not everything that Aamir did in the 90s was awful though. There were two perfectly charming films as well. Dil Hain Ki Manta Nahin and Afsana Pyar Ka in 1991. The former worked. The latter didn’t. There were also awful films that he did which went on to become monster hits. Like the crass, over-the-top Dil that was everything that QSQT was not. Obnoxious, loud and in-your-face melodrama. Dil even had a mock rape scene that set the stage for the heroine to fall madly in love with our hero (Yes. The 90s were a bit questionable that way).
Other questionably bad films like Raja Hindustani too worked at the box office in that era. There were bright sparks though – Ghulam, Sarfarosh and Earth. Films of the late 90s which were moulding Aamir Khan into the infallible icon that he is today. Getting him into winning position after a series of false starts.
Aamir Khan in that sense then is the superstar of the millennium. Most of his worst films were over and done with in the 90s. The 2000s have seen his best work, be it Lagaan, Dil Chahta Hai or Dangal. And this is the century where he seems to get everything right. Ironically, this innings started with Mela in 2000, his last terrible film where prophetically he sang, Dekho dekho 2000 zamana aagaya (a song heralding 2000 as the start of an era).
It sure worked out well for him. Happy birthday, Aamir Khan.
Naomi Datta grew up watching all of the terrible and not so terrible films of the 90s with absolutely no parental supervision. She remains grateful to her parents for that.