Sincere do-gooder or an annoyingly fake goody two-shoes? That’s the big question hanging over Aamir Khan’s new role as India’s number one television crusader.
Satyamev Jayate has attracted its fair share of critics, and the initial barrage focused on the content of the show. Khan was variously chastised for keeping it a little too simple, doing too little, playing too safe etc. The guns have now been turned on the man himself.
“I wonder sometimes — when I have nothing better to think about — why a particular expression on Aamir Khan’s face irritates me so deeply,” begins Aveek Sen’s smackdown in The Telegraph.” The “particular expression” that makes Sen’s heart “recoil” is the “messianic” face of the great Khan:
In all the publicity stills, Khan’s face has that solidly focused, almost driven, look — alert, outraged, but holding the emotions back because his sense of urgency tells him there’s no time to waste. His eyes look out towards some distant horizon (election candidates often have that visionary look in their posters). Or else, he is intently listening to a victim’s testimony, fighting back the tears that well up in instant empathy. His empathy is instant and humility endless — and both instantly, endlessly enacted.
Sen’s critique echoes that of Firstpost writer Rajyasree Sen who pointed to his “exaggerated shock and histrionics as if he is holding up cue cards to tell his audience how to feel.” The Telegraph piece, however, goes one step further. The exaggeratedly moral facade and the show it helms, Aveek argues, is no more than slickly scripted PR strategy of an aging superstar: “It is good market strategy for cuteness to age into conscience, if it doesn’t want to lose its monopoly over hearts.”
To win those hearts and avoid the ugly taint of self-righteousness, the Dil ka Badshah dons a studied aam aadmi persona, points out Saswat Pattanayak in Kindle magazine:
Just when the cynics wonder if he has turned self-righteous, it turns out ‘Satyamev Jayate’ works precisely because Aamir identifies himself entirely with the audience. He, too, learns of the bitter truths about Indian society from the very show itself, live on the stage. “Mujhe bhi aaj yeh seekh mili hai” is oft-repeated. Along with the audience, he is shocked at the barbaric, with them he sheds the tears, with them he signs petitions.
And in doing so, he lets the audience off the hook for their own ignorance and apathy – which surely makes them love him more.
Irrespective of the merits of the show – and there are many – Aamir’s real problem seems to be that he can’t stop acting, be it on the show or in an interview. What jumps out in Lhendup G Bhutia’s encounter with the great man are not the quotes, but his overly mannered persona (Read it here):
When Aamir speaks, the voice that emerges is exactly like it sounds on screen. It is cultivated and genteel; the words are well articulated, with the inflections and intonations of a seasoned actor. You’d think Aamir had walked out of the screen into this room. When he emphasises the point of his show as “connecting hearts… jo dil ko chhoo de (one that touches hearts),” he comes close and draws an imaginary thread between his heart and mine. In these moments, he looks exactly like in his films.
And there’s his penchant for dialogue-baazi:
One sees traces of the superstar in the manner he often chuckles, and ends his answers with one-liners such as: “After all, wedding is for a day, marriage is forever.” He clearly enjoys his lines. “Remember that sentence I made,” and with a click of his fingers, he says, “Aap shaadi ko atom bomb mut banao, ki woh ek din mein ud jaye. Agarbatti banao, zindagi bhar uski mehek aati rahegi. (Don’t make your marriage an atom bomb that will blow up in a day. Make it an incense stick that will continue to lend fragrance to the rest of your life.).”
But all of this carping begs the bigger question: isn’t this the Aamir that we all love and want? His moral crusader avatar is no more fake than his other personas, each a carefully tailored version that mimics reality without being too real. That’s the eternal promise of movies and their best-loved actors, who dutifully hew to our desired script both on and off screen. So why blame Aamir for being what he is: a Bollywood star.
Read Aveek Sen’s editorial, “The Holiness of the Heart’s Affections” on the Telegraph website.
And Saswat Pattanayak’s essay on the Kindle magazine website
And Citizen Aamir in Open magazine