What do 3 Idiots, Dhoom 3, PK, and Secret Superstar have in common? Of course, they are all Aamir Khan’s films and successful ones at that. But there is one more searing similarity — while they may be drastically different in terms of genre, storyline, directors, and cast members, all of them are cursed with a similar method of acting by India’s ‘perfectionist’ Khan.
Pick any frame of his last four box office hits, except Dangal (2016), and you will see Aamir with googly eyes, arched eyebrows, and a goofy smile aiming to portray the innocence of the said character — an acting trope that has increasingly become redundant. In the past, he delivered several noteworthy performances, but his ‘transformation’ into an entertaining actor trying to make you laugh has particularly been painful to watch.
Once revered as the Khan with an innate ability to pick ‘good’ scripts, it is his performances that have taken a toll in the process. In films like Sarfarosh (1999), Lagaan (2001), Rang De Basanti (2006), Aamir rebuilt himself to transform into the characters. But now, the actor in him has steadily paved the way for ‘the star’ who seemed to have lost the drive to innovate or try on screen.
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From method acting to formulaic theatrics
Before Ranveer Singh was “the chameleon” of contemporary Hindi cinema, it was Aamir Khan who was revered as the method actor of his time. Among the three big Khans of Bollywood — Shah Rukh Khan and Salman Khan being the other two — Aamir was well-renowned for diving deep into his characters’ psyche and bringing out some of the most cherished performances.
In 2001, Lagaan and Dil Chahta Hai carved their own place in Bollywood. As Bhuvan in the former, Aamir batted for the rights of his village fellows against the British. Stripped of all vanity, he transformed into a common villager who became a leader only when the situation asked for it. Although the actor confessed in an interview that Lagaan was his “most unprepared performance”, his commitment to the role only propelled his status as a method actor in Hindi cinema. His iconic sixer not just sealed the fate of the film but also convinced the audience of his versatile acting prowess.
As Akash in Dil Chahta Hai, Aamir was diametrically opposite to Bhuvan. Commitment-phobic, he managed to seep through the psyche of the spoilt, rich brat. As Ram Shankar Nikumbh in Taare Zameen Par (2008), he not only dived deep into his role as an educator but also firmly highlighted the poor parenting methods of Indians. In this directorial debut, Aamir was not a star — he was simply any good-willed teacher who rejoiced in his student’s triumph. Just two years before, he had played a college student named DJ in Rang De Basanti. Barring some Andaz Apna Apna-esque comic undertones, Aamir imbibed the feeling of patriotism — like Lagaan — in a subtle manner.
His 2016 release Dangal is another example of his adherence to his characters. As former wrestling coach Mahavir Singh Phogat, Aamir went through a drastic physical transformation to showcase the different phases of his life. He had said that he spent three to four months with the phonetics teacher to ace the dialect.
Most of his characters stand the test of time and would, perhaps, hail his ‘method acting’ play on emotional struggle and triumph. We remember and cherish those roles for the characters and not the star.
However, it is when he switches gear to comedy is when the problem emerges. Comedy is considered to be one of the most challenging aspects of acting, which primarily requires spontaneity and ease of expression. But in an attempt to be funny, he often reduces the character to a nincompoop rather than bringing out its inherent characteristics.
In PK (2014), he may have made sense in parts as an eccentric alien, but how different was he from Rancho in 3 Idiots or Samar Khan in Dhoom 3? Instead of being ‘effortless’, his dialogues appear rehearsed and dictated — this feature falters more often than one may want. In Secret Superstar (2017), wherein he was not the protagonist, Aamir Khan proved to be weak—nothing like what he was in Taare Zameen Par. From being a method actor, his formulaic theatrics seem to have taken center stage in his performances.
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Nothing new to look forward to
It has been four years since Aamir Khan’s last film, Thugs of Hindostan, was released. One would imagine that he would return to the screen with a fresh and innovative project like Lagaan, Rang De Basanti, or Taare Zameen Par.
But perhaps, that was too much to ask for. The trailer of Laal Singh Chaddha (2022), an official adaptation of Tom Hanks’ 1994 classic Forrest Gump, was released on 31 May. In the two-minute-long trailer, an innocent Forrest Gump becomes a caricaturish Punjabi-speaking Laal. From the trailer, it seems that the 2022 adaptation is a frame-to-frame copy of the 1994 classic. It appears that the actor has either taken his ‘perfectionist’ status too seriously and ended up in a loop of one-tone acting — right from stock expressions and performative dialogue delivery, only to live up to his brand. Sadly, it is not working anymore.
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(Edited by Humra Laeeq)