Aamir Khan has played his cards well. A connoisseur’s actor, Aamir has built a humungous fan following, and has earned the title of a superstar with hard work. No overactive public relations team for Aamir, thank you very much. And while the actor has earned his chops in Bollywood in roles ranging from loverboy ones to action packed variants, he seems to have conquered hearts abroad too. We’re not talking the West, or the erstwhile USSR like the late Raj Kapoor did. Aamir went into uncharted territories when he became an unlikely star in China. It’s interesting to note that unlike his contemporaries Akshay Kumar or Shah Rukh Khan, who take up at least two or three films a year, Aamir is comfortable in the mould of one movie a year appearances he’s been wont to make for a while now. And why not? When Aamir’s movies do release in the long gaps that they do, they always set the cash registers ringing.
His past few releases have been the first to open up huge markets for Bollywood movies in the communist nation of China. But Aamir likes to believe otherwise. “I don’t think I have opened up any market in China,” he shyly refutes. “You can give me credit for something like that only if I had planned this. It happened accidentally. I don’t take any credit for the success — my only contribution has been that I became a part of these films. I have never tried doing anything. Things have just fallen into place.” For Aamir — and indeed, by extension for Bollywood at large — 3 Idiots became the first movie to break the barrier to beyond the Great Wall. Within the first two weeks of its release in China, the movie earned `11 crore. If reports are to be believed, the movie earned over `16 crore. However, the actor sighs that the numbers could have been higher, had it not been pirated.
“Sure, 3 Idiots became a super hit in China,” he explains. “But not across theatres. The feature film became a success because of pirated movie sites. Only later did the audiences show an interest in my films. They then went on to watch my previous movies like Taare Zameen Par and Lagaan.” Aamir’s movies have dealt with issues such as poverty, education, and gender inequality. And while those have struck a chord with the Indians, they’ve resonated with the Chinese too, with Dangal pushed the boundaries, earning over Rs 1,900 crore worldwide, and approximately Rs 1,000 crore in China alone. It went on to become one of the most successful non-Hollywood foreign film.
Next came Secret Superstar. The movie, which released in India in October 2017, was released in China in January this year. Within a week, Secret Superstar smashed the first week records of all Bollywood movies released in China. It eventually crossed `700 crore in China. “After 3 Idiots, all my movies started releasing in China, but only about eight months or a year after they’d release in India. And because of the time gap, movies did get pirated,” Aamir says. “Dangal was my first film to release in China without any piracy. Their distributors tried to release it sooner. It released within two months, becoming my first movie to not be pirated.” It’s not just Aamir’s movies that have become popular. “My fans in China also watch Satyamev Jayate,” he grins, mentioning his popular talk show. “They liked it so much that they translated it in their local languages too.”
The actor is now even being heralded as a new symbol for building positive Indo-China relationships. And he believes that India has the potential to become as big a market as China, when it comes to entertainment. “China has done major investment in the entertainment industry, and its administration is also supportive. They’ve built a lot of screens too. And that’s why business has gone up,” he explains. As the actor gets reflective, a mirroring of the strategy sounds like a way out of Indian cinema. “Ours is such a large country, with such a large population,” he explains. “If we build more theatres here, we will get the same kind of growth. So it’s just the matter of building the infrastructure in India.”