Aamir Khan is the perfect fit for OTT, so why is he missing on streaming services?


There’s one man from Bollywood whose presence is being missed on OTT. Given his reputation as the original content king, it’s a surprise he has abstained from joining the streaming bandwagon. No prizes for guessing that we are talking about Aamir Khan. While several of his contemporaries have long embraced the OTT platforms — start with Saif Ali Khan who was rehabilitated in Sacred Games and more recently, Madhuri Dixit in The Fame Game, Ajay Devgn in Rudra: The Edge of Darkness, Anil Kapoor in AK vs AK, Karisma Kapoor in Mentalhood, Kajol in Tribhanga and Juhi Chawla in Hush Hush — Aamir has opted to resist it. Yet, come to think of it, Mr Perfectionist is a natural fit for home entertainment. Here’s why.

Aamir Khan Aamir Khan opted to resist OTT for some reason. (Photo: Express archive)

Aamir, who turns 57 today and has graced the Hindi movie screens for three-and-a-half decades now, is one of the few commercial Hindi stars to consistently focus on meaningful and engaging storytelling at a time when those two adjectives were anomalies. Today, you imagine streaming giants like Netflix, Amazon Prime and Disney + Hotstar pouring millions into the Writer’s Room to develop unique concepts but it is worth remembering what was said of Aamir once upon a time — he won’t do a movie if didn’t believe in its script and the script had to be bound, logical and convincing. With a recipe that combined just the right amount of social issues with wholesome entertainment (critic Jai Arjun Singh called it his “messiah persona”), Aamir has been able to produce and act in some of the last decade’s biggest blockbusters. It seems an early training under his uncle Nasir Hussain and father Tahir Hussain may have helped him develop an innate sense of what makes for an enjoyable movie. Rishi Kapoor even went to the extent of anointing him the “new Raj Kapoor,” an honour that perhaps suggests Aamir as a showman who knows how to strike a balance between commercial filmmaking with a personal style.

Aamir Khan Aamir Khan has produced and acted in some of the last decade’s biggest blockbusters. (Photo: Aamir Khan/Instagram)

Master of Surprises

Critics routinely complain that no matter which movie, Salman Khan is always Salman Khan. And so are Shah Rukh Khan and Amitabh Bachchan, who find themselves in an enviable but utterly fraught position of being greater than the plot they are supposed to serve. But that’s not the case with Aamir. In every film he is a different character and a different actor, a chameleon-like shape-shifter who changes colour and depth depending on the script and the situation. Whether it is 3 Idiots, PK, Ghajini, Taare Zameen Par, Secret Superstar or Dangal, every Aamir Khan movie has an emotional core and its content is tailored to reflect on our times and the systems that plague us. We thought India and China were divided by a Great Wall-sized cultural barrier until Aamir proved it wrong, delivering a string of hits in the Middle Kingdom. All these ‘box-office breaking’ satires on education and the business of religion and timely takes on feminism and female empowerment sometimes appear as if they were simply a preparation for Satyamev Jayate.

A talk show, Satyamev Jayate was Aamir’s TV debut and it deftly demonstrated his knack for keeping up with the changing times. Today, even TV is passé having been overtaken by OTT where success is largely defined by edgy ideas. While subscribers are fickle-minded and ever more in control of their choices, the popularity of a particular show or movie hinges on the element of surprise. And Aamir, by any reckoning, is the ultimate master of surprises. This is an actor who builds up a mean pack of muscles for Ghajini and then negates that by piling on the kilos for Dangal. Transformation, thy name is Aamir. Incredibly still, he manages to pass muster in both. OTT thrives on smart marketing chops, ‘content-first’ approach, staying one step ahead of the curve and generally, giving audiences something binge-worthy. All the things that Aamir is good at, too.

Aamir Khan It has taken Aamir Khan decades of ups and downs to reach his magic formula. (Express archive)

Of course, it has taken the actor decades of ups and downs to reach his magic formula. The hitmaker in him we recognise today was born in 2001, to be precise. Before that, he had suffered a rough patch with Mann (1999) and Mela (2000). The ’90s were over but its male stars were reversing aging, looking as fit as ever. That era’s mainstays like Akshay Kumar, Ajay Devgn, Shah Rukh Khan etc were struggling to find a new voice to suit the new millennium. Others like Govinda were quickly dismissed as a lost cause, though no one can deny that this talent powerhouse deserves his own OTT revival. As any Bollywood fan will tell you, Aamir, along with the other Khans, had spent the ’90s playing romantic leads, justifying his nickname of ‘QS cutie’ that the press had given him after Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak (1988). If the 90s was his first act, then the post-2001 years could be called the second one. 2001 was Aamir’s odyssey, with Lagaan and Dil Chahta Hai ushering in a new era personally for him as well as the Hindi film industry. This was perhaps the last time he was seen in two major films in a single year. In the subsequent years, his ‘one film a year’ experiment promptly made him a trendsetter. In an age when all major Bollywood stars were obscenely overexposed, Aamir’s absence was conspicuous. Over the decades, his films have also grown exponentially bigger in size and scale and he must certainly be credited for pushing the boundaries of what box-office could achieve.

Aamir’s Third Act

Indeed, much of Aamir’s clout as an A-lister comes from his box-office standing. With the notable exception of a dud like Thugs of Hindostan, most of his films have minted a fortune for everyone involved. When talking of highest paid stars, it would be wise to exclude Aamir. The reason being, pay-checks and salaries are for mere mortals. Top stars have business models. Aamir, for one, is allegedly known to take a huge share of the box-office profits. So, in a Yash Raj production (Dhoom 3 or Thugs of Hindostan) Aamir must be seen as an equal partner and not just another actor-for-hire. Starting with Lagaan, he has increasingly starred in his own films as a producer. All this box-office arithmetic explains why Aamir has tactfully avoided the OTT route so far. Dangal’s global box-office takings alone reportedly stands at Rs 2,000 crore.

 Aamir Khan Although Aamir Khan has remained unfazed by the charms of streaming, it’s just possible that his third act might take shape on digital TV. (Express archive)

On the other hand, ‘rating’ is the buzzword in the world of streaming even as statistics and figures remain shrouded in secrecy. For example, we will never know how many viewers tuned into Sacred Games or The Family Man or how much Netflix or Amazon Prime profited from them. During the Covid-19 pandemic, Aamir had delayed his long-awaited Laal Singh Chaddha probably because of all the hopes and expectations pinned on it to outshine Dangal. The remake of Tom Hanks’ Forrest Gump (1994) was one of the ambitious films whose release was thrown into disarray due to the nationwide lockdown that caused cinema halls to close. But with the biggie finally having a theatrical release on August 11, all eyes will turn to Aamir to not only salvage his own prestige but also that of the beleaguered Hindi film industry which faces crushing competition from some really unexpected quarters — the Southern dubs like Pushpa: The Rise, OTT originals, K-dramas and Hollywood comic-book superheroes. Pandemic, they say, has changed much about movie-going. And though Aamir has remained unfazed by the charms of streaming, it’s just possible that his third act might take shape on digital TV. If that happens it should augur well for both, one presumes.