Aamir Khan’s apologies are genuine, but the timing could be better

Laal Singh Chaddha [2022] faces boycott over the super star’s political faux pas and alleged Hinduphobic content in previous works.

Aamir Khan in a still from Thugs of Hindostan [2018]

By Mayur Lookhar

Words and actions can be repented but they cannot be undone. Super star Aamir Khan finds himself at the mercy of ultra-Hindu nationalist trolls who are screaming loud to boycott his upcoming film Laal Singh Chaddha [2022] that is set to be released on 11 August. Competition with an Akshay Kumar film Raksha Bandhan was big enough, but it is the right-wing beast that threatens the desi Forrest Gump [1994] remake more.

In an interview to Press Trust of India, the super star has spoken on the #BoycottLaalSinghChaddha movement on social media.  

“That Boycott Bollywood, Boycott Aamir Khan, Boycott Laal Singh Chaddha. I feel sad also because a lot of people who are saying this in their hearts believe I am someone who doesn’t like India. In their hearts, they believe that and that’s quite untrue.” He added, “I really love the country. That’s how I am. It is rather unfortunate if some people feel that way.”

Naga Chaitanya and Aamir Khan in Laal Singh Chaddha [2022]

Khan urged his fans to not boycott his film. While Khan is genuine is his words, but unfortunately, the timing of such statements could have been better, Naturally, the trolls felt that the actor has only made these statements with his film close to its release.

The actor had gone off social media some time ago, but there is no escaping the trolls. They were quick to pull out his past comments, political faux pas, alleged Hinduphobic content in pk [2014] and Satyameva Jayate.

Aamir Khan’s famous interview after Godhra riots wherein he held the then Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi, now Prime Minister of India, and the BJP responsible for the violence resurfaced.

The BJP came into power at the center in 2014, and a year later, Khan irked the right wing again when in an interview he claimed that he and his former wife Kiran Rao were contemplating on leaving the country over rising religious intolerance. With the BJP retaining power in 2019, Khan has largely refrained from making political comments. In fact, a few years ago, Khan even greeted Narendra Modi on his birthday, wishing for his good health and long life.

Screenshot of Aamir Khan wishing PM Modi happy birthday on Twitter in 2020.

Things seemed fine between the Dangal [2016] actor and the ruling Hindu nationalist party but Khan and other key Bollywood personalities were trolled for refusing to grace the Shalom Bollywood event that was organized by the Israeli embassy and the Indian government in honour of then Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to India. Khan’s absence was perceived as the typical Islamic resentment towards Jews.

That was fine, but then Khan shocked all when he visited the official residence of the controversial Turkish president Recep Tayyib Erdogan few days after the conservative Islamic nation hit out at India at the United Nations over the Kashmir dispute, that involves its friend Pakistan. Khan happily posed with the president’s wife. Needless to say that if he met the First Lady, surely the Indian actor would have had a brief meeting with the Turkish dictator too.

Despite the criticism, perhaps justified here, Khan didn’t speak anything on the ill-timed meeting. The actor was perhaps shooting a portion for Laal Singh Chaddha in Turkey.

The Dangal [2016] actor has been facing the ire of the Hindu nationalists over alleged Hinduphobic content since director Rajkumar Hirani’s pk [2014]. The controversy erupted after an actor, disguised as Lord Shiva, was chased out of toilet by pk [Aamir Khan] with firecrackers in hand. There was another scene where a naked pk pees on a wall with a bag lying down that had a sticker of Lord Shiva pasted on it. If that wasn’t enough, the Pakistan man [played by the late Sushant Singh Rajput], Hindu woman [Anushka Sharma] love story in pk [2014] triggered the #LoveJihad debate. Hey, for all the criticism, the film wasn’t written or directed by Khan. It was written and directed by Rajkumar Hirani, with screenplay by Abhijat Joshi.

Khan had later apologized for hurting any sentiments through this film. However, this apology came after the film had amassed over Rs300 crore nett in domestic business. Earlier, there was Fanaa [2006] where Khan and director Kunal Kohli seemed empathetic towards terrorism.

If not his films, then Khan-produced and anchored social talk show Satyameva Jayate, too, copped some flak over alleged Hinduphobic content. The show and the actor though were criticized more for not speaking enough on Islamic terrorism or other social ills in the minority community but largely [allegedly] targeting social issues in the majority Hindu community.

We didn’t watch season 2 and 3 of the show, but we recollect in an early episode in season one, a Muslim lady had revealed her shocking domestic abuse case at the hands of her conservative Muslim husband. Hey, didn’t Khan address domestic abuse, Islamic conservatism in Secret Superstar [2017]?

It would be wrong to question the integrity of Khan, and Star India, but people-like Khan are often called out for selective criticism. We’d like to point out to such critics that if a Khan did a pk [2014[, he also did a Sarfarosh [1999] that openly blamed Pakistan for spreading terrorism in India. We recall Khan’s appearance on a NDTV show wherein he spent quality time with our Jawans, praising their selfless attitude, calling out Pakistan for spreading terror in the region, and even vowed to fight for the nation if ever the need arises, 

Though he never speaks about his philanthropy, Khan had done his bit for the people of Gujarat during the 2005 Gujarat floods. Unlike a Salman Khan, whose PR machinery often makes it a point to publicize his benevolence, Aamir’s gone about his charitable deeds quietly.

We don’t claim to know Khan at a personal level, but since the days of Dangal [2016], we’ve felt that the actor has become very cautious in his comments. Ask him anything political, and he’d say, “Sir/Madam, I’ll speak on this, two months after my film’s release”.

Zaira Wasim (L), Meher Vij (C) and Raj Arjun (R) in Secret Superstar [2017]

This evasive attitude has perhaps worked against Khan. If you can speak on Godhra, intolerance, why refrain from offering a balanced view on another serious matter. Media and fans were left stunned when Aamir Khan kept quiet over his Secret Superstar [2017] co-star Zaira Wasim quitting films over faith. Wasim was criticized by 90s actor Raveena Tandon for demeaning the industry that gave her fame and wealth. It was also buzzed that the Kashmiri girl perhaps quit the industry under pressure from radical Islamists in the Valley. We don’t recollect Khan commenting on Wasim’s sudden decision to quit films.  

While the word intolerance is a sad reality, but it is not limited to any one community. One can’t condemn the mob lynching over cow slaughter without speaking on arson, riots in Bengal, Assam, the regressive Hijab row in Karnataka, or the more recent barbaric killing in the name of blasphemy in Rajasthan. It’s this selective criticism by celebrities that riles the ultra-nationalists. Also, those who have [rightly] questioned intolerance in the BJP-government rule, should also be asked if this intolerance is only a recent phenomenon, then why did we see many terrorist attacks in the country before 2014? Who was spreading the hate then?

The Thugs of Hindostan [2018] actor had rightly backed Ektaa Kapoor, Anurag Kashyap over CBFC’s refusal to certify the anti-drug message film Udta Punjab [2016], but the same industry had gone cold in the drug case relating to Sushant Singh Rajput’s death by suicide case.

Read: Comment: United to save Udta Punjab but mostly quiet over Udta Bollywood

Laal Singh Chhadha is not really helped by the presence of Kareena Kapoor. The bubbly Bebo’s [as she is fondly called] arrogant words on nepotism and telling people to not watch her film has come back to haunt her and Laal Singh Chaddha. While Kareena hasn’t apologized, but in an recent interview to a TV channel, she downplayed the past comments and opined that a film will do well if the content is good.

It is not such a headache for Kapoor, but the bigger loss here could be of Viacom18 Motion Pictures and brand Aamir Khan. If you are a brand, then your public, social comments will impact your brand value. Maybe, Khan needs the right people in his ears to offer the best advice. Khan was smart in apologizing to the fans after the failure of Thugs of Hindostan [2018]. However, the timing of his pk [2014] apology could have been better. Nevertheless, how many actors in this industry value public money and time? Khan has always emphasized on producing good content that is accepted by the audience at large, and also ensure growth of the film industry.

The statements over #BoycottBollywood, #BoycottLaalSinghChaddha , too could have come in earlier. Sadly, with just over a week to go for its release, we fear these words are unlikely to ring a bell with the #BoycottBollywood lot. If we were in his ears, maybe a genuine clarification over the past misconceptions would help calm some ultra nationalists. We only hope that the cinephiles will not let other factors determine their choice in buying or not buying a ticket for Laal Singh Chaddha.


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