Aamir Khan is the perfect candidate for OTT, so why is he missing from streaming services?

There is a Bollywood man whose presence is missing on OTT. Given his reputation as the king of original content, it’s surprising that he’s held back from joining the streaming bandwagon. No prizes for guessing what we’re talking about Aamir Khan. While many of his contemporaries have long embraced OTT platforms — starting 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 chose to resist. Still, come to think of it, Mr Perfectionist is a natural fit for home entertainment. Here’s why.

Aamir Khan Aamir Khan chose to resist OTT for some reason. (Picture: Express Archive)

Aamir, who turns 57 today and has graced Hindi movie screens for three and a half decades now, is one of the few Hindi commercial stars with a consistent focus on meaningful and engaging storytelling at a time when these two adjectives were anomalies. Today you imagine streaming giants like Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Disney+ Hotstar dumping millions into the Writer’s Room to develop unique concepts, but it’s worth remembering what was said of Aamir Once Upon A Time – he wouldn’t be making a movie if he hadn’t’ I didn’t believe in his script and the script had to be connected, logical and compelling. With a recipe that combined just the right amount of social issues with wholesome entertainment (critic Jai Arjun Singh called him his “messiah persona”), Aamir was able to produce and star in some of the biggest blockbusters of the last decade. It seems that early training under his uncle Nasir Hussain and father Tahir Hussain may have helped him develop an innate sense of what makes a movie enjoyable. Rishi Kapoor even went so far as to name him the “new Raj Kapoor,” an honor that perhaps suggests Aamir as a showman who knows how to balance commercial cinema with a personal style.


Aamir Khan Aamir Khan has produced and starred in some of the biggest blockbusters of the past decade. (Photo: Aamir Khan/Instagram)

master of surprises

Critics regularly complain that no matter the movie, Salman Khan is still Salman Khan. And so do Shah Rukh Khan and Amitabh Bachchan, who find themselves in the enviable but utterly burdensome position of being bigger than the plot they are meant to serve. But this is not the case with Aamir. In each movie, he’s a different character and a different actor, a chameleon-like shapeshifter who changes color and depth depending on the storyline and the situation. Whether it’s 3 Idiots, PK, Ghajini, Taare Zameen Par, Secret Superstar or Dangal, each Aamir Khan film has an emotional core and its content is tailored to reflect our times and the systems that torment us. We thought India and China were separated by a cultural barrier the size of the Great Wall until Aamir proved him wrong, delivering a series of hits in the Middle Kingdom. All of these satires on education and the affairs of religion and on feminism and women’s empowerment sometimes come across as if they were just prep for Satyamev Jayate.

A talk show, Satyamev Jayate was Aamir’s first TV episode and he skillfully demonstrated his talent for keeping up with the changing times. Today, even TV is overtaken after being overtaken by OTT where success is largely defined by forward-thinking ideas. While subscribers are fickle and increasingly in control of their choices, the popularity of a particular show or movie hinges on the element of surprise. And Aamir, by all calculations, is the ultimate master of surprises. He’s an actor who builds a big bundle of muscle for Ghajini and then negates that by piling on the pounds for Dangal. Transformation, your name is Aamir. Incredibly still, he manages to pass the milestone of two. OTT thrives on smart marketing chops, a “content-first” approach, staying ahead of the curve, and generally giving audiences something worthy of binge-watching. All the things Aamir is good at too.

Aamir Khan It took Aamir Khan decades of ups and downs to achieve his magic formula. (express archive)


Of course, it took the actor decades of ups and downs to achieve his magic formula. The hitmaker in him that we recognize today was born in 2001, to be precise. Before that, he had had a bad run with Mann (1999) and Mela (2000). The 90s were over, but its male stars were reversing aging, looking just as fit as ever. The stalwarts of that era like Akshay Kumar, Ajay Devgn, Shah Rukh Khan, etc. struggled to find a new voice suited to the new millennium. Others like Govinda were quickly dismissed as a lost cause, although no one can deny that this talent powerhouse deserves its own OTT revival. As any Bollywood fan will tell you, Aamir, along with the other Khans, had spent the 90s playing romantic roles, justifying his nickname “QS cutie” which the press gave him after Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak (1988). If the 90s were its first act, then the post-2001 years could be called its second. 2001 was Aamir’s odyssey, with Lagaan and Dil Chahta Hai ushering in a new era personally for him as well as for the Hindi film industry. It was possibly the last time he was seen in two major films in a single year. Over the next few years, his “one film a year” experience quickly made him a pioneer. At a time when all major Bollywood stars were obscenely overexposed, Aamir’s absence was glaring. Over the decades his films have also grown exponentially in size and scale and he certainly must be given credit for pushing the boundaries of what the box office could achieve.

Aamir’s third act

Indeed, much of Aamir’s influence as an A-lister comes from his box office position. With the notable exception of a dud like Thugs of Hindostan, most of his films have made fortunes for everyone involved. When talking about the highest paid stars, it would be wise to exclude Aamir. The reason is that paychecks and salaries are for mere mortals. The best stars have business models. Aamir, for his part, would be known to take a huge chunk of box office profits. So in a Yash Raj production (Dhoom 3 or Thugs of Hindostan), Aamir should be seen as an equal partner and not just another actor for hire. Starting with Lagaan, he increasingly acted in his own films as a producer. All this box office arithmetic explains why Aamir has tactfully avoided the OTT route until now. Dangal’s worldwide box office receipts alone are said to be Rs 2,000 crore.

    Aamir Khan Although Aamir Khan has remained oblivious to the charms of streaming, it’s entirely possible that his third act will take shape on digital television. (express archive)

On the other hand, “rating” is the buzzword in the world of streaming, even though the stats and numbers remain shrouded in secrecy. For example, we’ll never know how many viewers tuned in to Sacred Games or The Family Man or how much Netflix or Amazon Prime enjoyed. During the Covid-19 pandemic, Aamir had delayed his long-awaited Laal Singh Chaddha probably because of all the hopes and expectations placed on him to eclipse Dangal. Tom Hanks’ Forrest Gump (1994) remake was one of the ambitious films whose release was disrupted due to the nationwide lockdown which caused cinemas to close. But with the biggie finally having a theatrical release on August 11, all eyes will be on Aamir not only to save his own prestige, but also that of the beleaguered Hindi film industry which faces overwhelming competition from some really unexpected quarters – Southern dubs like Pushpa: The Rise, OTT originals, K-dramas and Hollywood comic book superheroes. The pandemic, they say, has changed cinema a lot. And while Aamir has remained oblivious to the charms of streaming, it’s entirely possible that his third act will take shape on digital television. If that happens, it should bode well for both, we presume.

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