“You can only be offended if you choose to take offense.”
We met one time for a business meeting almost two decades ago. I doubt you will remember, but there were a few things about our meeting and the impression you made on me that I never forgot.
The first thing that surprised me is that you asked your manager not to join our meeting. Every Bollywood star we had dealt with had insisted that we communicate with them through their managers. I guess seeing the surprise on our faces you explained that you liked to speak for yourself and manage your own affairs. You believed all your professional decisions were yours to make and added that, being the ultimate decision-maker, you would also be wasting our time by making us go through a manager. Both my creative head and I respected you for this professional courtesy.
The second thing that impressed me greatly was your no bullshit common sense and clear understanding of the fundamentals of marketing. We had come to talk to you about a big national ad campaign that we were developing for a multi-national company. Other stars we had spoken with cared mostly about negotiating their fees and discussing travel arrangements, asking if family could accompany them at our expense. But you spent all of your time quizzing us about details of the script, insisting you would need final sign-off, and then proceeded to drill us about the media strategy. No actor had ever asked about any of this information, or even seemed to care. I know my creative director was glad he had brought this account man along!
Sufficed to say, while I will not divulge the details of our meeting, your logic was sound and demonstrated an innate understating of building and managing brands. It was also in complete contrast to the immaturity, emotional histrionics and self-absorption we were warned to expect from Bollywood. Yet, this is not what impressed me most about you. It was that everything you said, you did with a wry smile. Almost as if you only half-believed or were half-serious about the all fundas and logic you were sharing with us to weigh your decision. It left me feeling that while you took your art and the business of movies very seriously, you had not succumbed to the superficiality and transient nature of stardom and success – and did not take yourself too seriously. You had a healthy dose of reality, common sense and a clear, rational head on your shoulders. I left there with greater respect for you. You were never preachy, sanctimonious or condescending.
So naturally, I was shocked the other day to read about your comments on the AIB roast, even after you admitted that you had not seen the whole show, just a clip or two. I was not bothered by the fact that you were offended by it, or that you thought it puerile, juvenile and in poor taste. What troubled me greatly was that you equated it to violence. You said, "I felt it was a very violent event. Violence is not only physical; it can be verbal and emotional too. When you insult someone, you perpetuate violence…" (Source: “Aamir Khan, be a Responsible Celebrity”, NDTV). You did say that you were not advocating a witch hunt against those involved, but also went on to say that they should be punished if they broke any laws and you called them irresponsible; adding that celebrities need to be more responsible.
I will not get into the double standard, based on your own defence of Delhi Belly or more recently for PK, as many others have written about this. I want to re-iterate the point about your responsibility, as a celebrity. A blogger named Vidyut also made this point quite passionately. You are a super star and that means you have a super mega pulpit. Based purely on your celebrity, people listen to you with rose-tinted glasses when you speak about any issue, versus ANY other prominent public figure. And people tend to try and rationalise emotional issues in emotional and irrational ways. As Vidyut puts it: “When a large voice like yours tells people that people speaking must be careful, and people who get offended can ask them to stop, a thousand voices like mine get raw throats trying to talk sanity on the issue and explain why it is not okay to shut people up just because you don’t like what they say. “but even Aamir Khan agrees…” (Source: “Open letter to Aamir Khan” by Vidyut).
The Aamir I met might say with a wry smile, something that I know my father would have said, that “the AIB Roast is not my idea of intelligent humour and in my mind the jokes went beyond a sense of decency and decorum that I strive to uphold BUT this is a free country; and Karan, Tanmay, the AIB gang and their audience were all adults. If they can find an audience for this type of puerile and juvenile rubbish (and people are willing to throw away their hard earned money to watch it), then all the power to them; just don’t ever expect me to condone it or be part of it.”
Now more than ever, India needs the Aamir I met all those years ago. We need him to come down from his perch and talk sense, so that cooler heads can once again prevail in this important and necessary debate.