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"It's not about me. It's about democracy"

By: Faridoon Shahryar, IndiaFM

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Sach aur sahas hai jiske mann mein
Anth mein jeet usi ki rahe

"It's not about me. It's about democracy," said Aamir Khan in a talk show on NDTV answering people's questions on the ongoing controversy where his latest blockbuster Fanaa has been unofficially banned in Gujarat. "I won't apologize. All I've been saying for the last whole month is that the poor farmers who will be displaced because of the construction of Sardar Sarovar Dam on Narmada should be rehabilitated and adequately compensated for. Supreme Court is saying the same thing, so should the Supreme Court apologize as well," he had said a day before the release of the film.

The political parties opposing him in Gujarat may never have imagined in their wildest of dreams that this baby-looking superstar can put up such stiff resistance to their hooliganism. Maybe they chose the wrong man for pushing their political envelope. An actor who defies everything that is conventional in Bollywood, a star who has the guts to do one film at a time (Sometimes one film in two or four years) when the others are doing umpteen projects simultaneously, a die hard who can run into a train (Nearly killing himself) just to give a shot right, a rebel who never attends the award shows, a method actor who actually spends six months to grow a moustache for a character he believes in, a visionary who has the foresight to back non-happening directors like Ashutosh Gowarikar, Rakeysh Mehra, John Mathew Mathan, Ketan Mehta and Vikram Bhatt, a family man who keeps his personal life strictly away from the prying eyes of the media, a celebrity who decries media for its irresponsible behavior and still gets vociferous support from the Fourth Estate and finally a loyal citizen who as Rajdeep Sardesai rightly said also pays his income tax in true figures (Aamir Khan is one of the highest income tax payers in the country). And don't forget, he is the man who took India to the Oscars with his superlative film Lagaan.

While the posters and effigies were being burnt and unknown political henchmen were busy creating a name for themselves by snarling in front of the camera, Bollywood once again prove as to what an imbecile unit it actually is. The voices in Aamir's support initially were non-existent. When on-the-fringes actor-politician Shatrughan Sinha was attacking Aamir for his "stubborn, egotistic stance" no one came out to counter except for Aamir himself who termed Sinha's comments as "irresponsible". After Prime Minister Manmohan Singh supported Khan defending his "right to freedom of expression", Amitabh Bachchan, the big patriarch of Bollywood tacitly supported Aamir by saying that "Aamir is not wrong. He is a bright actor and a responsible citizen of the country. Everyone has the right to express oneself and people have the right to oppose it but within the constitutional framework of the country," he told a television channel.

Producer-Director and 'Social Activist' Ashok Pandit in a letter to the editor to Mid Day urged the political parties to let the film be screened as the producer suffers a loss. He further reiterated that he didn't agree with Aamir's stance on the Narmada issue. Pandit never specified as to what exactly he disagreed with. In an interview with The Hindustan Times, a month ago, he had dared Aamir to speak on other issues as well like the situation of Kashmiri Pandits. Recently Aamir did come out in support of the cause of Kashmiri Pandits, but Ashok Pandit refuses to comment on it now.

Actress and Social Activist Shabana Azmi during a long distance telephonic interview with Mumbai Mirror said that "I am proud of Aamir. The attack on Aamir must be condemned in the strongest words possible because it is completely unjustified. Any attempt to harm him and intimidate him will only make his resolve stronger to fight for social justice. The industry needs to stand solidly behind Aamir and recognize that it is crucial to express solidarity with him. Today, it is him, tomorrow it could be someone else," she had said.

The entire controversy surrounding Aamir's remarks on the Narmada issue has made his popularity touch sky high. Fanaa, riding high on the Aamir wave blasted past records by taking an unprecedented 93% opening (Third highest in the entire decade). The tickets in black are going as high as Rs 1000/ per ticket in some multiplexes. According to a source in Yashraj Films, Aamir asked producer Aditya Chopra to deduct Rs 2 crore from his remuneration for compensating the losses in Gujarat. Such sense of accountability is hard to notice in the Film World. By repeatedly defending himself on the media for the last few days, Aamir has proven that he doesn't have feet of clay. He has also given it back to the politicians who urged him to desist from "Herogiri". On a rare occasion, a reel hero has managed to emerge as a real life hero. More power to Aamir Khan.

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