Happy Aamir Week! Ghulam and Dangal: Aamir Uses Strength to Mask Weakness

I totally forgot about Aamir week for Dangal until TJ Stevens reminded me in the comments.  Actually, I was thinking that I would need to start doing something for Salman week, but I guess I can start that after I finish with Aamir.  I’ve still got his massive 3 part birthday post from last year, I can always update that and add in some quick reviews or something, right?  And maybe just let him have the whole last week of the year to himself, to make up for cutting his birthday celebrations short?

Ghulam!  Woot woot!  The first Aamir movie I watched and actually enjoyed for Aamir.  I’d already seen Lagaan and Rangeela, but they didn’t really work for me in terms of Aamir.  I enjoyed them as movies as a whole, but not just for his performance and his character.  And to the extant that I did, I was enjoying the character as it was written in the script, not for anything extra that Aamir’s performance added to it.

(This song, for instance, is about 25% Aamir, 25% Ram Gopal Verma, 35% AR Rahman, and 15% Urmila Matondkar)

That sounds mean, especially as a start to Aamir’s Week.  But if it helps, I can tell you that after seeing Ghulam, and then Dil Chahta Hai, and then Rang De Basanti, I was completely converted to Aamir As Movie Star.  It wasn’t just that I loved those characters as written in the script, it is that I loved them because of how Aamir played them.  And that it was Aamir playing them, someone with this enormous charisma and magnetic screen presence.

Ghulam is one that really stunned me when I first saw it, and stuns me even more now that I am more familiar with Aamir’s work and range.  He started out as this baby-faced boy, using his slight build and poofy hair and innocent eyes to play boyish young lovers.  Painfully young, like you look at them onscreen and get a little pang in your heart because they are so untouched by the world.  And then there’s Ghulam which is COMPLETELY DIFFERENT.

It was one of his first roles that required a real body make-over.  He trained with a boxer and got boxer-type muscles.  Not a gym body, with a 6 pack and all that, but thick arms and torso, and a convincing punch.  He also trimmed all his foofy hair and let his beard grow out a little.  And suddenly he went from a painfully young innocent, to this scary tough guy you wouldn’t want to sit next to on a bus.

But what makes this an Aamir movie and no one else’s is that he still had those eyes, those big innocent eyes, inside this fiersum (I have no idea how to spell that) body.   That little boy is still there, hidden away.  Which is what the whole movie builds on, the idea of that those young men you avoid on the bus are all carrying within them their own share of passion and dreams and love and everything else, it just has to be brought forth to the world.

In Ghulam, Aamir goes from using his body as a disguise over his heart, a way of hiding all the pain of his childhood and fears of his adulthood, to using it as a tool to express all that pain and turn it to good.  In the end, he learns how to be “truly” macho, instead of striding around and wearing a metal codpiece (that really is what it looks like, right?), it’s about standing up for people and being willing to die for what’s right.

And that’s where the fighting comes in.  Like Rocky, there are only two real fights in this movie in which he plays a boxer.  Towards the beginning, his brother makes him throw a fight, his big chance that he’s been training for.  This is the backstory that On the Waterfront only alludes to (this movie is a loose remake, which tells you something right there, that Aamir is able to play a role originally created by Brando), and Aamir does a great job showing the pain of that moment as it is happening.  And he does a great job showing that fight as the turning point in his story.

Suddenly he feels the need to take control of his life, instead of just blindly following behind his big brother, going along with his friends, flirting with his girl, accepting things as they are, he starts to think outside the box, to consider how things could be, and why they should be better.

And it’s not that his life was so bad!  Or that he was so bad.  This isn’t a story of “redemption”, at least not in a straight bad-good way.  Aamir may have acted tough, but he sort of respected his female lawyer (I LOVE her!  Mita Vasisht, she was the one I was all excited to see in a decent role in Bhavum), and he was loyal to his big brother, and most of all, he was a wonderful decent guy to Rani Mukherjee.

(Mita Vasisht is also the main person in this amazing music video.  She’s great, is what I am saying)

It is the relationship with Rani that really starts to melt his hard exterior.  At first it is just a harmless infatuation, he tries to impress her and be all scary and brave and macho.  But what really gets her attention (and the audience) is when his attempt to impress her goes wrong, and he ends up saving the life of his rival instead of challenging him.  And, even more impressive, is the small gesture that Aamir is the only one to stay back after the authorities arrive, long enough to give Rani a ride.

This is more than just a gesture of love, this is an indication of a general awareness of and concern for others, of being part of a responsible society.  While the rest of the restless motorcycle hoodlums took off without a second thought for their sexy co-rider, Aamir came back for her and made sure she got home safe.  Even gave her his jacket so she would be warm on the ride.  I kind of think his character would have done the same thing even if she hadn’t been a pretty girl he had a crush on, if she had been just a girl who needed a ride.

His relationship to Rani continues to be the one area where his humanity shines through.  For instance, the “Khandala” song.  We all know it as this catchy sexy rap thing.  And that Aamir sang it in his own voice.  But if you see it in context, it’s not about a guy trying to get his girlfriend to go away for the weekend.  It’s about a guy pretending to be trying to get her to go away for the weekend, so she can pretend to be resisting, and they can both forget the really ugly scene that happened at her house when he came to pick her up.  He’s using his mask of toughness to make her feel better, by bringing her into that same mask, where he is a tough heartless boy who just cares about sex, and she is a flightly frivolous girl who just cares about avoiding his advances.

Which brings me to Dangal!  There are a few themes that I find similar.  First, of course, the alteration to the body.  I suspect we will see a similar affect here to Ghulam, where Aamir has this massive physical transformation, but the “real Aamir” is shining through beneath all of that.  In this case, the cocky youthful athlete with the world in front of him shining through the present day older heavier and past his prime Aamir.

(Just now noticed this is supposed to take place in 1988.  So, if they switched channels, would they see reports about this surprise blockbuster hit film from the young actor Aamir Khan?)

I’m also expecting a journey from fake confidence to real.  But not from Aamir.  I am expecting it from his daughters.  Based on the song clips and trailers, it looks like they (particularly the oldest daughter) are the ones who will be thinking they’ve got it all figured out, only to realize that they don’t at all.  And will be going from superficial confidence to real.

And then there’s “Khandala”.  In that song, Aamir is inviting Rani to join him in his fantasy of sex and strength and danger.  It’s just for a goof of a song in Ghulam, but the same thing kind of happens in Dangal in a different way.  He invites his daughters to join him in building outer strength which will also provide them with inner strength.

I guess that does still work with Ghulam!  Aamir’s love and support for Rani teaches her to have faith in and respect herself.  Which is also what gives her the strength to leave him.  And in Dangal, looks likely, that Aamir’s training and confidence in his daughters will backfire on him when they take that strength and use it to rebel against him.

9 thoughts on “Happy Aamir Week! Ghulam and Dangal: Aamir Uses Strength to Mask Weakness

  1. Nice song choices. And some interesting food for thought.

    I have irrational love for Kya Kare Kya Na Kare. I mean, I loved Rangeela as a whole, but I have probably watched that video about two hundred times. Urmila is stunning, so sexy in her haughty playfulness. Aamir makes his drunken despair seem so soulful and cool. The song is fantastic, great rhythm and sad, longing melodies. I love the modern, almost lyrical dance choreography, the Thriller-esque atmosphere and the strange ensemble of background dancers/characters. It perfectly suits my sensibilities. I guess that sort of rationalizes why I like it!

    I was also a big fan of Ghulam. It wasn’t my favorite Aamir film, but it might be my favorite Aamir performance (of the films I have seen.) I was a bit taken aback by the different, high pitched voice coming out of Rani! I loved the Khandala song when it first came on. I went back and watched it three or four times before continuing on with the rest of the movie. You made a great point about how the lyrics are all macho posturing when, in the reality of the scene, he is just trying to cheer Rani up. It is a neat contrast to watch. I really liked their jodi and I wish they had done more work together.

    I don’t think I’ll be able to watch Dangal in the theatre, but I am looking forward to seeing it down the road. Is it this Sunday that Aamir and his movie daughters are on Koffee with Karan?


    • Yes, I think it is this Sunday that Aamir and his co-stars are appearing. I’ll be curious how they do. Aamir was super charming on his last appearance, but usually talk shows aren’t his thing. And of course the girls are a complete unknown, will the be natural and charming or stiff and uncomfortable?

      Kya Kare is great, I think it’s my favorite song from Rangeela, even though “Tanha Tanha” is the one that gets most of the buzz. It’s cool that we are talking about this right after talking about Bombay. Bombay and Rangeela were kind of the one two punch that brought AR Rahman to national attention. Bombay was dubbed from Tamil, but Rangeela was his first all Hindi movie.

      On Fri, Dec 16, 2016 at 2:00 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:



      • The episode with Aamir and Kiran was great! They are a cute couple. They really have a warm, playful rapport. A few years ago, Aamir was on a Canadian talk show called the Hour with George Stroumboulopous (during promotion of Kiran’s Dhobi Ghat.) He was very cordial and came off as a likeable and humble man. He even kindly ignored a couple of factual errors that the host made. I remember watching it at the time and just sort of recognizing him as ‘the guy from Lagaan.’ It was neat to go back and revisit the interview after watching a bunch of his films.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Happy Aamir Week! 3 Idiots: Aamir Going Against Intense Joyless Training, Before He is For it in Dangal | dontcallitbollywood

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