While there has been a flourishing rivalry between Aamir, Salman and Shahrukh Khan for decades now in the last few years one Khan has probably zoomed right ahead of the rest. There was never any doubt that Aamir was the best actor of the three Khans, but in the last decade he has outdone himself.
In the last few films he has played: An alien (PK), a mentally challenged circus performer and thief (Dhoom 3), a brooding Mumbai cop (Talaash), an eccentric and brilliant student (3 Idiots), a man with short-term memory loss (Ghajini), a charismatic school teacher (Taare Zameen Par) and a cold-hearted terrorist (Fanaa).
What's more, he has pulled off all of these roles really well. When other stars try something different, they usually fail at the box office. But not Aamir! He is also the only superstar who by and large stays away from "formula" films and looks for something "different" all the time.
From "tapori" Rangeela to intense Ghulam and Sarfarosh; from the unique cricketing period movie Lagaan to the new age film Dil Chahta Hai; right down to Rang De Basanti (which one newspaper headline called Rang De Bizarre) all his movies have a refreshing plot. This has been his approach right from the very beginning of his career.
There was one area where Aamir lagged behind the other Khans and that was at the box office. While he had a slew of superhits, none achieved the "all-time blockbuster status" till 2008 in which Salman was the clear leader right from Hum Aapke Hain Koun..! in 1994.
However that has changed. Aamir owns both the box office and the critics.
Ghajini created the Rs 100 Crore Club in 2008.
While other stars scrambled to join this club, 3 Idiots went ahead and created the Rs 200 Crore Club in 2009. That was an extremely exclusive club till 2013, after which Salman, Shahrukh and Hrithik Roshan joined it.
However Aamir was not done and with Dhoom 3 in 2013 he went ahead and created the Rs 250 Crore Club. While no other star has been able to breach that, it is again another Aamir film, PK which is creating waves.
Not only is PK Aamir's fourth all-time blockbuster since 2008, it has also created the Rs 300 Crore Club!
Till 2008, "all-time blockbuster" eluded Aamir, but since then the all-time No. 1 film has been his from 2008-14 and running (Chennai Express was the only exception, but just for a few months in this period).
When you take the worldwide box office, then Dhoom 3 became the first member of the Rs 500 Crore Club.
Salman is not that great an actor and survives by charisma alone. He rarely does anything different and is happy with his "formula" blockbusters.
Shahrukh experimented with films like Swades and peaked with Chak De India in 2007. 2010's My Name Is Khan did not do well in many single-screen sectors.
Since then SRK has firmly reverted to formula films. But one wonders how long both Salman and Shahrukh can play the jumping dancing fighting romancing hero. Everything has a shelf life. Aamir has already graduated to playing versatile roles and looks like having a better future too.
Akshay Kumar also has "different" movies like OMG – Oh My God! And Special 26, but box office wise they don't touch Aamir's different films.
Another thing that sets him apart is how he chooses his movies. He averages just one movie a year as a leading hero and still manages to make waves at the box office.
He began his starring career by co-writing for Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak and directed Taare Zameen Par so he has a future in that direction too. A joke that does the rounds is that Aamir is the unofficial Assistant Director to all his movies.
His is the only Bollywood masala movie to have been nominated for the Oscars (Lagaan, 2001). In the IMDb Top 250, four of Aamir's films feature: 3 Idiots (119), Rang De Basanti (148), Dil Chahta Hai (166) and Lagaan (210).
The other two Bollywood films in the Top 250 are Gangs of Wasseypur (196) and Swades (239).
(Note: The rankings are dynamic and keep changing over time.)
In between he has also found time to host the hit show Satyamev Jayate which has taken up many social issues like alcoholism, female foeticide, honour killings, domestic violence, rape and dirty politics.
In conclusion, it wouldn't be wrong to say that Aamir is not in competition with Salman and Shahrukh.
He is competing with the likes of Dilip Kumar, Raj Kapoor, Dev Anand, Rajesh Khanna and Amitabh Bachchan for the greatest superstar of all time.
If you look at Amitabh's career which spans forty odd decades, then Aamir is way behind. But with the way he is going, he could well catch up before you know it!
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The author is a Bangalore-based journalist and blogger. He blogs here