Let me start by saying this, movies, for me, start with Aamir Khan. As a kid, one of my earliest memories is that of the actor wearing a White Cap in ‘Dil Hai Ke Manta Nahi.’ All I wanted since then was that Cap. And as soon as he fell while crossing the finish line in ‘Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar’ – I knew it was “PEHLA NASHA” – A song that defines my love for the man, and in turn the start of my love for this visual medium.

I won’t describe myself as a Fan as much as someone who felt like he was the Actor. People at home still call me “Aamir.”So I decided to make a list of my favorite movies starring Aamir Khan – who, in my honest opinion, is the Greatest Superstar Bollywood has ever seen. We can have a debate on that later, but as of now, here’s the list of my 10 favorite Aamir Khan Movies:

10) Raakh (1989)

Image Credits: Asif Noor

It was the first film Aamir Khan ever signed and the second one that got released. While ‘Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak’  might have made him an overnight superstar, it was in this film that we saw a glimpse of his raw talent as an actor. A brilliant neo-noir film about a young man who can’t get over the fact that the love of his life was raped and he couldn’t save her.

You could sense the feeling of impotence in his eyes as he’s filled with rage. His Road to Redemption story takes us through the dark underbellies of the crime world. The highlight of the film was the towering performances by both Pankaj Kapur (he won a National Award) in a supporting role as a cop and Aamir Khan as a young boy who can’t let go of his vendetta. The role had shades of De Niro from Taxi Driver. Especially as he struggles to use a Gun. The film bombed at the box office as it was perhaps too bleak and hopeless. Maybe the public wasn’t ready to see a mainstream actor do that role.

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9) Sarfarosh (1999)

Aamir Khan Movies - Sarfarosh

ACP Rathore is arguably Aamir Khan’s finest written character. Even if the basic plot isn’t very original, the treatment of the subject makes it an interesting watch. It’s about a no-nonsense cop who chose to be a Police officer rather than being in the IAS. His character isn’t the regular Bollywood cop who smashes skull and gets into one-on-one combat. He’s self-righteous, arrogant, and doesn’t mind having a foot race against the criminals.

He played the tough cop while wearing oversized loose shirts – as if they were mocking the Macho Men of Police that Bollywood had romanticized. Much like Raakh, Aamir Khan was at his best when standing in the same frame as the legendary Naseeruddin Shah. Their scenes and their bonding were the highlights of this Cop Drama that uncovered the working of the ISI.

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8) Earth (1998)

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As his object of affection makes love with her lover – he stands just outside the window, watching them passionately devour each other in a lustful embrace. His eyes, burning with lustful jealousy, are fixated on the romantic couple. A hauntingly beautiful track by Rahman plays in the background – it’s surreal.

1947 Earth is one of those rare Hindi films that is technically a masterpiece. Whether it’s the camerawork, the bold screenplay (just see the Train sequence), unadulterated dialogues, or that dream-like musical composition. The film looked at Partition through the eyes of a young Parsi girl. It was an interesting choice as she was a kid and neutral in that madness. Her mother says Parsis are like Sugar in a glass, sweet yet invisible. The film takes us through the unhinged madness of that era and makes us feel claustrophobic. Khan was at his best playing the antagonist – something he hadn’t done before.

7) Dil Hai Ke Manta Nahi (1991)

The White Cap. That’s how it all started. I saw “It Happened One Night” later in life, and though it is the original, I loved “Dil Hai Ki Maanta Nahi” just the same. I still prefer Aamir Khan’s over egoistic, self-righteous, and vain Raghu Jaitley over Clark Gable’s character in the original.

A film about a naive young girl who runs away from her father to marry a selfish star but meets a carefree yet morally upright journalist might not sound like a great idea in the modern era. However, when it was released, it had a certain charm. The romantic pairing had crackling chemistry, and their ego-driven game of who blinks first was fun to watch. Unlike most romantic films of that era, the film didn’t take itself too seriously, and that ending always makes me smile. Anupam Kher as the daddy deserves special mention for playing the dad in a Goofy, over-the-top manner, making the film even more endearing.

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6) Rang De Basanti (2006)

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A bunch of hedonistic and irreverent youngsters playing the part of freedom fighters eventually awaken to the fact that nothing much has changed. The British might have left, but freedom still evades us. This film made patriotism cool. The characters could be anyone we see around us, their mannerism and behavior replicated those of carefree youngsters we see every day in universities. The dancing, singing, and drinking youths have no time for moral lectures. If paying a few extra bucks can save you from the Police – it’s all cool.

Only when they witness a personal tragedy do they decide to challenge the system instead of being whining pawns. The ending might have been off-putting for some, but I believe the questions at the end show that he wasn’t romanticizing violence as the only solution. The film resonates with the mood of the youth today, and the film seems much more relevant now than it did in 2006. Every issue highlighted in the film manifested itself in our eyes in the current era. The basic message of the film – to be a part of the system to change the system remains as important now as it was back then. The non-linear screenplay, the rousing background score, and the flashy camerawork all make it one of the best films to have come out of mainstream Bollywood.

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5) Taare Zameen Par (2007)

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How do you talk about the merits of a film that has touched you more personally than any other film? Taare Zameen Par, for me, is the only film that made me cry like a child in a theatre. The narrative might have been simplistic, and perhaps the ending was too convenient. Parents don’t change that easily, and kids don’t improve that soon. However, those were minor hiccups in a film that made a lot of parents re-evaluate their methods of discipline.

Even if, at times, it got a bit preachy. It was one of those rare films that needed to hammer its point to its audience. In a country where child beating is common, and kids are often ridiculed and even thrashed for not getting good grades, this was a film that tried to make the adults think beyond just passing judgments.

Why the kids are failing is a much more important question. Would bullying them into submission help them? A few years later, he posed those questions again in 3 Idiots. But even if the Box Office numbers say a different story, they lacked the sincerity and empathy of Taare Zameen Par. Also, special mentions to Darsheel Safary, he deserved to win every award that season in India.

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4) Andaz Apna Apna (1994)

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Be it a dark comedy, black comedy, rom-com, or zom-com – there are many forms of comedy that we love and appreciate. When it comes to pure laugh-out-loud comedies, almost every film is terrible. Andaaz Apna Apna falls in the bracket of those films that critics ridicule as “brainless.” It has no social message, it makes no great point, and it lacks subtlety from the word go. Despite all that, this film remains a cult favorite and is loved equally by both cinephiles and everyday cinema fans.

There are a lot of stories about why the film bombed. But as of now, it is by far the most-watched film on TV. It has gained such massive popularity that most people can quote every dialogue in the film. Aamir Khan and Salman Khan both play two jobless dreamers who wish to marry an heiress and inherit her fortune. It is one of those films that made slapstick humor an art form. Aamir and Salman hammed with such effortless ease at times it felt like they were just making up lines on the spot. The supporting cast was equally terrific. Crime Master Gogo, Teja, and Bhalla have all gained iconic status over the years.

Comedy – be it standup or cinema, works only if the jokes land. You can create the greatest content, but if the jokes don’t land, it all goes down the drain. Aamir, Salman, and the entire cast deserve a standing ovation for ensuring every punchline worked to perfection. Perhaps they weren’t just “Purush” – they were “Mahapurush.”

3) Dil Chahta Hai (2001)

Dil Chahta Hai

I have said it previously, but this was the film that changed the dynamics of Indian Cinema. It ushered us into a new era of popcorn entertainment and started the multiplex era in Bollywood. The film redefined the rules of being the leading guy in a film. From the way it was shot to the costume design and even the dialogues, Dil Chahta Hai revolutionized Bollywood cinema in many ways. The film captured the essence of metrosexual urban youth. It made Goa a tourist hotspot and became the bible of modern friendship. It was the first film that talked about setting boundaries and the importance of empathy in any relationship.

Dil Chahta Hai used the three characters to show us three completely different aspects of the young men. While Aakash represented unfiltered narcissism – the pampered, self-indulgent rich guy who was also a selfish asshole. Sid was this pretentious philosopher who fell in love with a woman as she seemed to understand his paintings. Sameer was all of us. Gullible, relaxed, fall in love with every girl, avoids confrontation at all costs, and cracks the best PJs. “Yaa to hamari friendship bahut gehri hai ya ye Photo 3D Hai”. It’s a timeless classic.

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2) Lagaan (2001)

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Roger Ebert rated it 3.5 out of 4 stars and was effusive in his praise. It was rated among the 100 Best Films Of World Cinema by Empire Magazine, and it became only the 3rd Indian film, and still remains, the last Indian film to have been nominated for an Academy Award in its most competitive category – Best Foreign Language Film.

Lagaan, for me, remains the Greatest Bollywood film ever made. It had the feel of an epic film. With a running time of more than 4 hours, it didn’t feel like a stretch, even for a second. It perfectly married two of India’s biggest obsessions, and more than anything, it used the songs and dance sequence in a very timely manner that never looked forced.

For me, it remains the greatest Bollywood film as it used every trope associated with Bollywood –  the colorful village life, the pretty orchestrated dance sequences, the emotional melodrama, and yet somehow managed to tell an engaging underdog story without getting bogged down by cliches. And despite its obvious finale – it had us at the edge of our seats.

The scene where Captain Russel asks a young Bhuvan to accept his challenge is in itself a great piece of writing. Look at Aamir Khan as he stands there with a stoned expression, like a poker player hiding his true intentions. He was egging the Captain to raise the bar. The Captain, visibly irked, remains calm – feeling he can raise the stakes as he can’t lose the game. There’s a nervous tension in the air as people at the back keep asking him to stay shut. He keeps staring at the man – unafraid without blinking his eyelid and then that thunderous ” Sharat Manzoor Hai.”

The way the film took its time to build the team piece by piece, like creating a puzzle, made it feel all the more invested. It didn’t feel like one man’s fight, it was about the team, and every member looked equally important. The entire second half was dedicated to the game, which pulled us right into the middle of the action. Most sports films allot 15-20 minutes to the final battle. They decided to play it like we were watching an actual test game, and that’s what made the reward more fulfilling and more deserving.

Unlike most films where heroes do everything, this film emphasized the importance of the collective. Something that’s often lost in Indian Cinema – where one man steals the show. For that reason alone, Lagaan remains one of the most satisfying films I have ever seen.

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1) Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar (1992)

JJWS | Aamir Khan

Lagaan and Dil Chahta Hai might have transported us to a new era in cinema and are probably technically superior films. However, nothing for me can match the excitement of watching Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar. It was a film ahead of its time. At a time when all that Bollywood was making in the name of commercial cinema was patriarchal romance glamorizing toxic masculinity or pointless action dramas, that made no sense. Jo Jeeta Wahi Sikandar talked about teenage romance, and school rivalry and had the most realistic portrayal of a brotherly relationship.

It broke so many stereotypes of the 90s. For example, the supposed bad guy tries to save the brother of the protagonist as he’s falling down the cliff. When there’s a fight that breaks out between two school groups, it comes to a halt when one of the guys crashes against the window of a car. The protagonist gets punched by his older brother as he tries to fight him.

There was a sense of realism in all the characters. Like his rival, the main hero Sanju had a morally ambiguous character. He is selfish. He lies to his father and wastes the money on a girl, and lies to her as well – leaving his friends for her. None of the characters seemed overly white or black. They all had their issues. Yes, Sanju becomes the good guy once the accident happens, but that doesn’t seem far-fetched considering the situation.

All of that, combined with high octane, pulsating, and nerve-wracking finale, makes it my all-time favorite Aamir Khan movie. Every time I see him change gears at the end in slow motion while the crowd chants, ‘Come on, Sanju,’ irrespective of the fact that I already know the result, it doesn’t fail to give me Goosebumps. I guess that’s the magic of cinema in general.

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