The Education Reformist Aamir Khan

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He is a man of many faces. He can well be the face of Indian cinema given that he played meticulously selected roles in movies as fantastic and meaningful as Rang De Basanti, Dil Chahta Hai, Mangal Pandey and Sarfarosh amongst a host of others, where he displayed his method acting skills to the fullest. Indian cinema got an intellectual boost with his productions like Taare Zameen Par and Lagaan. And, with regards to the former film along with 3 Idiots, he could also well be the face of the education system! That’s because in Aamir Khan’s world, making films is a form of art and not just merely a business.
However, success did not come easy to the actor. After the high of the well-received Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak in the late eighties, his acting career experienced a lull, and although this period of failure lasted till 1990, Aamir showed no signs of giving up. In fact, proving the old adage that what brings one down only makes one stronger, he went on to act in a host of excellent films during the nineties and this high hasn’t seemed to end till date!
With over 35 films in his kitty, Aamir Khan certainly knows the world of cinema inside out. So much so that the actor turned into a producer with the launch of his production company, Aamir Khan Productions. As expected, his first self-produced film, the critically acclaimed Lagaan, was a huge success, weaving the country’s favourite sport in a touching tale of Indian peasants taking on the British Raj.
What makes Aamir stand apart from the rest is the fact that he chooses to be a part of films that centre around matters close to his heart. Two films on education (Taare Zameen Par and 3 Idiots), another on the issue of farmer suicides (Peepli Live) and yet another on the vibrant hues of Mumbai (Dhobi Ghat) followed; clearly illustrating that Aamir has a mission to fulfil. “I don’t do different things; I try to do it in a different manner. I think every person should follow his/ her dream and try and make it possible to create an ability to achieve it, backed by its practicality. Th ere are hurdles in everybody’s life!” he says.
“I think the audience has really changed as they want to see a variety of cinema. Today’s moviegoers have matured and are practical. They don’t want the stereotype stuff to be played and that’s why films with unusual subjects are being hugely appreciated and accepted,” he explains.
Interestingly, Aamir plays two very contrasting roles in Taare Zameen Par and 3 Idiots. In Taare Zameen Par (2007), he took on the role of an art teacher who identifies that one of his young students suffers from dyslexia. The film touches upon the complexities of this disability and highlights the talent that such children are known to have. Awareness on this issue became mainstream as emphasis was laid on the need to provide such children with special help and care with their studies. Further supporting the need for awareness in this area was the fact that Aamir played an active part in many a drive, including the launch of a special cell at HR College that supports students with dyslexia and other disabilies. “Allowing and recognising the uniqueness of each child and helping each and every child to blossom…to empower children – that is what I mean by education,” says the actor who gave up studies after class 12 to pursue his passion for tinsel town. Aamir strongly believes that there is no balance that has to be maintained between pursuing your parents’ dream and following your heart. “It is true that parents ask their children to follow a certain path based on their understanding of what they think would be best for the child, but these aspirations are purely emotion driven. Parents should not impose their ambitions on their children. In fact, they should help their children discover and realise their dreams and then support them in their endeavour to fulfil their ambitions. Children, on the other hand, must listen to their parents’ point of view before making any major decisions, but ultimately, follow their own heart.
Make your own mistakes and never listen to the ‘practical’ advice of others,” he says. If Taare Zameen Par portrayed him as a concerned educator working with his special students, 3 Idiots (2009) was diametrically opposite, where he was on the receiving end as an intelligent yet mischief-mongering engineering student who defies the system, to take away the importance from scoring high marks to gaining knowledge. There was not a single viewer who could not identify with the problems the system is plagued with. This made the film relevant for many good reasons. Openly highlighting the rigidity and pressure of the existing system and offering plausible solutions was no mean task. And yet, director Rajkumar Hirani wanted to achieve it only with his 43-year-old student Aamir Khan. Despite Aamir’s efforts to convince the director to go for someone younger, the movie was made with the actor himself. The result is evident – it is one of the most epic movies that Indian cinema has witnessed, earning not only the love of the audience but critical acclaim as well.
The movie also uses real inventions by lesser known people in India, offering them a platform. Inventions such as the exercise-bicycle washing machine, the bicycle-powered horse clipper and the scooter-powered flour mill all found their way into 3 Idiots. The message was clear. If students follow their passion and gain knowledge, success is bound to follow.
So what does the actor feel about what could be done to improve the situation? Inclusive education, he feels, is the need of the hour. There are burning questions that are unanswered. “The Indian education system deals only with two intelligences — reading and writing. It does not focus on the development of any other kind of intelligence, like communication and caring. Students are expected to be proficient in subjects like mathematics and science, and the ones who cannot understand these subjects are looked down upon. Why is it so? Why are people who are able to sing neglected? Isn’t singing a skill too? Th e education system should be designed to accommodate and benefit all, particularly children with disabilities. Th ere is an immediate need for inclusive education,” says Aamir.
In late 2009, when Aamir joined Hillary Clinton at an interactive session on education, he was praised for his involvement with educational campaigns. Using this discussion as a platform, he said that children should be encouraged to be creative and there should be less emphasis on learning by rote. “Today, students are mostly focusing on memorising the content because they have to face questions like ‘Did you stand first in class?’, ‘How much did you score in math?’ I would like to hear teachers saying: ‘Hey, your friend is weak in this subject, would you help him? Th is will incorporate the feeling of sharing and caring among students and will help in making them good individuals. We should teach our kids to be caring. Sadly, more emphasis is given to report cards and less on exploring minds. Teaching should be a high-paying job so that youngsters aim at becoming teachers. I would like to see that one day in India, teaching is the most highly paid job.”
Along the years, Aamir has also been actively involved in a number of issues like the Narmada issue and the Mumbai terror attacks, “I’m not a social activist. I feel that if there’s any issue I feel strongly about, I can give a voice to it,” says Aamir, mentioning that Gandhiji is one person who inspires him. No wonder he was the first Bollywood persona to crusade with Anna Hazare and lend his support for the anti-corruption campaign. Aamir is a free thinker and a fierce utilitarian, always advocating truth and justice be it in the field of education or politics. Earlier this year, he was a part of the launch of a virtual learning education system owing to his association with education through his films. Aamir was also called upon to share his leadership insights with Teach for India’s teachers.
Aamir could perhaps be the epitome of a ‘thinking actor’ in Indian cinema. Not only has he managed to evolve into an extraordinarily passionate actor and filmmaker, reigned by his quest for perfection, but it is also clear that he has succeeded at doing it. What he would like is to see the sytem succeeding in bringing about the much needed changes that he talks about in his films. And then in real life too, he can say proudly proclaim, “Aal izz well.”
Want to be like Aamir in Taare Zameen Par and be a special educator? Turn to page 34 to see how. Also, see Student Speak: one student talks about studying with a learning disability and the other, about the miseries in the system. Page 50

CHILDREN MUST LISTEN TO THEIR PARENTS’ POINT OF VIEW BEFORE MAKING ANY MAJOR DECISIONS, BUT ULTIMATELY FOLLOW THEIR OWN HEARTS

Volume 1 Issue 4

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