Source : http://www.thehindu.com/thread/arts-culture-society/the-chinese-love-aamir-khan-more-than-modi/article18559275.ece
The audience laughed right on cue. They fell into a hushed silence right on cue too.
Last week, I sat in a packed movie hall watching Aamir Khan’s Dangal which was released in early May in China. Dangal has taken the Chinese box office by storm. In the week ending May 14, it had earned $71million, outselling the Hollywood Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2. Dangalhas become the highest-earning non-Hollywood movie in China for 2017 so far.
In order to gauge the audience reaction better, I found myself reading as many Chinese subtitles as I could. I stole a glance at the young girl sitting to my right. Her face was as expressive as her words were abundant throughout the movie. At that moment, when Aamir Khan’s Phogat was being humiliated by the wrestling coach at the National Institute of Sports, her face was held tight with emotion, tears threatening to spill over. I felt gratified. On many levels.
This was my second viewing of Dangal. Being neither a movie buff nor starstruck, this was an honour that Aamir Khan would neither know nor appreciate I’d bestowed on him. He would never know that I’d missed that evening’s earlier show because of a confusion over the venue, and bought a second equally expensive ticket for the following show. My friend laughed at the reason for my persistence — I wanted to make up to him for the censure he’d received over a comment about the changing social environment in India. It was my ‘protest ticket’ against his Snapdeal ordeal. It was perhaps silly at one level, but sometimes we do silly things because they feel right.
I was also interested to see firsthand the Chinese reactions to the movie. This I got aplenty.
The audience laughed on cue. Not perhaps so much because of the quality of the translation, but because much of the levity was situational rather than cultural. They didn't get too restless over the songs perhaps because the songs took the narrative forward rather than being substitutes for the pause button. And the girl to my right cried because it was a great story told masterfully.
This ability to connect with the audience at an individual level is a tribute to Aamir Khan’s skill as a storyteller. This ability has also done much to further India’s soft power in China. I have lived in China almost fifteen years. Until a few years ago, the Indian references addressed to me were mainly IT, beautiful girls and song and dance — all in generic terms. Most had not heard of Infosys or TCS or Aishwarya Rai. The individual references to things Indian were usually from the 50-plus-year-olds and limited to Tagore (from the educated) and those who reminisced about the old movie Caravan or sang a robust ‘Awa-la hu’ of Raj Kapoor.
Then two things happened in the last few years that saw a little awareness of India increase.
Prime Minister Modi
His high visibility and China visit led to my being drawn into a few conversations with the politically-inclined middle-aged men (always the men, for some reason). These have included random taxi-drivers perplexed over why such a powerful man who could have any woman in the country is single. "Only those who can’t get wives due to disability or some reason don’t marry," one insisted. An educated middle-class acquaintance commented that he seemed "lihai" or 'strong, fierce, capable'. Yet, beyond these few references, people neither knew much about our Prime Minister nor cared. "Chinese don't know much about India," a been-to-India-twice female friend confessed apologetically. They are more curious about the West.
Before Prime Minister Modi came Aamir Khan: Dhoom 3, 3 Idiots and PK.
3 Idiots was when I first became aware of Aamir becoming a part of the conversations of the Chinese youth, even if on a small scale.
Dangal changed that trickle to a flow, nay, a deluge.
The youth absorb culture in different ways from the elders. Stories and music weave their way into their hearts the way politics never can. Aamir Khan has filled this small crack that leads into Chinese hearts with his socially relevant movies that appeal to a society that is burdened with many concerns similar to those in India — a patriarchal system, highly competitive education system and corruption in public life. He is a teller of their stories. A different language but still their stories.
In this process, he has initiated a change in the way India is perceived. Or perhaps, I should say, he has enticed thousands and thousands of Chinese to become aware of India.
And this was also why I bought expensive tickets, twice, for a movie I'd already seen. He gave me pride in my country. For once the India portrayed isn't a caricature of itself, even though the film shows some harsh Indian realities. For once people are actually talking about India for the right reasons, despite viewing much negativity of Indian rural life. Not an easy feat to pull off. For once, the questions trained towards my husband and me aren't about the frequent rapes or the bad roads, the Indian summer or even about young girls being married off early.
For once, the question is — "Have you seen Dangal?"
The movie drew towards a close. The national anthem started. We’d joked about the tricky situation we'd found ourselves in. Should we stand up for the national anthem in a Chinese theatre?
"I will!" claimed my young nationalistic friend with full patriotic fervour.
"What if our seats are in the middle?" I quipped.
They were. She didn't.
Jan Gan Man started. Tears started rolling down Aamir’s eyes. The packed hall sat hushed for a few seconds, united in a shared human experience that went beyond the limited boundaries of national symbols.
Then, as the chatter started around the hall, the girl to my right turned to her companion again: "I've never heard the Indian national anthem before!"