Aamir Khan debuted in Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak, as a fresh-faced collegiate and quickly caught the imagination of the teenaged girls of the country. He was already married when the film released but that was kept under wraps to keep his lover-boy image alive. In 1988, QSQT and Maine Pyaar Kiya successfully launched its lead stars and relaunched teenage romance as a theme into Bollywood.
Aamir did not win the Best Actor prize at the Filmfare awards that year but to recognise his success, Filmfare started a new award - Best Debut. Even Juhi - who had already acted in films - won the award. Those who remember seeing Aamir in a grey suit and red tie, happily clutching the award would have never imagined that Aamir would one day treat awards ceremonies the same way Sanjay Singhania treats Ghajini Dharmatma!
Each of the major stars of Hindi cinema have shaped industry in one way or the other. Shahrukh, for example, showed that a market for Hindi cinema exists out of this country, which is independent of the vagaries of the domestic box office. Similarly, Aamir brought the work ethic of one film at a time and immersing into it completely, from physicality to mentality to marketing and beyond.
From approximately the mid-90s, which I believe is around the time he worked in Rangeela, he worked on one film at a time (the frequency of which was usually a year). This sometimes extended to as much as five years (between Lagaan and Mangal Pandey). Smaller roles (like 1947: Earth) of course allowed more than one release a year.
Before this 'method' period, Aamir Khan did a delightfully crazy Bollywoodish films that straddled the entire gamut of box-office performance (super-hit to unmitigated disaster) and critical acclaim (deafening applause to pelting eggs).
Here is the list!
Raakh - Aamir Khan's second release (not counting Holi, which never had a release) as an adult (not counting Yaadon Ki Baaraat) was a critical success and a box-office disaster. Aditya Bhattacharya (son of director Basu Bhattacharya) directed this gritty, dark film about a young man hunting down his girlfriend's rapists. Aamir played Aamir Hussein, the young man, who was assisted by a cynical cop, played by Pankaj Kapur. Teenaged girls, who went to see the chocolate box hero of QS Cutie, were shocked to see him in this avataar and they quickly went out and warned their friends.
Love Love Love - The usual rich-girl-poor-boy formula paired the hot pair of Juhi and Aamir, but the film sank without a trace as neither the music nor the treatment of the hackneyed plot could get audiences in. They even repeated Dalip Tahil in Aamir's dad's role (or was it Juhi's dad?) but it remained a Dud Dud Dud.
Jawaani Zindabaad - Noble themes seldom make entertaining movies. But at least, they are applauded for their stand on an issue. This one - on anti-dowry - got shafted both ways. Farha starred opposite him, Javed Jaffrey starred alongside him and all of them contributed to the abominable wastage of celluloid.
Deewana Mujhsa Nahin - Aamir Khan's first pairing with Madhuri Dixit and his first (and last) film wearing spectacles bombed spectacularly. He played a fashion photographer to Madhuri's supermodel character, following her devotedly in the total conviction that she would eventually realise that 'yeh jodi bhagwan ne banayi hain' (sounds familiar?) while she remains blissfully unaware of his existence. A tremendously bad film later, all gets settled in true filmi style. Aamir gets an assignment with Vogue and Madhuri marries Tej Sapru.
You believed that? Har har, not a Bollywood buff, are we?
Awwal Number - This is not an Aamir Khan film, actually. Any film which has Dev Anand cannot be any other kind. And this film did not stop at Dev but also had Aditya Panscholi as Dev's younger brother. One of the greatest films of the So-Bad-That-Its-Good genre, it is a cricket film with Aamir as Sunny (how imaginative!), who replaced his boyhood idol in the Indian cricket team and finally hit a last ball six to win us a match against Australia. In between, he romanced Ekta (a plump Dev Anand discovery). I read a gossip item that in a scene for which Aamir and Ekta had to roll on the ground, he passed out under Ekta's weight. But not many people think Stardust is the benchmark of credible journalism.
Tum Mere Ho - A snake film! Aamir was the son of a snake-charmer, who wore strange headgear made of cowries, waistcoats without anything under them and Juhi Chawla all over himself. Kabila, intequaam, qurbaani and similar words of the genre were bandied about as Juhi died of a snake bite, was revived, killing the audience in the process and eventually the film did not survive either.
Dil - Just when the professional obituaries of Mr Khan were being written, he appeared in this college romance opposite Madhuri Dixit. Their earlier flop did nothing to raise the expectations of the film and neither did the non-entity director-producer. It must have the lucky tree in Ooty around which the title song was shot that turned this nothing-going-for-it into a monster hit. The music was a super success, the loud comedy appreciated at college campuses all over India and the Aamir-Madhuri pairing feted as the Next Big Thing (though they never appeared in a film again).
Dil Hain Ki Manta Nahin - Aamir Khan's fabled perfectionism started to show as Pooja Bhatt expressed concern in an interview that he may just go from cinema to cinema, seeing if the seats are okay and the ACs are working right! It started with the story - which was a perfect lift of It Happened One Night. As the reporter for Daily Toofan, Aamir did a competent job but not a spectacular one though the film was a runaway success.
Afsana Pyar Ka - Aamir and the heroine study in the same college. He irritates her and she challenges him to fight the college boxing champion. Aamir's honourable and valiant behaviour at the boxing ring causes a change of heart... Wait! Wait! Wait! This is the story of Dil. Well yes, but it is APK's story as well! Sanjay Seksaria directed this Aamir-Neelam starrer with at least one very good song (Tip tip tip tip barish shuru ho gayee) and a convoluted sub-plot about his estranged parents (Kiran Kumar and Beena). But everybody had this feeling that they had seen the film already.
Isi Ka Naam Zindagi - A hilarious Bengali comedy Banchharam-er Bagan (Banchharam's Garden) was - for reasons beyond the limits of human comprehension - remade in Hindi. The zamindar's role (in Bengali, played with aplomb by Dipankar Dey) was reprised by Shakti Kapoor and Pran played the garden-owner. Aamir was his son / grandson, a role that was almost insignificant in the Bengali version but expanded miraculously - and needlessly - in Hindi.
Daulat ki Jung - Sometimes, Hindi film titles tell you the entire story of the film. This is one such title (along with Paap Ko Jalakar Raakh Kar Doonga) that makes irrelevant the entire star cast, music and art direction of the film. Hence, I have absolutely no recollection of the film except a song which goes, "Ab teer chale ya talwaar chale, maine dhar li kalai yaar ki". Maybe my sister (The Official Aamir Khan Fan in the family) would be able to throw some light.
Parampara - Yash Chopra's last directional venture outside the Yashraj banner was a tri-generational saga starring Sunil Dutt, Vinod Khanna and Aamir Khan (as also Saif as part of the third generation). Yeh shaadi nahin ho sakti, bhagwaan ko sakshi maan kar tumhe apna loonga, main tumhe jaidaad se bedakhal kar doonga and million other familiar bombasts exploded as Aamir-Saif appeared towards the second half while Vinod Khanna romanced Ramya and Ashwini Bhave for most part of the film.
Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar - Riverdale was brought alive in Doon and Aamir Khan played the quintessential Archie to a brilliant soundtrack by Jatin - Lalit, one of the least awarded but most consistent composers of the times. Aamir - in his late 20s - played a schoolboy (not college, school) in white uniform and tie and did not look too out of place. This was Mansoor Khan's second attempt after QSQT and he did an excellent job of getting the angst of the lower middle-class (pajama chhaap) Model School against the rich, spoilt brats of Rajput. One of the most entertaining movies of the time, Aamir Khan's performance was overlooked by Filmfare to give Anil Kapoor (for Beta, of all things!) a rather blatantly lobbied prize. And that was the last time we saw Aamir at an awards function. Anil had no qualms about his win and is still seen jumping enthusiastically at the Golden Globes!
Hum Hain Raahi Pyar Ke - This was the first time Aamir Khan was credited with ghost-directing a film since this was officially directed by Mahesh Bhatt (then, helming about half-a-dozen films simultaneously, some of which he is supposed to have directed entirely on phone). Since the film was reasonably interesting and had no continuity problems, the industry surmised that somebody would have applied intelligence to the process of the film-making. The film was produced by Aamir's father and Aamir was slowly developing an aura of intellectualism so it was unanimously decided that he be credited for the direction.
Andaz Apna Apna - Enough said about this already.
Aatank hi Aatank - The Godfather has spawned many copies, none of them probably as bad as this one. Aamir plays Michael Corleone, who has to take a break from singing songs with Juhi Chawla to join the family business. Rajnikanth (if I am not mistaken) was thoroughly under-utilised as Sonny and I don't even remember who played the Don. Aamir had a moustache and gelled back hair for the second half of the film. He went around with an AK 47 from hotel to hotel, killing his enemies in elevators - thereby displacing Dharmatma as the Worst Godfather Remake of All Times.
Baazi - Ashutosh Gowariker and Aamir Khan came together for the first time in this cops-and-terrorists tale, which had a climax lifted straight out of Die Hard. Aamir Khan played a 'Special Branch' cop, taking on several get-ups including that of Julie Braganza in which he showed his flair for perfection by appearing with silken thighs and a cleavage! One of the last films in which I saw Raza Murad, playing a baritone-voiced Chief Minister.
Akele Hum Akele Tum - A reasonably faithful remake of Kramer Vs Kramer, Aamir Khan played a self-obsessed music composer ignoring his talented wife, Manisha Koirala. As in the original, the couple fought for custody of their son though the ending is altered to suit Bolly sensibilities. The film had fantastic music (by Annu Malik, of all people!) and even better digs at the contemporary music scene. Satish Shah played Gulbadan Kumar, owner of a music company and there was a composer-duo (one short & paunchy and the other dapper & french bearded) called Amar-Kaushik. Basically, the producers - Venus - took a major dig at their biggest competitors.
Aamir Khan's earlier films suffered from the fact that some of them were signed in an initial euphoria, some others were an exact rehash of earlier successes and some novel ones (which have stayed on with us even today). He tries his best nowadays to restrict himself only to the novel ones, does some-great-some-record-shattering films but I miss the campy look and spontaneous appeal of his earlier ones.
He is now a whiz at marketing his films and speaks sonorously on the reasons for choosing the films he does. Maybe an intrepid film journalist should pin him down for a day or two and ask him to relive the memories and explain the creative rationale behind "Khambe jaisi khadi hain / Ladki hain ya chhadi hain..."