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How Aamir Khan stole Christmas from the rest of Hindi cinema

The last of the Khans to release his film, Aamir Khan has quite the buzz going for Dangal. This would be his 6th film to release around the Christmas weekend. As the box-office prepares for this heavyweight, we take a look at the strange, but effective, Christmas tradition of Aamir. 

Shriram Iyengar

Before the release of his dubious epic, Mohenjo Daro, director Ashutosh Gowariker expressed his despair in an interview with BollywoodHungama saying, "There are only so many days you can release a film." Gowariker was decrying the habit of producers bookmarking the festival season for the release of big star films. Traditionally, the Indian festival calendar offers a glimpse into the star power of the industry. Salman Khan owns the Eid weekend. Shah Rukh Khan headlines Diwali. Aamir Khan takes Christmas. The last of the Khans to appear in a film this year, Aamir has the responsibility of reviving a faltering year at the box-office. Going by his record on Christmas, it looks easily possible. 

Aamir's Christmas tradition began fairly a decade ago in 2007 with the release of his directorial debut, Taare Zameen Par. A sensitive film about a child unable to fit into the schooling system, Taare Zameen Par was made on a budget of Rs18 crore. The film went on to lay the foundation for Aamir's blockbuster box-office presence by earning Rs74.82 crores in its lifetime. It was the first of the big Christmas presents for Aamir. 

Taare Zameen Par was Aamir Khan's first major success on a Christmas weekend

Aamir followed it up with AR Murugadoss' action thriller, Ghajini (2008). The film received quite the buzz in the market for being the first of Aamir's physical transformation. A radical change from the easy going teacher of Taare Zameen Par, Khan built a chiselled physique gaining 25 kgs in 6 months. The transformation worked in his favour. Even though it was encumbered with a heavy budget of Rs52 crore, Ghajini proved to be Khan's first Rs100 crore film. Its lifetime earnings mark up to Rs157.14 crore, and its worldwide gross earnings reached Rs194.58 crore. In many ways, Ghajini is a watershed moment in Aamir's career. It established two of his characteristics that are almost synonymous with his name today — his ability to morph into his character, and the guaranteed box-office presence. 

Yet, Aamir's stature as the box-office charm depends on his consistent performances. Ghajini's blockbuster success was still looked upon as a one-off. It was Rajkumar Hirani's 3 Idiots (2009) that affirmed Aamir's status as a box-office superstar. Directed by the Munnabhai MBBS team of Hirani, Vidhu Vinod Chopra and Abhijat Joshi, the film proved to be the biggest hit in the history of Hindi cinema. Made on an expansive budget of Rs77 crore, the adaptation of Chetan Bhagat's novel went on to cross Rs200 crore. Its eventual lifetime earnings were Rs273.82 crore, while the worldwide earnings totalled to Rs390.9 crore. It was one of the highest earning Hindi film overseas, till Rohit Shetty's Chennai Express broke the record. 

3 Idiots became the highest earning Hindi film overseas on its release

It would be unfair to say that Aamir's presence in a film guarantees moolah. Take, for instance, Kiran Rao's directorial debut, Dhobi Ghat (2011). The film had Aamir playing a very subdued, intense role of an artist trying to find a muse in the city. A small film made on a budget of Rs13 crore, it scraped past its investment earnings Rs18.48 crore in its lifetime. However, the film arrived in theatres on 20 January 2011, not on Aamir's talismanic Christmas time.

To base Aamir's failure outside the Christmas weekend on Dhobi Ghat alone might be an extreme. His record outside the Christmas has been as consistent as during the weekend. For instance, Reema Kagti's supernatural neo-noir, Talaash (2012) released on 30 November. The film still managed to make Rs124.08 crore in its lifetime. This was Khan's third film in four years to make it to the Rs100-crore list. It is this criteria rather than any other, that makes Khan one of the more powerful names at the box-office. 

Thepost-Christmass release perhaps jinxed the success of Dhobi Ghat

Despite the success of Talaash outside the season of merry making, there is something inexplicable about the success of Aamir's films on the festive weekend. 2013 saw Aamir become the latest upgrade in Yash Raj's mega franchise of Dhoom 3 (2013). Playing a doppelganger villain, Aamir put his shapeshifting abilities to good use again. His toned physique and stunts added a dash of glamour to the action flick. Although it was panned by critics, Dhoom 3 managed to break the Rs300-crore barrier. It ended up with a lifetime earnings of Rs348.73 crore. 

Dhoom 3 was followed by pk (2014). Aamir joined hands again with the Munnabhai team of Hirani and Chopra, this time with Sanjay Dutt on board as well. The irreverent dark satire against religion was seen as a risk by many in the industry, but the film proved to be a runaway hit. Again made on a budget exceeding Rs100 crore, the film earned Rs93.82 crore on the first weekend alone. Its lifetime earnings totalled to Rs448.74 crore. 

As for 2016, Aamir's film is a positive sign for the fading box-office. Trade analyst Amul Mohan adds, "This year has been very indifferent overall when it comes to collections. Bigger films which were expected to turn up did not do that well." Sultan has been the only major box-office success hitting the Rs300-crore mark. Although there have been films like Airlift, Neerja and Pink that were commercially and critically appreciated, the returns have been disappointing. Apart from this, the failure of big budget star vehicles like Baar Baar Dekho, Mohenjo Daro, Rock On 2 and Force 2 has meant that the year has been bleak in terms of collections. Aamir's Christmas gift might be to resuscitate the box-office with his Dangal. Mohan says, "Every year we feel that the industry might do better than the last year.You always want to see growth, not stagnancy. I feel somehow this year we have been struggling, but Dangal might change that."

Dangal arrives in theatres with great expectations, and the pressure of reviving the box-office

Nitesh Tiwari's film has several factors going for it, least of which are the themes of wrestling and patriotism. The most successful films this year, Sultan, Airlift, Neerja revolved around the theme of nationalist sentiments. In addition, the coincidence of two of the Khan trinity playing wrestlers in different films in the same year, adds to the sense of competition and expectation for fans. As good as Salman's performance in Sultan was, Mohan believes Aamir might pull one over. He says, "The expectations are high. It is the most anticipated film of the year. It has been like that ever since it was announced at the beginning of the year. I think that is the story with an Aamir Khan film always." He also added that analysts expect Dangal to do better than Sultan at the box-office.

Dangal does have several factors going for it. Nitesh Tiwari has already delivered some very interesting and popular children's films in Chillar Party (2011) and Bhoothnath Returns (2014). In Dangal, he returns to tell the story of two girls pushed into a rough game by their father's ambitions. The music by Pritam, who is the bigggest turnaround of 2016, has already received positive feedback. Above all, there is Aamir. The film is a trademark of Aamir's dedicated commitment to his role. The physical transformation he has achieved at the age of 51 has left fans and critics stunned. 

With Aamir taking up the tailend of the year, it is finally beginning to look a lot like Christmas for the box-office counters.