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Introducing Aamir Hussain

The future superstar's first role was an unconventional choice that foreshadowed his later films

Sonal Pandya

Aamir Khan first appeared in his uncle Nasir Hussain's Yaadon Ki Baraat (1973) as the younger version of actor Tariq. He made quite an impact when he debuted along with Juhi Chawla in his cousin Mansoor Khan's Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak (1988) and today is counted among the top stars of Hindi cinema. Early on, he acted in several student films and did theatre, including a Gujarati play named Kesar Bina, as part of his initial training as an actor. And after assisting his uncle on Manzil Manzil (1984) and Zabardast (1985), Aamir Khan knew that he wanted to be a part of the film industry.

But between from his short stint as a child artiste and his introduction in the blockbuster QSQT, his first adult role was in an unusual effort by filmmaker Ketan Mehta, Holi (1984). Aamir Khan took on the role of a young college student Madan Sharma under his real name, Aamir Hussain. He was part of an ensemble group of young actors who would later go on to become the people who would be key collaborators in his career.

Shot mostly at the Film and Television Institute of India, Holi was made as an experimental film in a  workshop comprised of FTII students. The ever present, roving camerawork of Jehangir Chaudhary, with lots of continuous long takes, won the National Award for Best Cinematography in 1985. Unfortunately, the film failed to make any waves for those associated with the film at the time.  

Adapted from the Marathi play written by Mahesh Elkunchwar, both Elkunchwar and Mehta worked on the screenplay and dialogues. Established actors like Naseeruddin Shah, Om Puri took on roles of authority, acting as a teacher and principal respectively, while others like Paresh Rawal, Deepti Naval have minor roles as the working staff of the university.

20 years later, the storyline of Holi which crisscrossed over the perplexing bureaucrats on a college board, a strike on campus and the rise of the disfranchised student is still relevant. The struggle between the establishment and the masses holds true for many a college campus across the country today. At one point, one young female student makes a prescient comment that she has come to college to study, not to engage in politics.

Holi (1984) takes place over the course of a day and a half when the students wake up to find out the water supply has been cut off. To make matters worse, they don't have a day off for the festival of Holi as the chairman of the university is coming for a board meeting. Slowly, the students get more agitated as other events start to spiral out of control. The exams have been delayed, an entire year will go to waste.

A meaningless fight between the principal's nephew and another student ends in violence, leading to the suspension of the student, not the nephew. The students bottle their rage and attend an assembly honoring the college founder's birth anniversary where they pelt the chairman, principal and honored guests with rotten eggs and tomatoes. The furious principal demands names, which he gets from an overzealous student.

Those on the list are expelled and asked to leave the next day. The disgraced students find out who gave them up and mercilessly torment him in a sequence reminiscent the characters in William Golding's The Lord of the Flies wherein the small ecosystem of a college hostel, the scapegoats end up as the culprits in a twisted turn of events. And indeed, it does turn horribly awry as the film ends with a police van carting those same demoted students away for the charge of murder.

As the teenaged Madan Sharma whose future has turned upside down, the boyish, lean Aamir Hussain with a moustache looks nothing like the assured superstar of today. Over the years, he has gained the reputation of being a perfectionist and a thinking actor. Many have suggested that Aamir's choice in roles since 1998 has shifted towards more meaningful cinema but his early choices, with Holi, and even Raakh (1989), shows the inclination was already there.

The assembled college students who acted opposite Aamir, fascinatingly, many of them were part of landmark events of his acting and filmmaking career. Neeraj Vora, who played his roommate Raghunath, wrote the screenplay and dialogues for several films he acted in from Rangeela (1995) to Akele Hum Akele Tum (1995). Raj Zutshi, his former brother-in-law, frequently worked with him on films like QSQT, Tum Mere Ho (1990) and Lagaan (2001).

Ashutosh Gowarikar, as the de facto leader of the students, Ranjit, went on to direct his co-star in Pehla Nasha (1993), Baazi (1993) and Lagaan (2001), which earned the third Oscar nomination for India in 2002. Amole Gupte had taken the script of Taare Zameen Par (2007) to Aamir as a project he would direct, but he stepped down due to creative differences and it became Aamir's first film as director. And finally, one of many actors taking part in the chorus of the impromptu songs sung by the students was a young man named Rajkumar Hirani. Years later, in 2009, he cast Aamir Khan as a college student in 3 Idiots.