He is the movie star with many names. “India’s conscience” to Chinese media; “Guaranteed Sales” to film distributors, and nothing less than Nan Shen (Male God) to Mandarin-speaking silver screen lovers. Yet those most familiar with the man shattering record books for Bollywood films in China refer simply – and fondly – to “Uncle Aamir”.
Step forward Aamir Khan, an actor described by some as India’s greatest cultural export to China since Rabindranath Tagore, the Nobel laureate whose stories held the Middle Kingdom so spellbound in the early 20th century that he was credited with ushering in a new “Tagorean” phase of Sino-Indian relations.
The current excitement surrounds Khan’s latest movie, Secret Superstar, a 150-minute film that has become one of the most profitable films ever (it cost only US$2.4 million to produce but is expected to gross more than US$98 million in China alone). Indeed, the more than US$46 million it took in the first seven days since its China release last Friday was a record for an Indian movie in China, eclipsing even Hollywood hits such as James Cameron’s 2010 mega-hit Avatar.
The movie, a coming-of-age story about a Muslim teenage girl who dreams of fame as a singer and finds it after uploading a YouTube video, has struck a chord with Chinese audiences who see many of India’s social issues – the film tackles gender inequality and domestic violence, among others – reflected in their own experiences. The film – rated eight out of 10 on Douban, a viewer-led movie-ranking website similar to IMDb – has dominated discussions on Sina Weibo, China’s answer to Facebook, for days. Even Chinese state-run media has weighed in, with the online version of People’s Daily praising it for “touching the soul”.
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