Aamir Khan is India’s most admired movie star. He is also the most bankable. His cinema consistently breaks box office records domestically and globally. He has succeeded in international markets, where many of India’s finest actors have failed. Perhaps, it is due to what is unusual in his films.

He has uniquely blended the world of commercial and art cinema. In the process, he has created an improbable formula and turned it into a runaway success.

His films reflect India’s conscience. They are equally entertaining and disturbing. They shine a spotlight on what ails India and what heals it. They show the nation’s perversion and redemption; its cruelty and beauty. And, they do it with a great deal of sensitivity, honesty, liveliness, and humor.

Khan has stated his formula of success as taking messaging in its pure form and making it creatively interesting. And probing.

“Whether its individual or political, I want us to look inward. To not point fingers and find a villain. Let’s find an answer instead," he said at the first MintAsia-Hindustan Times Leadership Summit in Singapore.

His movies strike a powerful chord with the audiences, who see many of India’s social issues of patriarchy, gender discrimination and domestic violence reflected in their homes. Coincidentally, they also find resonance in neighbouring China.

Khan seems to have cracked the code for pulling at people’s heartstrings at a time when political tensions are increasing between the two nations.

His movies cut through the suspicions and “touch the soul", as China’s leading newspaper, People’s Daily says.

Dangal, a powerful and true tale of a man’s quest to train his two daughters to become world-class wrestlers earned $189 million in 2017 in the country, making it one of the top five films of all times in China.

More recently, Secret Superstar earned $120 million there. The movie is a coming-of-age story about a Muslim teenage girl who dreams of fame as a singer.

In Asia’s firm masculine culture, Khan has called out sexism repeatedly with much success. His films consistently celebrate the indomitable spirit and strength of the female.

They also address broader social issues that are paramount for both nations. In 2009, 3 Idiots, a comedy-drama gripped the Chinese audiences for its spotlight on the dark side of the Indian education system and the role of parental pressure. No doubt, the Chinese, too, grapple with this complex issue.

In recognition of his impact and success, Khan was recently awarded the title ‘National Treasure of India’ from the Government of China.

He attributes his growing popularity in the neighbouring country “to the openness of Chinese audience to stories and characters rooted overseas."

“The success of my movies reveal that the emotional keys that unlock Chinese hearts and minds are very similar to those that strike a chord in Indians," he said.

Perhaps it is the Asian values of grit, determination, hard work, education, and family, which underline his films, that is the common ground.

Whatever the reasons, his cinema has had an unparalleled cultural and commercial impact in China recently.

Khan’s outsized success there has given rise to hopes in Bollywood to finally breakthrough into the world’s second largest movie market.

While the connection and love Chinese audiences feel for India’s biggest movie star will realistically not be able to trump the political tensions between the rising Asian superpowers, it may soften the impact over time by forging greater understanding between its people. Khan sees his role more modestly.

“I make the movies that I do because I feel compelled to. Because of who I am and my world view."

Indeed, art does not have to be a tool for political influence or have a social purpose. It exists chiefly for its own sake.

It is its own justification. Because it represents the artist.

Aamir Khan could not agree more.

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