Beijing Despatch International

Aamir Khan’s soft power coup in China

Aamir Khan may have staged a soft power coup in China. His earthy, grassroots advocacy in Dangal of gender rights, set in semi-urban but aspirational India, has struck an emotional chord with a young, curious, tech-savvy generation of the “Middle Kingdom”.

Netizens have already set alight Weibo — the Chinese equivalent of Twitter — with fulsome praise of Mr. Khan, and the breezy, non-condescending, but powerful messaging of his film. One viewer has praised the actor as India’s national treasure. “There is a reason why Aamir Khan is India’s national treasure! Every work of his is a great contribution to India which has a huge impact on society. When will we have such a real artiste that serves the people?” Others have focussed on the film’s powerful attack on India’s male-dominated culture. “The film is a great blow to India’s male-dominated society because it expresses the positive attitude of equal rights.”

In the Chinese culture, where boys are preferred over girls, the film’s portrayal of a spirited father and his daughters, who smash the gender barrier through wrestling, has found a natural connect in China. The cultural obsession with boys in China is reflected in a stubborn and yawning gender gap. The preference for a male child, reinforced by the one-child policy, abandoned only recently, has meant that a majority of parents have used every trick in the game to avoid the birth of a daughter. In 2004, 121.2 boys were born for every 100 girls. If the trend were to continue, there would be 30-35 million more men of marriageable age than women in the not-so-distant future. The negative social impact of this imbalance is not hard to imagine.

This is not the first time that an Aamir Khan movie has touched the proverbial million hearts and minds of young Chinese cinemagoers. His 3 Idiots was also a runaway hit. That is again not surprising. As in India, Chinese parents invest heavily in the future of their children, funnelling them into a broadly strait-jacketed bookish system, which has little room for creativity or openness to careers that are out of sync with the traditional script. On the streets of any Chinese metropolis, it is common to see children in their typical tracksuit uniforms, heading into cheerless classrooms, lugging heavy haversacks, full of books. If there is affluence in the family, the long day is not over without piano or violin classes, or a mandatory Americanised push to the basketball court.

Star power

Mr. Khan’s PK was poised to break records when it hit Chinese screens in 2015. The movie’s frequent telecast on state-television channels, subsequently, further embellished the actor’s star identity. Unsurprisingly, Dangal has made a powerful statement at the Chinese box office. Within four days of its release, it crossed the ₹100-crore mark, well past the ticket sales recorded by the blockbuster PK . Its earning was second only to the weekend revenue generated by Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 .

“The eye-opener at the Chinese box office this past weekend was the arrival of the Aamir Khan vehicle, Dangal , in the No 2 spot,” reported Asia Times . It added: “It has been a long road to China, but the weekend take of $11.2 million was worth the wait.” Dangal ’s soft-power push, at least for now, appears to have redrawn the focus on what binds the Indian and Chinese people, rather than what pulls them apart. Posts on Weibo are demonstrating that many Chinese netizens are openly admiring the quality of some Indian films. “India’s films are getting more and more ahead of us. Their films dare to point out their country’s issues but we can’t,” says a post.


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Printable version | Jul 3, 2022 8:20:15 pm |