Not much is common between superstars Aamir Khan and Shah Rukh Khan, except their surname. One is a marketing genius, and the other is a king of public relations. One belongs to a film family of Mumbai (Aamir), while the other is from a middle-class business family of Delhi.
Among the three ruling Khans, Aamir Khan was the first to join the industry. His film Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak released in 1988, and he became an overnight heartthrob. Salman Khan came in as another cutie in Maine Pyar Kiya in 1990 (although his debut was in Biwi Ho To Aisi in 1988).
Shah Rukh Khan joined the film industry after these two. His first release was Hema Malini's Dil Aashna Hai in 1992. But it was only after Baazigar and Darr (both in 1993) that he was really noticed as an actor. And from then on, there was really no looking back for him. Hits or flops – everybody loved Shah Rukh in the '90s, whereas Aamir and Salman were taken aback with the entry of this new Khan who took away all the awards.
It took a Hrithik Roshan in Kaho Naa Pyaar Hain (2000) to shake Shah Rukh up. But after that, Hrithik, too, struggled to give hits for a few years. So, it was clear that the war was between Aamir and SRK.
And while SRK was busy trying to beat Amitabh Bachchan in popularity, a new Aamir Khan emerged. Aamir was now media savvy, and far more aggressive and innovative in his choice of roles as well as film promotions. Gone was the reclusive actor he was for 12 years after his debut in QSQT. This change in Aamir was effected by his turning producer in Lagaan (2001), which went to the Oscars, and turning director for Taare Zameen Par (2007). He also saw success with Dil Chahta Hai (2001).
Now with his personal life sorted out after a divorce, and second marriage to Kiran Rao, Aamir was turning to new chapters in his life.
It had become something of a trend in the nineties to criticise Aamir Khan for being too methodical in his acting. Shah Rukh on the other hand, was loved by fans for his spontaneity that came from his theatre background. But Aamir's films for the past three years – Taare…, Ghajini and 3 Idiots – have taken his popularity to heights that are difficult to scale. So much so that, SRK's airport frisking in USA was seen as a desperate attempt to garner publicity for My Name is Khan across America as well as India.
Let's look at some of the reasons why Aamir has won over Shah Rukh:
1. Aamir is a marketing genius, and SRK is a king of public relations
This has been proved time and again. SRK knows how to tackle the media, and is spot on and witty in his interactions. He is also good at PR within the industry. Aamir on the other hand, can give lessons in film marketing at top B-schools globally. Some cases in point: Ghulam (Aamir promoted the train stunt, SRK did it later in Dil Se), Ghajini (got down to giving kids the buzz cut in Delhi), Fanaa (landed up to support Narmada Bachao Andolan), Taare… (activities with Darsheel Safary), Lagaan (Oscar buzz), and 3 Idiots (vanished only to emerge in disguise on an all-India road tour).
2. Perfectionist attitude of Aamir
It is said that Aamir spent days and nights looking for that perfect cap for his character in Dil Hain Ki Manta Nahin. And this kind of attitude is present for every film of his. Even for an ad, Aamir likes to perfect his take.
3. A wide variety of roles by Aamir rather than only mushy romances
Aamir's repertoire boasts of more versatility vis-à-vis SRK's rare Chak De! India, Swades or Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa.
4. Aamir is not as worried about his remuneration as his role, script and director
Aamir only does one film per year. He covers it up in endorsements, but only of those brands he believes in. No wonder that several articles in the media have claimed Aamir's net worth far less than SRK's. But does Aamir care? It's not just about the money for him.
5. Aamir has an intellectual image
He does not attend or throw film parties. And he will not dance at weddings. He engrosses himself in books and chess, apart from cricket and tennis.
6. Aamir delivers what he promises
Unlike some of SRK's films, which have more hype than substance. For example, Om Shanti Om and Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi vs Taare Zameen Par and 3 Idiots.
7. SRK follows Aamir
When Aamir sang for Ghulam, SRK followed it up in Josh (ironically, directed by Aamir's cousin Mansoor Khan). Though the pattern was reversed years later – SRK built six-packs for Om Shanti Om, and Aamir upped it with his eight-packs in Ghajini.
8. Aamir is classy, while SRK is massy
More people from the intellectual elite group prefer Aamir than Shah Rukh.
We asked some of the industry people on who they think is the best among the two. Actress Tanushree Dutta says, "I think Aamir is the best after 3 Idiots and a whole lot of movies like Lagaan, Taare Zameen Par, and Ghajini behind him."
Actor-director Anant Mahadevan is of the opinion, "Both Aamir and Shah Rukh do different kinds of films. Say when SRK did an Asoka or a Paheli, Aamir was doing commercial films. SRK's Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa is his best film till date I think. In the recent years, Aamir did a Taare Zameen Par and now he is doing Peepli Live. He is getting into another school of filmmaking and exploring a different thought. So, both have a different success story."
Actress Nauheed Cyrusi says, "I think Aamir takes it hands down! Both actors do films that aren't remotely similar. While Aamir always takes the thought-provoking path in his films, Shah Rukh films are always full on Bollywood masala, and I prefer the former, hence Aamir!"
Both actors are friends in person, but openly indulged in subtly hitting at each other all through 2008-09, especially after Aamir wrote in his blog that he had a dog named Shah Rukh in his Panchgani home. From then on, it was verbal war. Today, the actors compete with each other fiercely, but also respect each other tremendously. No Salman-Shah Rukh kind of duel happening here. We hope Aamir and Shah Rukh continue with their healthy rivalry, and keep giving us their gems.