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How Aamir Khan is winning India’s war in China

Written by Shruti Misra

“Aamir Khan is nan shen (male god) for us,” said Pan, using a term used by the Chinese to describe someone they truly admire. “How can do you boycott god?”

There is a Chinese curse which says “May you live in interesting times.”  And as far the Indian and China are concerned we are certainly living in “interesting times”. At a time when the India-China border stand-off is escalating and anti-India sentiment is rising in China, the Aamir Khan starrer Dangal is winning the hearts of Chinese viewers.

None of the hatred directed towards India  on Chinese social media has even touched Dangal, which has hailed as one of the most “successful and influential” movies in China in recent years by Liu Yunshan, a member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee.

Despite the end of its theatre run in early July, Dangal’s popularity shows no signs of abating as Chinese can still watch it on iQiyi, China’s Netflix, and numerous other Chinese streaming websites, where Dangal continues to collect more and more fans every day.

On Douban, a Chinese movie rating website similar to IMDb, Dangal’s rating has risen to 9.1 out of 10, from 8.8 in May. Despite its rating – which is even higher than the 8.6 Avatar had managed – many Chinese netizens are complaining it’s too low for something as great as Dangal.

“If the total score were 10, I would give Dangal 100,” wrote one, called “Zhu Ka Jing Di Guan” on Zhihu, a Chinese question-and-answer website. “Dangal is the best movie of the year,” wrote another netizen called “E Xiaoyu”.

A day after the theatre run ended on July 4, a YouTube video was uploaded by “Aamir Khan FC China” showing Chinese fans dancing to the song Dhakkad Dhakkad from Dangal. This tribute to Aamir Khan by his Chinese fans has gone viral. It has been viewed over 300,000 times since and generated hundreds of comments, mostly from Indians. Released in China on May 5 as Shuai Jiao Ba Baba, or “Let’s Wrestle, Dad”, Dangal collected over US$190 million at box office in China. It struck an emotional chord with the country’s filmgoers, who instantly identified with its central theme of female empowerment and filial piety in a rapidly changing but inherently patriarchal society.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NAcSOln8Y7w

Stanley Rosen, a film specialist and political scientist at the University of Southern California, is not surprised that Dangal, India’s most prominent export to China of late, did not meet the same fate. “It would be difficult not to have a very positive reaction in China” to a movie that even President Xi Jinping has publicly praised, he said.

When Xi met Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the sidelines of the annual summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) last month, he told Modi that he watched Dangal and liked it.

The popularity of Dangal also reflects a rising appreciation of Indian culture in China, added Rosen.

In recent years, Chinese moviegoers have seemed to develop a taste for the Bollywood genre. Movies like Three Idiots and PK, also Aamir Khan starrers, have been runaway hits in China. But Dangal has taken the newfound success of Hindi movies in China to a whole new level.

A frequently asked question in China’s online forums these days is, “why can’t we make movies like Dangal?” Apart from challenging the common gender stereotypes associated with India, Dangal has been cited as many Chinese commentators as an example of India’s superior soft power. It is that soft power that has managed to blunt some of the popular contempt generated by the border face-off.

For Pan Qingan, a 27-year-old environmentalist in Shenzhen, the sheer idea of boycotting or bearing any ill will towards Dangal is unthinkable.

“Aamir Khan is nan shen (male god) for us,” said Pan, using a term used by the Chinese to describe someone they truly admire. “How can do you boycott god?”

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Shruti Misra

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