The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Enter: Aamir the activist
Aamir Khan in New Delhi. Telegraph picture

New Delhi, April 14: Aamir Khan could turn out to be India’s Marlon Brando who refused an Oscar in protest against the way Red Indians were treated.

Introducing Hollywood-style social activism in this country, Aamir today visited victims of the Bhopal gas tragedy and Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) activists demonstrating at Jantar Mantar, spending over two hours with them.

Accompanied by some members of the cast of Rang De Basanti, he then walked up to a hotel nearby, creating a security nightmare for the police, to address a news conference.

“If need be, I will even meet the Prime Minister. But I want the people who are at the receiving end and who know the problems first-hand to talk to him,” he said.

While the Bhopal victims are demanding that Dow Chemicals, which now owns Union Carbide, should pay for the clean-up of their city, the NBA activists want the government to rehabilitate the 35,000 families who will be displaced once the height of the Sardar Sarovar dam is raised.

NBA activists and their supporters from the National Alliance of People’s Movements were a little embarrassed at being visited by the brand ambassador of Coca-Cola, the company they have been agitating against for allegedly causing water shortage and pollution at Plachimada in Kerala where it has a bottling plant.

As soon as Aamir arrived, with Rang De producer-director Rakeysh Mehra and co-stars Atul Kulkarni and Kunal Kapoor, they handed him a memorandum listing the Plachimada protesters’ demands addressed to Coke.

Aamir was unfazed. “I’ll take up the issue with Coke. I have been endorsing their brand and if there is a problem, I would like to know and, hopefully, be able to correct,” he said.

Other Indian actors do support social causes but these have always been of a non-controversial nature, such as supporting the campaign against AIDS or, as in Vivek Oberoi’s case, taking relief to victims of natural disasters like the tsunami.

Some people believe the arrival in his life of Kiran Rao, now his wife, has helped bring about a change in Aamir who had begun to move away from the chocolate-boy image with the highly nationalistic Lagaan, following it up with Rang De where a group of youth battles corruption.

Kapoor described how the Jantar Mantar visit came about. “It began with Aamir calling us up and asking us to join him in Delhi to support both the NBA issue and Bhopal gas victims' Aamir’s presence will put these stories back on Page 1.”

On a visit to Delhi last week when Aamir learnt about NBA leader Medha Patkar’s fast, he had said: “Acting is one very important part of my life. But there are other aspects and roles too ' my role as an Indian, as a citizen of this country who is alive to events happening around.”

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