Aamir Khan, one of the biggest stars of our generation, has also often been touted as one of the best actors of our times. Keeping the second claim in mind, his recent works seem disappointing. 

The single-tone expression and popping eyes have sort of become his go-to. Take PK, for instance, or Dhoom 3, or Laal Singh Chaddha. They are all variations of the same kind of acting...and he is playing an alien in one of these movies.

How is it that the "perfectionist" is struggling to find variation? To be fair, he was more than decent in Dangal (2016) as a strict father of young wrestlers, but that's not enough variety for an actor of his stature.

I, along with millions of Hindi movie lovers, was wondering about this when it struck me that his work in the late 90s and early 2000s was way better, and in many ways, path-breaking. 

Aamir did movies like Sarfarosh (1999) and Dil Chahta Hai (2001) within a span of 2 years. And between them - Mann (1999), Mela (2000), and the iconic, Lagaan (2001).

aamir khan in lagaan
Source: Telegraph

Mela was forgettable so let's put it on the side for a moment, but barring that, what brilliant body of work this was.

From an idealistic cop - to a snippy adult - to a painter - to a simple villager who leads a revolution. He portrayed all those characters on-screen in 2 years' time. That counts for something.

The movies had their faults, and every performance was not the same kind of impressive, but the effort was there. To make things different, to switch it up. 

aamir khan career
Source: Twitter

If I had to choose the best among the 4, I'd go with Sarfarosh, a unanimous favourite. To me, it's his best work to date.

Aamir, as ACP Ajay Kumar Singh Rathod, is struggling with a personal loss that motivates him to make the system better. Very early on, he realises that it is going to be more difficult than he had thought. Navigating through deeply imbibed bigotry and corruption, Ajay reaches his destination, where there is more disappointment waiting for him.

aamir khan in sarfarosh
Source: IMDb

And in that moment, he chooses duty above everything else. Sarfarosh was a courageous film on terrorism, that would likely not see the light of the day if it were written again today. Not with a Muslim lead, anyway.

That makes me think about all the work artists miss out on when a country falls prey to hate. That's a separate discussion, though. Very important, but separate. 

Coming back to Aamir's choices, the next film is Mann. Though Manisha Koirala probably had the harder role to play, he was also decent. Beyond that, the less said about the film, the better, because it got embroiled in a major plagiarism controversy that ended in embarrassment for all.

Mann
Source: Mubi

And finally, Dil Chahta Hai. Farhan Akhtar's directorial debut changed the game for "friendship movies" in the Hindi film industry. We had seen nothing like it at the time. It was cool and honest and yet, grounded in the emotions we all recognised.

Aamir's character, Akash Malhotra's has the biggest arc. He is a dangerously carefree man who does not care about love. However, the cupids do what they are known for, and he falls for the woman who is already engaged to someone else.

Aamir in Dil chahta hai
Source: Ask Men

Things take a grim turn from this point, as Akash, for the first time, learns about the anguish of romance. It's almost like he plays two different people in the same movie. One, flamboyant, and the other, stoic. It couldn't have been easy.

In the years following this great period in his career, he gave some more memorable performances in Rang De Basanti, Taare Zameen Par, etc. Talaash, while not a box-office hit, was not necessarily disappointing when it came to individual performances.

However, everything from that point onwards became a bit predictable. 

Aamir khan in secret superstar
Source: The Indian Express

To be honest, I have never been as big a fan of Aamir's acting as many others around me, but I'll give him credit where it's due. He can express dejection with great depth and has a childlike innocence that works great in moderation.

Moderation being the keyword.