One of Bollywood’s biggest superstars has joked that he has piracy to thank for his growing fame in China.
Aamir Khan flew into Belfast this week where he visited a Game Of Thrones set before making his appearance at Belfast Film Festival.
Crowds of Bollywood fans were arriving at the Waterfront Hall hours before his scheduled appearance on his first visit to either Northern Ireland or the Irish Republic.
He was greeted as he walked on to the stage with cheers and chants of Aamir, before thanking the film festival for the opportunity to visit “this lovely place”.
Khan’s prolific career covers more than 30 years in film and his popularity reaches across India, China and the West, and he has a staggering 24 million Twitter followers.
He joked in Belfast that he has piracy to thank for his Chinese fan base.
“3 Idiots became a huge success in China, when I got to know about it, I said, ‘but the film hasn’t been released there’, so I found out it was on pirated websites, a few kids saw it and then it went viral, it went so viral that suddenly all of China had seen 3 Idiots. So I really have to thank piracy for my stardom in China,” he laughed.
Speaking in conversation with Nasreen Munni Kabir, Khan also admitted that he was not a fan of popular films in Indian cinema in the 1980s at the start of his career.
“It was not my kind of cinema (in the 1980s),” he said.
“Films that did well, there was an audience for these films, I’m not deriding that, but they were not my kind of films.
“For me to do the kind of films I wanted was difficult, it was an uphill task. I was doing films that were against the mainstream. At that time mainstream was very narrow.
“With me and other people who came into the film industry at that time, we started pushing the envelope and changing the rules a bit, the audience also grew with time and what has become mainstream now is more my kind of film.
“There has been a huge change in 30 years, audiences have changed, film makers have changed, the kind of films which Indian cinema makes has changed dramatically.”
Khan’s 2016 sports biopic Dangal, showing as part of the festival, is the highest grossing film of all time in Indian cinema.
His appearance comes as the festival kicks off a new five-year Cultural Diversity in Film project.
Festival chairman Mark Cousins said Bollywood may feel far away when you are living in Belfast, but insisted when you love cinema, it is not that far away.
“Aamir Khan, when you think Newsweek called him ‘the biggest movie star of our time’, Time made him one of the top most influential in the world, so he is a megastar,” he said.
“He gets invited everywhere so it is really exciting to have him here and he is here because of our passion for cinema, our determination to plug Belfast into the world, to use cinema to expand our horizons and also to connect with other cultures through this fantastic language of the movies.
“Belfast is a transitioning city, we have new populations, we need to welcome them and we need to share their cultural richness.
“We took Aamir today to one of the sets of Game Of Thrones, and he immediately got it, we are making big budget entertainment here, but he does that all the time.
“Bollywood feels very far away but for those of us who love cinema and are in cinema, it is not.”