When I asked him about his deteriorating health, he snapped back, “What happened to Ghalib, Bhagat Singh, Chandra Shekhar Azad, Bhutto and Bugti is what will happen to me. People will only realise my importance once I die.” This was December 2013. A friend had run into this homeless man who would often entertain those present at a dhaba in Tauheed commercial by reciting from Ghalib and Shakespeare, struggling against a bottle of moonshine simultaneously. This shabby looking druggie was Aamir, or Aamir Ali Malik to be exact: the star of Sabiha Sumar’s Khamosh Pani or Silent Waters, the only Pakistani film ever to win a Golden Leopard.
Perhaps, he was wrong to bet everything on death because when his own last hour arrived, it didn’t change much. Three months went by and it was only until Aamir’s family friend, veteran actor Hameed Sheikh, found out about his passing, that the news surfaced. Aamir passed away on January 6, 2016, in his hometown of Quetta. “Some of his friends had brought him to Quetta last December and we got him hospitalised,” Sheikh tells The Express Tribune. “Then, I left for the US and Canada for Moor’s festival tour,” he says. Although Sheikh had learnt about his demise a few weeks back, he was not sure about sharing it with the public. “Because that’s how Aamir would have preferred,” he reasons, adding, “But then he was a star and people deserve to know about his demise.”
For Aamir, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Kiron Kher and Arshad Mahmud on the sets of Khamoshi Pani was just the beginning. Before he knew it, he had an offer from Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra for Rang De Basanti on the table. Aamir did fly to India but as film-maker Farooq Mengal confirms, the journey was rather futile for the actor who was still ambitious back then. “I was supposed to play Bhagat Singh in the film and Abhishek Bachchan was supposed to play the pilot. But then Rakesh (director) asked me to help Kunal Kapoor play the role of a Muslim boy … for this they used to pick me up and drop me back to my hotel in Andheri,” Aamir had told The Express Tribune in an earlier interview. Back home, even Arshad offered him a place at the National Academy of Performing Arts. Aamir agreed but never showed up.
With the passage of time, that odd feeling turned into a way of life. Something was indeed bothering Aamir; something so significant that he resorted to living off the streets of Karachi. What we do know is that he was quite fond of poet Saghar Siddiqui and would often repeat his verse: Ao ik sajda karein alam-e madhoshi main, Kaun kehta hai ke Saghar ko Khuda yaad nahin. Saghar, too, was cut from the same cloth. Perhaps, Aamir had chosen the same life for himself as well.
Bollywood actor Shilpa Shukla, famous for her role as Bindia Naik in Chak De! India, was Aamir’s love interest in Khamosh Pani. They shared great chemistry, both on and off the screen. Shilpa remained in touch with Aamir long after the film’s release and was concerned over his growing fondness for drugs. “The voices in his head were so loud that they would choke everything that was soft and beautiful. Life was kind and offered him the best of its people, but he was hurting. It’s more difficult to remain sane than to glorify suffering,” Shilpa tells The Express Tribune in an email interview. “He never listened to anyone except the destructive voices in his head. How could he know anything about love when he did not love himself?”
For years both Shilpa and several mutual friends tried to save him from the addiction. “We would reach out. He would also promise but I guess with the news of his demise I realise that he had reached the point of no return,” she says.
After news of Aamir wandering the streets of Karachi first came to the fore, several people wanted to find out about his whereabouts. Some even claimed to be from an NGO; it later turned out that they were actually members of a local morning show team who wanted to ‘help’ Aamir by getting him on the show.
Two days after meeting him for the first time, I went to look for him again. This time to link him up with a renowned documentary film-maker who wanted to get him admitted for rehab. The usual crowd was still there at the dhaba but there were no signs of Aamir. He had asked me to get him a copy of Khamosh Pani. As promised, I left the DVD with a makkai wala standing nearby. I hope he saw the film for one last time before taking his final bow.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 22nd, 2016.