When the Indian film industry selected Hindi film Stars On Earth (Taare Zameen Par) as its official entry for best foreign film for this year's Academy Awards, it was a triple celebration for Aamir Khan.
A Bollywood superstar, Khan has produced, directed and acted in this drama about a dyslexic student and his sympathetic art teacher (played by Khan).
From a family of directors, Khan began his acting career as a child and was launched as a leading man in 1988. Since then he has acted in more than 35 Hindi films. Stars On Earth is his directorial debut and his second production under the Aamir Khan Productions banner. The first, Lagaan, earned an Oscar nomination for best foreign-language film in 2001.
While an actor turning to direction is not entirely new in Indian cinema, Khan is in a minority among his peers who remain focused on acting and - to a degree - production. Khan's foray into directing was fortuitous.
Stars On Earth was originally set to be directed by its writer Amole Gupte and to star and be produced by Khan. 'When I saw the rushes of the film, I was not happy and, with Amole's agreement, had to find a replacement director.
So I took over the task more as a damage control measure,' says the 43-year-old film-maker. The film went on to win box office acclaim and awards, and has given Khan a taste for directing. He plans to start another project next year after he completes two acting commitments: Ghajini and 3 Idiots.
Often referred to as a 'method' actor, Khan has carved a niche for himself as a promoter of responsible cinema. With films such as Sarfarosh, Mangal Pandey: The Rising, Lagaan, Rang De Basanti and Stars On Earth, he has broken the conventional pattern of the Bollywood hero and often plays characters with integrity, fighting for change. Khan says, 'I am moving towards scripts and subjects that have something to say in a social context.'
One of the biggest hits of 2008 so far, the romantic comedy Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na, was produced by his company which is now prepping two further projects: the English language Delhi Belly, to be directed by Abhinay Deo and a satire by Anusha Rizvi. Though his films are familiar to Indians across the world, Khan is aiming these two new productions at the global crossover market.
'My films have had a limited appeal beyond the diaspora,' he says. 'They have been made for, and loved by an Indian/South Asian audience, although Lagaan did get attention after the Oscar nomination. I believe these two films would appeal to a global audience and I am looking for international distribution for them,' says Khan.
Aamir Khan Productions' projects are financed through partnerships with companies including UTV Motion Pictures and PVR Pictures, which have strong distribution experience and an exhibition network in India. Disney has acquired international home video rights for Stars On Earth.