There is one scene in Sanju where Sanjay Dutt’s father Sunil Dutt corrects a newspaper clipping by adding the word, ‘Not’ to the one-word headline: ‘Finished’. This was the scenario when Hrithik Roshan made his debut in Bollywood and was declared a superstar overnight. News magazines put Shah Rukh Khan on the cover with the headline: ‘Over’. But 15 years later, SRK is still one of the top three actors of Bollywood and he continues to be the biggest draw in the overseas market.
The rush to declare a new ‘king of the box office’ is not a new phenomenon. Way back when Rajesh Khanna became a rage across the country, reports of Dev Anand, Raj Kapoor and Dilip Kumar going downhill began to appear.
Filmmaker Karan Johar had once said that the Khans’ fan following is so huge that it has now been carried forward to the next generation of their families. So, it will be a while for the next generation to catch up with them
Film analyst Dilip Thakur said, “People wanted change and Rajesh Khanna came as a refreshing one. Shammi Kapoor and Rajendra Kumar were stuck in their own images as the ‘Yahoo’ man and social subject hero, respectively.” Khanna’s entry, however, did not reduce the impact of the legends. The Bachchans and Khans still cannot surpass the impact and popularity of Dilip Kumar and Dev Anand. It is the same with the Khans, who have a loyal fan base that has been built for over two decades, with and without the presence of social media.
The rise of Amitabh Bachchan saw the downfall of Rajesh Khanna, India’s first superstar who had reigned until Anand and Namak Haram. The perch, right at the top, had place for only one alpha male actor. Senior writer Bharathi Pradhan observes, “Hindi cinema has evolved and grown into an industry over the years. A variety of films and an array of stars are necessary for an audience that’s on an unquenchable dil maange more quest. For nearly two decades now, there was room for a triumvirate to rule and the three top Khans have filled those three posts with admirable ease and consistency. But there has always been space for a few more in their bracket and Ranbir Kapoor has neatly slipped into it.”
Although a ₹500-crore film is a dream goal for every competent star-actor, only a couple of them can actually reach that unreachable mark. The stupendous success of Sanju has put Ranbir in that exclusive league, which has fewer members than the fingers on your finger. But Thakur said, “Ranbir has not been consistent when it comes to box office success, so one really does not know if he has arrived at the box office. Fifty per cent of the credit for the super success of Sanju has to go to Sanjay Dutt. People went to the theatres to watch his life. According to me, Jagga Jasoos was a good film, but poor marketing and publicity ruined the chance of the film.”
It’s equally true that just because Ranbir has clambered to the position with an overwhelming commercial acceptance, it doesn’t mean that Salman needs to watch out for his Fridays.
Pradhan adds that this may be a first for Ranbir, but nobody is either surprised or resentful of his achievement. She said, “The only reason being, the young Kapoor is such a master at his craft that despite his quirky choices which the box-office unceremoniously booted out, every Friday was never a test for him. An enduring actor like him has survived several dismal Fridays and emerged unscathed each time. He was never written off. But it’s equally true that just because Ranbir has clambered to the position with an overwhelming commercial acceptance, it doesn’t mean that Salman needs to watch out for his Fridays. Salman survived an Eid flop last year with Tubelight and before you could write his professional obituary, Tiger Zinda Hai came along and wiped out all traces of failure. This Eid too, Salman couldn’t win the Race in its third edition, but does that mean Ranbir has toppled Salman from his place at the top? Let any of Salman’s films like Bharat come up trumps in 2019 release and his fans will be back in hordes.”
Filmmaker Karan Johar had once said that the Khans’ fan following is so huge that it has now been carried forward to the next generation of their families. So, it will be a while for the next generation to catch up with them.
Pradhan adds, “The three Khans have a huge and loyal fan base and a younger actor’s ₹500-crore blockbuster is not going to make a dent in their ratings so soon. Ranbir will have to be far more consistent with his box-office success, while Salman will have to consistently deliver half-a-dozen huge failures to be edged out. And I don’t see that happening.”
Reinvention is the keyword to survive in the film industry, and no one understands it better than the Khans. And they are also leading when it comes to marketing and building fan loyalty. Thakur said, “I consider Shah Rukh Khan a master at that. Despite his success ratio going up and down, nothing has changed for him. He makes sure he stays connected with his audiences in one way or the other. Aamir is someone who kept the news of Lagaan alive even after a year of its release. Salman also chooses his films carefully.” Interestingly, they are also leading the game in the new-age world of social media. The Khans and Kumars are more active and interactive on social media than the younger generation. They always stay connected with their fans and audiences.
The latest we hear is that Ranbir’s contemporaries, Ranveer Singh and Varun Dhawan who were were on top of the game, suddenly find themselves lower in rank. There is also a murmur that the actors are re-looking at the films that they have agreed upon and want scripts to be pitch-perfect before they actually sign it or the film goes on floor.