How the pandemic influenced stars—Part 4: Aamir, Salman & Shah Rukh Khan

Shah Rukh Khan and Deepika Padukone in his last clean hit, Chennai Express (2013). Photo: Red Chillies Entertainment.

The pandemic since early 2020 has dealt the final blow to the concept of “star” and “superstar” as we know it. It has rewritten the entire story. Like with television in the past, the OTT platform has invaded us all, come movies or series. Many a star now does a web series, whether as a mere producer or even actor. Most of them find the avenue not only lucrative but also creatively fulfilling. Then there are their films that release, due to assorted compulsions, on OTT platforms.

This is the fourth part of a series that looks at how the big stars downwards have been influenced and affected in the last two years of lack of normalcy in viewing movies. We now see how the once-supreme triumvirate—Aamir Khan, Salman Khan and Shah Rukh Khan—are faring today.

Salman Khan in Tiger Zinda Hai (2017)—his last blockbuster. Photo: Yash Raj Films

Salman Khan:

Indubitably the Numero Uno leading man since 2010 for about eight years, Salman Khan was also the Eid blockbuster specialist. Even before the pandemic began, Salman, however, was already not the fool-proof hero, after Tubelight (2017),  Race 2 (2018) and Bharat (2019)—the latter two being just films that recovered their (huge) investment. Dabangg 3 (2019) also was not profitable.

After the lockdown began, the once-supreme Khan had to release Radhe: Your Most Wanted Bhai after a long delay in 2021 Eid, as a paid release on Zeeplex as an OTT release. It had a cinematic release in just two movie halls and places overseas. The final blow was the supposedly successful Antim: The Final Truth, released in late 2021, which also, contrary to marketing hype, did not fare well.

The interesting part was that, with the exception of Bajrangi Bhaijaan and Sultan, his movies in the past would be slammed by critics but collected huge revenues at the box-office, but today, the audience too is rejecting the overdose of a retro flavor done without any attempt at contemporary appeal.

His productions for protégés—Hero (which introduced star kids Sooraj Pancholi and Athiya Shetty), Loveyatri (with brother-in-law Aayush Sharma and Warina Hussain) and Notebook (Mohnish Bahl’s daughter Pranutan Bahl and Zaheer Iqbal) also thus came croppers.

Salman’s only true-blue hit since 2017 has been Tiger Zinda Hai. A lot is thus riding not just on his reputation but also in terms of economics, on his forthcoming film, Yash Raj Films’ Tiger 3, the third part in the Ek Tha Tiger-Tiger Zinda Hai spy franchise.

The film has Katrina Kaif again, with Emraan Hashmi as the antagonist. Pritam, the top name today, scores music. But with a non-mainstream director (Maneesh Sharma) at the helm, there is some speculation on how the product will turn out. Salman also plays the same character in a cameo in Yash Raj Films’ Pathan, which has Shah Rukh Khan in the title-role (Buzz is that SRK will play a cameo in Tiger 3).

Salman will also star in Kabhi Eid Kabhi Diwali, a communal harmony-message film. Other projects are more talked about rather than concrete, though Pavan Putra Bhaijaan, the sequel to Bajrangi Bhaijaan, and No Entry 2, the sequel to the 2005 blockbuster comedy, are likely to take off.

Aamir Khan in the record-smashing Dangal (2016) Photo: Spice PR

Aamir Khan:

Laal Singh Chaddha: This one name has been Aamir Khan’s pet project since well before the lockdown. With due credit to him, no one seriously remembers a mammoth fiasco called Thugs of Hindostan (2018) in which Aamir worked with Amitabh Bachchan, Yash Raj Films and his Dhoom:3 director, Vijay Krishna Acharya.

There is a tepid memory of his production Secret Superstar (2017), in which he played a superstar. And for all practical purposes therefore, Aamir was last about the record-smashing Dangal in 2016!

And Laal Singh Chaddha, his official remake of the Hollywood film Forrest Gump, has been in the making for, seemingly, ever! Co-starring Kareena Kapoor Khan and Naga Chaitanya, it is rumored to have cameos by both Salman and Shah Rukh. Pritam scores music and Advait Chandan directs.

After multiple delays in the original release date (Christmas week, 2020) due to the pandemic, the film will now open on April 14, 2022.

Shah Rukh Khan:

It was way back in 2016 that a resigned Shah Rukh Khan told me that he had to choose the best from whatever films were being offered to him! Since then, his lead films Dear Zindagi, Fan, Jab Harry Met Sejal and Zero, have all been write-offs. After a string of blockbusters earlier that excused a few non-performers like RA. One, Raees and Dilwale (these three films all did well at the theatres but could not recover investments), the most global Khan of them all had to rely on overseas success to maintain his clout. As he also put it in another interview: “Outside the big cities (of India), Shah Rukh Khan is a dirty word.”

However, the actor of movies as huge as Baazigar, Darr, Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, Pardes, Dil To Pagal Hai, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham…, Main Hoon Na, Chak De! India and Om Shanti Om was looking at re-conquering the Indian market too. Kal Ho Naa Ho, Veer-Zaara, Don, Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna, My Name Is Khan and Happy New Year were again high-grossing movies overseas, but did either tepid or losing business in India. The last film that worked everywhere was Chennai Express (2013) almost a decade back.

The astute businessman that he is, Shah Rukh bided his time for a long while after Zero, while making sure to hone his acting skills. From 2016, every performance of his has been progressively better. The actor patiently waited, rumors abounded, and finally Shah Rukh signed two films—Pathan, an action drama for Yash Raj Films, and another actioner directed by the South’s Atlee.

Alongside, very shrewdly, Shah Rukh kept his production house active with acclaimed films like Badla (Amitabh Bachchan-Taapsee Pannu), a super-hit, Bob Biswas and Kaamyab and web productions Bard of Blood, The Forgotten Army – Azaadi Ke Liye (which he also narrated), Betaal and Class of 83. He is now making Darlings with Alia Bhatt and Love Hostel with Bobby Deol and Sanya Malhotra.

As an actor, we hear that he will be doing Rajkumar Hirani’s next film as well.

Though seemingly past their peak, the three Khans cannot be written off. For one, their survival and fighting instincts are strong. And for another, as many observers put it, “The kind of numbers their flop films make are far ahead of the collections of other heroes’ hits!” At 57, pandemic or no, the troiKhan still matter. Like it or not.




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