Will the Khans and Akshay Kumar return to center-stage this year?

Shah Rukh Khan in Pathaan. 2023 holds the promise of the return of Shah Rukh to centerstage. Photo: Yash Raj Films

The big question as we enter 2023 is: Will the superstars regain lost prestige and power? Five of the six names have had a dismal track-record in the last few years. Two of them—Aamir Khan and Hrithik Roshan—will have no released film in 2023, unless they suddenly up and decide to make cameos.

(In 2022, Aamir made a cameo in Salaam Venky, Shah Rukh Khan in Rocketry, Brahmastra and Laal Singh Chaddha and Salman Khan in the Marathi end-2022 hit and Riteish Deshmukh directorial, Ved, as well as in the Telugu Rajkumar).

Let us see what 2023 will be like for their careers.

Aamir Khan

Aamir Khan’s last hit has been Dangal (2016), Mumbai-made Hindi cinema’s highest earner (over Rs. 350 crore in India, swelling to around Rs 2000 crore after it released in China apart from other countries globally!). Secret Superstar did well only internationally, while Thugs of Hindustan (2018) netted Rs. 100 crore but was actually a huge flop in terms of return on investment.

By the same standards, Laal Singh Chaddha was a rout as it netted (in India, which normally accounts for at least 75 percent of business) Rs. 59 crore on an investment of Rs. 180 crore. There is buzz that he has been offered Prashant Neel’s next as antagonist in the NTR Jr. film, but there are stronger reasons to believe that Aamir wants family time for a while with his mom and kids and may take a respite for a while.

Ajay Devgn in Maidaan, one of his two releases in 2023.

Ajay Devgn

For Ajay Devgn, 2023 was not a write-off. Two films in which he had cameos of varying lengths, Gangubai Kathiawadi and RRR, did well and very well respectively. Runway 34 and Thank God were ‘no-nos’ but Drishyam 2 is among the highest Hindi grossers of the year. In the last three pandemic-struck years, his co-production Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior and (in his cameo as Singham in) Sooryavanshi, also did well, being the biggest hit and only hit of 2020 and 2021 respectively.

This year, Ajay also got involved in OTT with the production of The Great Indian Murder and playing the lead in Rudra—The Edge of Darkness. The latter series was appreciated as well. He was also the narrator for the Hindi version of Ponniyin Selvan-1, which was a blockbuster in its original Tamil version.

Coming up in 2023 are Bholaa, the 3D South remake of the Tamil Kaithi that Ajay also directs, and Maidaan. Says trade analyst Komal Nahta, “Both the films are looking very exciting in their teasers and posters, and in Ajay’s looks. Maidaan in particular is a sports biopic and I confess I am a huge fan of this genre.”

Adds veteran trade analyst Taran Adarsh, “Ajay definitely has an edge among the Big Six, thanks largely to Drishyam 2. His Singham Again has just been announced and it will be huge when it arrives in 2024.”

In short, Ajay, as of now, seems to be the only superstar who has not really lost ground among these six names.

Akshay Kumar in Ram Setu. He had a terrible year with five back-to-back flops after the hit Sooryavanshi in late 2021. But he has a great bag of movies in 2023. Photo: Hype PR

Akshay Kumar

“One hit, and Akshay Kumar will be back where he was!” opines Nahta. Yes, Akshay Kumar, who after 2021’s Sooryavanshi has had five back-to-back disappointments (Cuttputlli on the web as well as Bachchhan Paandey, Raksha Bandhan, Ram Setu and Samrat Prithviraj), is also having his usual assorted pack of movies to come. Apart from the Marathi pan-Indian film Vedat Marathe Veer Daudale Saat directed by Mahesh Manjrekar, he is doing Selfiee, which is carrying good reports, the franchise film OMG—Oh My God! 2, the war biopic Capsule Gill and the Hindi remake of Soorarai Pottru.

Hrithik Roshan

Hrithik Roshan ended 2019 with the super-hit War and the successful Super 30, which he also co-produced under his independent banner of HRX Films. He was not seen on screen afterwards until his Vikram Vedha in Hindi (2022). This film could not connect pan-India due to various speculated reasons, including (for a Hrithik film) the absence of romance and music. Ironically, his new film, Fighter, directed by his War and Bang Bang! director Siddharth Anand, misses 2023 by a whisker—the film opens on January 26, 2024!

Salman KhanSalman Khan’s last hit was Tiger Zinda Hai (2017), though Race 3 (2018) and Bharat (2019) did average business. Since then, it has been a disappointing phase for him with Dabangg 3 not recovering its investment and Radhe—Your Most Wanted Bhai and Antim—The Final Truth failing to inspire the audience.

However, expectations loom large for Tiger 3, his mammoth Tiger franchise with Yash Raj Films, and for his home production with another gimmicky title, Kis Ka Bhai Kisi Ki Jaan. If not dated like his last two outings, Salman might score high as he has also packed his film with the South’s Ram Charan and Venkatesh and composer Ravi Basrur. He is also making a cameo in Pathaan.

Shah Rukh Khan

“This might be the year of Shah Rukh Khan!” asserts Nahta. The actor, who has been missing since Zero, his 2018 disaster, will be back with three big and promising films—Pathaan, Dunki and Jawan, and of course, a cameo as Pathaan in Tiger 3!

What about his rather offbeat looks in and as Pathaan?  Opines Adarsh, “Age does give rise to limitations. This year, Shah Rukh will be 58 years old and so will the other two Khans, so it will all depend on the script and content.” (58 was Amitabh Bachchan’s age when he turned his own tide by shifting to character role with Mohabbatein!)

Nahta feels that every film of SRK has a distinct chance of big success. “Pathaan,” he enumerates, “is directed by Siddharth Anand, a big director now. Dunki, of course, is a Rajkumar Hirani film, while Jawan is directed by Atlee, a South big name.” With a cast comprising heavyweights Nayanthara and Vijay Sethupati, this film, feels Nahta, will be big down South as well.

Who else is likely to score high in 2023? Ranbir Kapoor, Ranveer Singh and Kartik Aaryan, goes Nahta’s and Adarsh’s consensus.

But that’s another story.





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