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Last Updated 20.11.2019 | 11:59 AM IST
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Struggles of the Superstars – Part 1: Salman Khan

The Hindi film industry may have many stars but there are only six superstars: in alphabetical order, they are Aamir Khan, Ajay Devgn, Akshay Kumar, Hrithik Roshan and Shah Rukh Khan – all led by the biggest among them – Salman Khan. In this six-part series, we first look at the clear market leader Salman Khan’s struggles.

Clearly, it is some extraordinary quality that has made these people survive for 25 years (except for Hrithik, who began in 2000 – resilience, grit, humility, grounded natures and of course their immense charismas. They realize the importance of their audiences and fans, and most of them today, in a world of changed economics, also are aware of economics even as they are paid what they are.

The three Khans have been unequivocally leading the star roost for the last 25 years. But that does not mean that they (and the other three) have not struggled, often even after reaching the top. Here’s analyzing the man who essentially rose like the Proverbial Phoenix with Dabangg, co-produced by brother and sister-in-law Arbaaz Khan and Malaika Arora Khan, in September 2010.

A superstar even then, since then, all his films have done theatrical business (in India alone) of over a 100 crore nett, with two films crossing 300 crore, and two more going over 200 crore. On the way are foolproof blockbusters like Tubelight and Tiger Zinda Hai.

The Rise and the Plateau

Technically, Salman Khan entered the 30th year of his career on September 9, as it was on that date in 1987 that he began shooting for his debut film Biwi Ho To Aisi (released in August 1988), in a second-lead role opposite a starlet named Renu Arya, who was never seen again. Rekha and Farooq Shaikh were in the main leads, and Salman did not even have a song in this music score by market leaders Laxmikant Pyarelal.

A word here about his struggle which also included a stint at modelling: Salman would never reveal that he was the son of THE Salim Khan of Sholay fame.

This is the time when Kumar Gaurav, then a fairly big star, and he struck a rapport and Salman even got gifts from him like old jeans or occasionally, Kumar’s car was available for him when he wanted to impress a date! This was the time when Kumar Gaurav’s generosity and that of Suniel Shetty (then only a businessman who also presented him a set of jeans that were unaffordable for Salman when the actor visited his boutique just to explore the unattainable!) made a deep impress upon the struggling lad.

Salman was also influenced by Govinda, then a huge star shooting in the same studio where he was around. After a shot, Govinda saw Salman (as an unknown model) watching him and asked, “Was my shot good?” Along with his upbringing, these incidents impressed upon Salman the need to keep his feet firmly entrenched on terra firma – a habit that continues even after he became the biggest star in the country.

And while Kumar Gaurav had quit acting by the time Salman became big, he gave Govinda his comeback vehicle in 2007 in Partner.

However, with his lead debut in Maine Pyar Kiya in the following year (1989) – for which, interestingly, so many actors whose careers finally never went anywhere were also considered -Salman got his first blockbuster of many and the biggest hit of that year. With a small dose of beginner’s luck, he also tasted success with Baaghi (1990), Sanam Bewafa (1991) and Kurbaan (also 1991), though Patthar Ke Phool and Love capsized.

And in 1991, he also bagged the biggest hit of the year again in Saajan. True, reigning diva Madhuri Dixit and Nadeem-Shravan’s hit music were also there, and so was Sanjay Dutt, but the latter’s then – floundering career got a boost only after this film’s release.

After this, despite the continuous flops and sporadic average successes that rained in 1992 and 1993, Salman went on to star in Hum Aapke Hain Koun! (biggest hit in 1994), Biwi No.1 (biggest hit in 1999) and in an extended cameo in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai besides the blockbuster Karan Arjun and hits as varied as Jeet, Judwaa, Hum Saath Saath Hain, Jab Pyaar Kisise Hota Hai, his brother Sohail Khan’s Pyaar Kiya To Darna Kya and Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam in the 1990s.

By the time his lead career was a decade old, in 1999, he had a good record and was definitely ahead of the pack except for Shah Rukh Khan and Aamir Khan. However, in this trinity that had by then been established, with no one close to them, it became clear that Salman was the distant Number Three after Shah Rukh (then raining hits galore) and Aamir. It did not matter that Salman had, in terms of performances, outclassed them respectively both in Karan Arjun and Andaz Apna Apna (which flopped in its first run but has now become a cult movie!)

A deluge of flops in the early 2000s with very sporadic hits like Tere Naam, Mujhse Shaadi Karogi and Baghban (again in an extended cameo) made the situation continue, as the other Khans kept a towering lead. Aamir veering towards very few but successful films! And despite the 2005 No Entry (a Salman-based film despite the presence of Anil Kapoor and Fardeen Khan) that topped the year again and two average successes Lucky – No Time For Love and Maine Pyar Kyun Kiya, he remained the ‘Third Front’ among the Khans as trends too changed, several mainstream cinemas bombed, and there was a super-hit even in the 2007 Partner.

To make matters worse, Salman’s legal imbroglios certainly did not help matters as filmmakers even began to be insecure about the future of their films if they signed him. Moreover, at that time, Diwali had become the only big or ‘premium’ date for a release, and every Diwali release of the actor, Kyon Ki…, Jaan-e-Mann, Saawariya (in a key cameo again) and Main Aur Mrs Khanna bombed.

Clearly, Salman was choosing completely wrong subjects, usually because he followed his heart and not his head. These included over a dozen cameos in films sold at a higher price in his name that did not do either him or the films themselves any good – like Dhaai Akshar Prem Ke and more. On the other hand, the actor who had once even turned down Baazigar made another faux pas for those times – he rejected Chak De! India.

Then on IDD 2009, came Wanted. In terms of treatment, it was a refreshing look at action of a new dimension. The film did modestly well, though it is considered a classic now. However that did not help Salman much, as it was followed by disasters like Main Aur Mrs Khanna, London Dreams and Veer.

But it was Salim Khan’s advice and Salman Khan’s instinct that changed the picture forever. Salman’s father advised him against signing either cameos or lead roles out of ‘sentimental’ reasons. His brother Arbaaz Khan was making his debut as producer with Dabangg, and buzz is that a well-known director close to the actor sat with Salman Khan on the editing of the grossly overshot film. The music too was carefully designed.

And the rest is history, and the main factor responsible for this is his father Salim Khan’s supervision and continued advice, because the adroit father realized before even the superstar son did his extraordinary star potential. At long last, the son began to heed his professional advice. And Salman Khan, very easy about his mega-stardom today, simply thanks Providence, and we agree, because it is Providence that has made him Salim Khan’s son!

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