‘Pathaan’: Can Shah Rukh Khan reinvent himself and prolong his career?


By: Navneet Mundhra
Updated: March 2, 2022 18:46

On Wednesday, Shah Rukh Khan and Yash Raj Films released a video to announce the release date (January 25, 2023) of their next movie ‘Pathaan’. This will be the first SRK movie to hit the theatres after a long hiatus of 4 years. His last movie ‘Zero’ was released in December 2018 and turned turtle at the box-office. This is the first time SRK has taken such a long sabbatical. The last decade wasn’t too favourable for the actor as most of his films tanked terribly or underperformed at the turnstiles. So, he needed some time to reflect on his career, dwell over his mistakes and perhaps reinvent himself.

Shah Rukh earned his spurs by starring in a torrent of superhit romantic movies — ‘Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge’, ‘Kuch Kuch Hota Hai’, ‘Veer Zara’, ‘Dil Toh Pagal Hai’, ‘Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi’, to name a few — for two decades. Of course, he occasionally delved into other genres as well — ‘Swades’, ‘Paheli’ and ‘Chak De India’ — but his movies did roaring business only when he essayed romantic roles. ‘Chak De India’ is an exception, but his other experiments mostly yielded bummers.

From 1993 to 2008, SRK was the most consistent box-office star. During these years, he was invariably among the top three most bankable stars at any point. His arch-rivals — Aamir and Salman — were also big stars in their own right but neither of them were as consistent as him. Salman reeled off a stream of superhits in the 1990s and was neck-and-neck with SRK in the pecking order, but between 2000 and 2008 poor choices of films and controversies marred his standing. Aamir was the most experimental among them and enjoyed pretty good success, but the magnitude of his hits in the 1990s was not as huge as other two Khans. Aamir truly came into his own as a superstar in 2006 when his ‘Fanaa’ and ‘Rang De Basanti’ outstripped SRK’s ‘Don’ and ‘Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna’ at the ticket counters.

However, by the turn of 2010, SRK’s box-office stocks started plummeting drastically, while the stardom of Salman and Aamir soared rapidly. In fact, between 2008 and 2017, the biggest blockbuster (grosser) of the year was whipped out by either Salman or Aamir. No one even came close. SRK’s decline started with ‘My Name is Khan’ in 2010. It became a monumental blockbuster – the biggest ever – overseas, but in India it barely broke even.

At the age of 45, in 2010, SRK was no longer suited for sprightly love stories. Nevertheless he tried his hands at romance at ‘Jab Tak Hai Jaan’ (2012) and ‘Jab Harry Met Sejal’ (2017). While the former was a moderate success, the latter was an unmitigated disaster. He also attempted slightly off-kilter movies such as ‘Ra.One’, ‘Zero’ and ‘Fan’. But all of them bit the dust. In fact, his only two successful movies in the last decade were ‘Chennai Express’ (2013) and ‘Happy New Year’ (2014) — both of which were potboilers.

It has been more than eight years since he delivered his last hit ‘Happy New Year’. Since then he has only dished out box-office turkeys. After 2015, even the openings of his movies have been largely insipid which indicates his stardom has taken a big beating. The last few years have been traumatic for him. He must have pondered over why people, who once used to fawn over him and flock to cinema halls to see his movies, have turned indifferent to him? Has the entourage of people moved on from him?

His next movie ‘Pathaan’ seems like an action thriller. SRK has done a few action movies but barring ‘Karan Arjun’, in which Salman was his co-star, none of them has been a humungous hit. His two movies in the ‘Don’ series have been just moderately successful. Moreover, his image of a ‘romantic hero’ dominates people’s perception. While at one point it worked marvelously to his advantage, since the last few years it perhaps became an impediment. Is ‘Pathaan’ an attempt to break the mold and reinvent himself, something his contemporary Salman had done a decade ago?

By 2008, Salman’s career was fraying at the edges. Salman dominated the 1990s, along with SRK, with family dramas and love stories such as ‘Hum Aapke Hain Koun’, ‘Hum Saath Saath Hain’, ‘Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam’, ‘Saajan’, ‘Biwi No.1’ and ‘Pyar Kiya Toh Darna Kya’ — to name a few — but though he remained a big star, his career was highly capricious from 2000 onwards. Between 2000 and 2008, he mostly survived on comedy films such as ‘No Entry’, ‘Partner’, and ‘Maine Pyaar Kyun Kiya’ etc. However, between 2006 and 2008, he did too many guest appearances in crappy movies and started looking jaded on screen. As a result, he churned out a host of disasters.

But he wisely reinvented himself and hopped on to the bandwagon of action movies. It started with ‘Wanted’ in 2009 and then came ‘Dabangg’ in 2010 which smashed all the records to smithereens. The ‘Prem’ had now become ‘Chulbul Pandey’. ‘Dabangg’ changed the onscreen persona of Salman and heralded a phase of untarmelled domination. Salman astutely built on his action image and delivered blockbusters such as ‘Ek Tha Tiger’, ‘Kick’, ‘Bodyguard’ and ‘Tiger ZInda Hai’. He did social drama ‘Bajrangi Bhaijaan’ (2015) as well — which is one of his biggest hits — but his action films lent him an aura of a supernova. The reinvention not only prolonged his innings but triggered the best phase of his career.

In 2022, SRK is standing at a crossroads like Salman was in 2008. Will ‘Pathaan’ change his conventional image and infuse the much-needed vigour in his career is yet to be seen. Watch this space…

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