What is the mark of a superstar in Bollywood?
Is it about how many brands he endorses? Or how many magazines editors feature him on the cover?
Is it about how much gossip is churned about him everyday? Or is it about the projected estimate of his annual earnings?
We all know it’s none of the above.
The mark of a star in Bollywood is the Return on Investment (RoI) of his films at the box office. In case of a superstar, the stakes are much higher. Producers invest heavily (in most cases at least Rs 80 crores as the production cost) and expect at least a 200% return when the film finishes its run at the box office.
Salman Khan and Aamir Khan have stuck to this formula of super-stardom – their recent releases have been all time blockbusters (Dangal is on its way to become a blockbuster and Sultan is already one).
But the last of the three Khans had lately decided to follow a completely different trajectory.
Shah Rukh Khan’s performance have lately been unlike the super-star that his lobby claims he is.
His last blockbuster came in the year 2013 with Rohit Shetty’s Chennai Express which raced past the 200 crore club and more than doubled the investment. But that was four years back.
The very next year, in 2014, Farah Khan released Happy New Year. The film was heavily panned by critics but the film sailed smoothly at the box office and was declared a hit with a neat profit of 50 crore (approx) which was roughly about 50% of the film’s production cost.
Something happened to Shah Rukh Khan post Happy New Year.
He increasingly started caring less about the commercial viability of a film while green-lighting a script and emphasized more on content, story-line and reception. He green-lighted some great scripts that were lying on his table and decided to do only one out-and-out commercial movie, the shooting of which had already begun.
The film that released next was Dilwale and if you search about it, most of the websites term the film as a semi-hit. But in reality, there was widespread criticism about the film and debate raged whether the film has under-performed at the box office. Almost all box office enthusiasts, including Shah Rukh Khan, admitted that the film has not performed well. Independent debates, such as this one, termed the film as a “complete dud”.
His film Fan made about 83 crores at the box office which was more or less its production cost. But since the cost of print and publicity is added to the final production cost, the movie was termed as a “disappointing flop”.
Dear Zindagi, his last release, is unlike any film of a reigning superstar in Bollywood. Not only that the film was made on a paltry budget of 45 crore (including print and publicity), the film focused mainly on Alia Bhatt rather than Shah Rukh, who himself admitted that he is playing an extended cameo.
The film was intended to be a blockbuster with a 200% RoI because of its restricted budget. Everybody thought that the film will comfortably race to the 100-crore club because of Shah Rukh Khan’s presence.
This never happened.
The film managed to get a hit tag with Rs 41 core profit, out of which 22 crores were from the sale of satellite rights.
But that’s not the point, the point is:
A film of Shah Rukh Khan was being termed a hit whose collections stood at around Rs 65 crores. This is perhaps akin to a box office performance of an actor like Nawazuddin Siddiqui or films like Neerja or Pink. But definitely not the film of an actor who claims to be the Badshah of Bollywood.
Everybody might argue that Shah Rukh Khan deliberately chose movie scripts like Fan or Dear Zindagi to satisfy the actor in him or prove to his critics that he is capable of doing justice to good scripts.
He has proved his point beyond reasonable doubt, if there was one in the first place.
But there is a subtext to this that nobody is pointing out. These films were also supposed to be blockbusters because Shah Rukh Khan was in them, otherwise what is the difference between SRK and other character actors like Nawaz and Irrfan Khan? All of them have performed similarly well in author backed roles.
This is where the actor in Shah Rukh Khan has succeeded but the superstar in Shah Rukh Khan has failed miserably.
It’s time for a U-turn again. Shah Rukh Khan has once again decided to change his course and return to his old roots of an out-an-out commercial film. With Raees, Shah Rukh Khan is back with everything that made him a superstar. Raees has biographical elements, item songs (Sunny Leone gyrates to one) and true-to-Bollywood unrealistic fight sequences.
Therefore, Raees HAS to succeed to keep Shah Rukh Khan in the game of superstars.
If it doesn’t, then it would be a pointer towards the fact Shah Rukh Khan’s box office pull has waned over time.
If a superstar fails to bring in audience for four consecutive films of different genres, what else does it prove?