Salman Khan's Tubelight act is departure from his brand of cinema, but where is his credit?

Editor's note: With Shah Rukh Khan's Fan and Salman Khan's Tubelight not quite hitting the mark in terms of box office success, there are some crucial question we found ourselves thinking about. Is Bollywood's male movie-star bound by his 'image'? What happens when stars experiment, and give their fans something 'new'? What happens when their experiments fail and how do the stars themselves react to this failure? This is part two of a three part analysis on this very idea — what is bigger, the star or the image of the star? Read part one here.

One thing superstars of Bollywood have often been blamed for is their aversion to experiments when it comes to their roles. Critics and viewers alike, time and again, have complained that stars prefer to remain ensconced in their cocoons.

The latest to experiment is none other than the master of front row cinema – Salman Khan. The result is now out in the open for everyone to see. The festivity of Eid turned gloomy for the actor, producers and distributors, let alone hardcore fans of Bhai. Chances are that it will take more than an effort for Salman Khan to tamper with his image again, in future.

Salman Khan with Matin Rey Tangu in Tubelight. Image via Twitter

Salman Khan with Matin Rey Tangu in Tubelight. Image via Twitter

It is high time the call for such experiments and talks of going against the tide, is shut down once and for all. It is just that it is always a successful film that remains in public memory and those that hit dirt are forgotten. It is not that the leading stars of Hindi cinema have not experimented, it’s just that whenever they have treaded off the beaten path, the experiments have always come a cropper.  

It is expected in any Salman Khan film that there will be a few random or unusual dance steps, goons will be thrashed to pulp, dialogues will cater to the lowest denominator and Bhai’s anger will spell doomsday for a few. Tubelight had none of it.

Salman gave everything to the film. It showed a side of Salman Khan that’s synonymous with performances that we normally get to see in films that are meant for film festivals. Distributors are mostly hesitant about the box office potential of these films.

The outcome was an Eid that didn’t turn out to be celebratory. It terms of revenue generation, it was a jolt for trade pundits. Defying expectations, the unthinkable happened when it failed to cross Rs 100 crore in four days.

Salman had done a similar role few years back in Priyadarshan’s Kyun Ki and had met a similar fate. The analogy that one could derive from this is that to maintain that star status symbol tag intact, stars are forced to return to their old gimmicks – romancing around trees, thrashing goons and mouthing smart one-liners when their ‘off track antics’ are not appreciated.

This is something that’s true for all current heartthrobs. Shah Rukh Khan reached a pinnacle with his Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge and kept doing similar films like Dil Toh Pagal Hai, Mai Hoon Na, Veer Zaara, Don and Om Shanti Om among others. When the sound of him doing the same lover boy act in all his films grew louder, he did pay heed to the noise. The outcome was films like Dil Se, Hey Ram, Asoka, Swades, Paheli and even Fan to an extent and the result was the same every time – none of the films worked.

Shah Rukh Khan in 'Fan'. Screen grab from YouTube

Shah Rukh Khan in 'Fan'. Screen grab from YouTube

Every time Shah Rukh Khan took a U-turn to show his myriad acting prowess, he was shown the doors. The exasperation of the superstar came out in an interview with The Guardian when he went ahead and said, “When you are of the status that I am, and in the situation where films being offered to me are mostly love stories and good guy roles, you can’t really change things." It's notable here that three films mentioned above were made out of his own pocket.  

Aamir Khan too suffers a similar fate. When it comes to success ratio, his experiments are nowhere close to the success rate of his commercial films. Half his experiments did work but films like Earth, Mangal Pandey and Dhobi Ghat look more like an aberration in his checkered filmography.  

The same could also be said about Ranbir Kapoor, the current heartthrob and a favourite of ace directors these days. He had given his heart and soul to Shimit Amin’s Rocket Singh – Salesman of the Year but the trauma of rejection of the film by the audiences still reverberates. The pain can still be heard. During an informal interaction with media while launching the second trailer of Jagga Jasoos, when Katrina quipped by saying that it was a bad film, the pain and anger was writ large on Ranbir’s face.  Thankfully it paid off in Barfi but with Bombay Velvet, he became the butt of all jokes. It took a full-fledged commercial film by Karan Johar to resurrect his career.

Ranveer Singh, another actor, has slowly and steadily climbed the success ladder. After the mega success of his debut film Band Baaja Baaraat and a well-appreciated Ladies Vs. Ricky Bahl, he changed gears. The Vikramaditya Motwane directed Lootera was based on a short story by O Henry. Before the release, people cried bravo and patted his back but just like others, he too had disappointment in store. It did manage four and five ratings from critics but for Phantom and Balaji Motion Pictures, it was a bad business decision.

During one of the author’s conversation with Ranveer when Lootera was on the verge of release, the star had thrown an insight into the methodology as to how stars approach such unconventional films and roles. Ranveer in that conversation had mentioned that he was sure that the film wouldn’t create any wonders at the box office and only a certain section would appreciate the film but at the same time he was also confident of the fact that it would give a fillip to his career by stretching it for few more years. Wise thinking indeed!

Best thieves of Bollywood

Ranveer Singh in a still from Lootera. YouTube

The onus certainly lies on us, the viewers. We keep harping time and again of stars not being bold enough to experiment with their roles after their commercial release. The noise only grows louder but history has it that when the actual time comes, they never have bouquets in store for them and are always greeted by brickbats.  

The truth is, it is difficult for Indian viewers to see a different image of their star. Characters like Rahul, Raj and Prem have become part of their psychic. For stars, it’s a Catch-22 situation. If they deviate from set norms, they are told to go back and do what they are known for and if they keep doing what they are best known for, they are often dubbed as actors trapped in their own image. Its high time we as audience try become a bit receptive. Appreciation in its purest form would be a visit to the nearest theatre and reaching out to your pockets to buy tickets for such films. After all, movie making is a commercial business and money is the engine that drives everything.

So if Shah Rukh Khan were to falter in the role of a dwarf for Annand L Rai’s next, the ideal thing would be go that extra mile and instead of panning his performance, a gentle appreciation for his effort would mean a lot. We had a great chance with Tubelight but now we have missed the bus.

In the future, expect a very angry Salman at a theatre near you.


Published Date: Jul 10, 2017 10:55 am | Updated Date: Jul 14, 2017 07:31 pm

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