Ayushmann Khurrana, Rajkummar Rao, Tiger Shroff, Kartik Aaryan: 2018 was the year of the 'small hero'
The 'small hero' tag associated with actors like Ayushmann Khurrana and Rajkummar Rao no longer implies they cannot fetch big box office numbers.
The traditional year-end film lists often try featuring a mix of the expected blockbusters and the surprise hits in order to come up with a holistic overview. Irrespective of the end result, the lists often use the standardised norms in terms of genres and themes as the base, and perhaps this could be the reason that the so-called ‘women-centric’ film was seen as a separate entity. When it comes to the leading men, there is no such demarcation in the traditional sense of the word but a few years from now, when 2018 is looked back at, it would be probably the year of the ‘small hero.’
In a breakaway from what Hindi cinema is used to, 2018 was the year where films featuring leading men, who do not necessarily fall in the ‘superstar’ bracket yet, struck gold in more ways than one. This year had four blockbusters - Sonu Ki Titu Ki Sweety, Stree, Andhadhun and Badhaai Ho - without the presence of the so-called A-list male star. Needless to say, this is a good sign and could be a portent of a long-overdue change in the manner projects are green-lit.
As far as the trade is concerned, popular Hindi films fall in two very broad categories - A-list and everything else. The former, more often than not, only needs the presence of a top male star for things to fall into place. If a film features a woman in a role that ventures slightly beyond the demands of a typical Hindi film female lead, the film is branded women-centric, but when it comes to the male lead, anything that does not feature one of the three Khans, Akshay Kumar, Ajay Devgn, Ranbir Kapoor, Ranveer Singh, Varun Dhawan or for the sake of argument, even a Saif Ali Khan, whose last few outings have been commercial letdowns, is automatically labeled a smallish film.
This year saw that norm challenged by male actors like Ayushmann Khurrana, Rajkummar Rao, Kartik Aaryan and Tiger Shroff. Khurrana has been around for a while now but despite a dream debut in Vicky Donor (2012), featuring in successful films seemed to be stuck in a spot. His filmography features a bunch of films produced by marquee production houses such as Yash Raj Films — Bewakoofiyaan (2014), Dum Laga Ke Haisha (2015) and Meri Pyaari Bindu (2017). He also had Nautanki Saala! (2013) and Hawaizaada (2015). Even with hits to his credit, he continued to be seen as a ‘small hero.’ The success of both Andhadhun and Badhaai Ho, two polar opposite films in terms of themes and execution and even the target audiences, Khurrana managed to find his sweet spot.
On the other hand, Rajkummar stood out in nearly everything he did. For a while, he has been called the most likely future superstar. Yet like Khurrana, Rao, too, could barely manage to break the shackles of the 'small film' tag. Even with a film such as Bareilly Ki Barfi (2017), that also featured Khurrana, Rao was barely seen beyond the solid second lead mould. He garnered great critical acclaim for Newton last year. Fanney Khan this year was being seen as his ticket to the A-league thanks to the presence of Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and Anil Kapoor, but it was Stree that ended up cementing his stature.
The manner in which both Khurrana and Rao are being celebrated as major forces to reckon with in their own league does not mean they are not box office draws or, in the manner of speaking, ‘stars.’ In fact, if one were to calculate the return on investment on every single rupee invested on them, they would in all probability appear to be better than most of the typical superstars. Up until a few years ago the likes of Rao, Khurrana, Kartik Aaryan and Tiger Shroff, who had a fantastic year with Baaghi 2 making a killing at the box office, doing good would mean them graduating to the top list. This is not going to be the case with them, at least not in the ideal sense. Much like the way the parameters of the women-centric film changed where the genre is no longer seen as an aberration in the eyes of the trade pundits, the smaller hero, too, is no longer the stepping stone.
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