Content killed the Superstar

Priyanka Sinha Jha

Mar 02, 2019 04:30:35 IST

There is a scene in the film Zero that shows Bauaa Singh, the dwarf played by Shah Rukh Khan, trying to perform his favourite trick. With a drag and swipe of his fingers aimed at the sky, he can make shooting stars — the heavenly astronomical sort — crash and burn.

Bauaa is at a party attended by top-drawer film celebrities waiting to watch his magic trick. Unfortunately, although he swipes his fingers frantically, nothing happens. He stares helplessly at his fingers wondering why the magic won’t work.

The scene could well be a telling metaphor for superstar-driven movies of a certain vintage that have failed to cast a spell in recent times. In 2018, almost simultaneously, three big-ticket spectacle films, namely Race 3, Thugs Of Hindostan and Zero, starring the biggest and the most dependable superstars, namely Salman Khan, Aamir Khan, Amitabh Bachchan and Shah Rukh Khan, failed to conjure the magic numbers in ticket sales expected of their heroes.

In sharp contrast, the same phase boded well for millennial heartthrobs. Sanju starring Ranbir Kapoor mopped up a neat Rs 342.53 crore, pole-vaulting him back into the top bracket. Varun Dhawan who, despite a choice of unconventional films like October and Sui Dhaaga, posted healthy profits and was hailed the most commercially bankable star.

Young ‘offbeat’ heroes too made a name with high concept, middle-of-the-road cinema. Chandigarh boy Ayushmann Khurrana, scored with Badhaai Ho, a light-hearted family entertainer, and Andhadhun, a smooth thriller. Rajkummar Rao with Stree, after a resounding Bareilly Ki Barfi and the critically-appreciated Newton, proved he is no fluke. Kartik Aryan too notched up another success with Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety while Tiger Shroff landed a hit with Baaghi 2. As soon as 2019 rolled in, Vicky Kaushal broke out with a solo-hero score of Rs230.02 crore (and counting) on Uri.

However, it was Ranveer Singh’s hat-trick of Padmaavat (Rs302.15 crore), Simmba (Rs230 crore) and now Gully Boy (Rs111.25 crore and counting) that set tongues wagging whether the current developments indeed signal a generational shift.

 Content killed the Superstar

(Clockwise from top left) Sanju; Stree; Uri; Andhadhun

Most industry insiders agree that stardom can no longer be a convenient substitute for content. Race 3 producer Ramesh Taurani says the film (with a box-office collection of Rs166.40 crore) made money for all stakeholders. But, he does admit the content of Race 3, Thugs Of Hindostan and Zero, when compared to Badhaai Ho, Stree or Sanju, did not match up.

Reflecting on the new developments, Komal Nahta, trade analyst and editor of Film Information, says that writing off the Khan Triumvirate and hit-makers such as Akshay Kumar, Ajay Devgn and Hrithik Roshan, who have delivered commercially successful films over the years, would be too simplistic and premature.

“If the scripts of films they picked were good and yet the audience rejected them, you could say that there is a shift, but that was not the case,” Nahta does clarify.

Although nobody wants to address the aging issue, the fact is that earlier practically every two decades the old order of male superstars gave way to the new. The seventies and the eighties were dominated by Amitabh Bachchan, with a few like Rishi Kapoor, Vinod Khanna, Shatrughan Sinha in the fray. They were succeeded by Anil Kapoor, Jackie Shroff and Sunny Deol. The Khans — Salman, Aamir and Shah Rukh, came like a breath of fresh air in the nineties, completely upstaging their predecessors.

In 2019, almost 30 years after holding the industry in their sway, the time seems to have come for the older superstars to transition to a more varied portfolio. Amitabh Bachchan did that almost 19 years ago with the TV show Kaun Banega Crorepati, following it up with age-appropriate roles and extending his shelf life way beyond any other superstar before him.

At present, Aamir Khan seems best poised for the change. His practice of transforming himself into the character instead of depending on formula — Dangal being a recent example — has already paid off. It is likely that his future projects will see Aamir alternating between producer, director or actor.

Salman Khan, famous for playing an amped-up version of himself, is now trying to create a pool of young talent best suited for youthful roles.

By producing Loveyatri, which starred his brother-in-law Aayush Sharma, and the upcoming Notebook, starring an old friend’s son Zaheer Iqbal with Nutan’s grand-daughter Pranutan Behl, Salman is hedging his bets well.

Shah Rukh Khan, too, seems to be re-calibrating future choices. He recently dropped out of a biopioc based on astronaut Rakesh Sharma and is only a producer on new projects under his banner Red Chillies Entertainment, like the film Badla and the Netflix series Bard Of Blood, which stars Emraan Hashmi).

Filmmaker Imtiaz Ali, who has worked with the likes of Shah Rukh Khan, Saif Ali Khan and Ranbir Kapoor, concurs: “The product life-cycle of cinema in India is going on to its next stage. For example, we went from one generic Colgate-toothpaste type content, which was good for everybody, to specific brands for everyone’s requirements. A big star carrier will not do well if not crafted well. This is a huge progress because we are going the Hollywood way. The concept of a foolproof formula with a star in the lead is a thing of the past.”

Says filmmaker Sujoy Ghosh who has the character-driven thriller Badla releasing soon. “We are more accepting of new subjects and treatment but first and foremost the content has to be engaging.” Having said that, he reiterates that stars will always have a following. “The change is that there will be a lot more actors rather than stars shouldering films,” he points out.

Perhaps King Khan summed up the shift a while back when he said: “I think the concept of the superstar and superstardom is going to change. I believe that the longevity of superstardom is going to reduce. In a way, it has already happened during our lifetime.”


Raring to go — Latest hits of new-gen actors


Uri: Rs 230.02 Cr



Sui Dhaaga: Rs 79.02 cr



Gully Boy: Rs 111.25 cr



Sanju: Rs 342.53 cr



Badhaai Ho: Rs 37.61 cr



Stree: Rs 129.90 cr


The Big Guns — How the established superstars fared over the past year



Gold: Rs 104.72 cr; Padman: Rs 81.82 cr

He has stuck to the pop patriotism formula lately to reap it rich at the box-office



Race 3: Rs 166.40 cr

His recent Eid releases such as Tubelight and Race 3 have fared below expectation



Thugs of Hindostan: Rs 151.19 cr

The Diwali 2018 release was a rare debacle for Aamir, known to be among the smartest brains in Bollywood business



Zero: Rs90.25 cr

SRK’s latest attempt to break away from his loverboy image didn’t convince, just like other recent efforts as Fan and Raees

(Figures sourced from, at the time of going to press)

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Updated Date: Mar 01, 2019 18:33:23 IST