Before Radhe The Most Wanted Bhai, traces Salman Khan’s evolution from Loverboy to impactful Showman
Salman Khan is “Eid ka chand”, at least on screen. Refreshingly secular at a time when India is plagued by growing bigotry and divisive politics, the Khan family (led by their father Salim Khan) claim to celebrate all festivals, Christmas, Diwali, Ganesh Chaturthi and Holi, but Salman Khan releases his long awaited films. – no matter how excruciating their content is, they still have huge potential for commercial blockbusters – on Eid. As for Sallu fans, the festival marks the end of Ramzan and the beginning of Bhaidom. For more than a decade, perhaps since Wanted (2009), the Bigg Boss host has cornered the lucrative Eid market. The Bollywood calendar works slightly differently. Aamir Khan on Christmas, Akshay Kumar on Independence Day, Shah Rukh Khan on Diwali and so goes the Bollywood pecking order. Due to the unprecedented second wave of Covid-19, Salman’s latest Radhe will open on the OTT ZEE5 platform the ZEEPlex pay-per-view service in addition to cinemas. A real-life philanthropist, the 55-year-old star has previously pledged the film’s profit proceeds using Covid-19.
And the benefits will be abundant there. Because when Salman flexes his bulky muscles, all sorts of logic is thrown out the window, like his heroically combative Dabangg entry and featuring opponents flying around after every hit at the right time. Salman Khan is a booty and millions of viewers seem to love him. Mass call is his USP and he’s making the most of it. The action-packed shows, the user-friendly wisecracks (although Radhe’s Diya-Nadiya line is a new low even by its own standard), dance tracks, childish humor, clever camera work and most importantly, fireworks. The superhero-style artifice has come to be associated with Sallu’s formula. Much of it is typically reshaped from Southern masala artists (think a fusion of Rajinikanth, Chiranjeevi, Ravi Teja… suparrrr sir!) To suit the star’s current “human being” image. But that was not always the case.
Salman is a god-level action star today, but in the 1990s it was truly Akshay Kumar-Suniel Shetty-Ajay Devgn territory. In fact, all of the Khans, including Saif Ali Khan – who has enjoyed a career renaissance in recent times – started out as loverboys, enduring themselves to 90s audiences with their daring seriousness. The melody of their music can still be heard on late night radio playlists, a throwback to the days when fresh-faced Salman played guitar on the dreamy ‘Saathiya yeh tune kya kiya’ with Revathy or the ‘Kabhi tu chhalia inspired by Raj Kapoor lagta hai’ with Raveena Tandon (God bless SP Balasubrahmanyam). Cut to: “Oh oh jaane jaana” (from Pyaar Kiya Toh Darna Kya). Once again, Salman at his musical best, although this time around he’s shirtless to show off a chiseled physique in the making. In the years to come, the naked body reveal will become another Salman draw, a sort of Arnold-Stallone desi. Between Maine Pyar Kiya, Love (a film most remembered today for the hit parade ‘Saathiya yeh tune kya kiya’) and Patthar Ke Phool (‘Kabhi tu chhalia lagta hai’ is from this film written by Salim Khan) to late 90s hits like Judwa (two Salmans for the price of one) and Pyaar Kiya Toh Darna Kya, a lot had changed. Between the two, he gave one of the greatest hits in Hindi, the record of Hum Aapke Hain Koun ..! and one of the most definitive comedies of its decade in Andaz Apna Apna. In both, he played Prem. The pseudonym has become synonymous with his inimitable reluctance, a product of the virtuous Barjatya school.
The Salman Khan from those early films had a shy charm about him and he maintained that note of innocence throughout the ’90s. Before taking on the role of’ Bollywood bad boy ‘he had the opposite image even if his fans tended to forgive his many misadventures and his misogyny. At the time, he was not known as a Brattish man-child, but rather as a famous, easy-going friend, genuinely indifferent to his own star power. Things in Hindi cinema were reshuffled after the late 90s. Looking back, it was a tectonic shift. A moment of calculation. It took a long time for Salman to integrate into the new place that is now Bollywood. While Aamir and Shah Rukh Khan were sharp enough to cash in on their market value during the rise of the multiplex era around 2000, Salman Khan seemed to have missed the mark. With him, conventional wisdom dictated that he was not a pro at career management, unlike the other Khans. Does anyone remember Tumko Na Bhool Paayenge, Yeh Hai Jalwa, Kyon Ki…, Lucky: No Time for Love and Marigold? I bet even Salman doesn’t remember. But the series of flops didn’t slow him down. Looking back, one of Salman’s biggest game changers was 2003’s Tere Naam in which he played a tortured lover. The tragic love story had another tragic angle – that hairstyle, which was hideous or happening, depending on who you asked. Okay, it was a disaster (only marginally tolerable than Suryavanshi, who doesn’t say much) but then why has it become such a craze? There’s no clear answer and it doesn’t make sense to dig deeper, just like there’s no reason her sticky towel dance has become such a hit.
In the game
After Tere Naam, it was No Entry and Wanted who gave him good box office fines. While immensely popular, even during his worst phase when he was in prison (the hit-and-run and blackbuck poaching case that was turned into a soap opera by the media), his films somehow never made it to the public. the height of the sound off screen. Legend. Even a superstar like Salman needs a shot to stay in the game. And then came Abhinav Kashyap’s Dabangg in 2010, a smash hit that reinvented Salman. Govinda, Suniel Shetty, Jackie Shroff, so many prominent men of the 90s had been counted in New Bollywood. Salman, on the other hand, has floated on his critical and box office-proof profile, but for how long? Every star looks jaded and complacent after thirty years on the ground, unless you’re that mythical creature called Rajinikanth. Or you grow a beard and a frog in the margadarshan mandal like Amitabh Bachchan, a cozy place where no one can knock you down anymore.
But Dabangg’s timing was perfect. A fun adventure, it gave his fans plenty to throw in coins and just about enough to keep critics glued down who, for the first time, felt Salman was on to something. Salman’s badass supercop Chulbul Pandey topped the charts and officially his lucky wave has begun. Yesterday and now. It soared on the big screen with the subsequent Dabangg franchise. Plus, Ek Tha Tiger, Sultan, and Race 3. Marlboro Lights-style celluloid machismo and heroism worked for Salman and his predominantly male audience – it’s strange to think of an era, light years away, where the female audience loved their Prem. His films are now an ode to his own mythology.
Kick’s (2014) credo “Dil mein aata hoon samajh mein nahin” best embodies the heart-to-heart connection and the emotional impact it has on its legion of followers. And how right it is that the son of one of the greatest screenwriters of Hindi cinema spits this sentence out with a punch. ‘Ek baar jo maine engagement kar di, Character dheela hai, Jumme ki raat hai, Hum yahan ke Robin Hood hai, Mujh by ek ehsaan karna ki mujh by koi ehsaan na karna’ and now, the reference to his eligible celibacy and to a Life lived on his own terms in Radhe’s title song, Salman’s “human being” qualities increasingly fuel his cinematic myth. What is this myth? That everyone’s favorite Bajrangi Bhaijaan is a man with a heart of gold, a paragon of secularism (implicit in the title of the film Kabir Khan), a friend of the poor, a champion of charity, a larger than life personality who prefers live the life of a hermit and a misunderstood child of God. “There is this myth called Shah Rukh Khan and I am its employee,” the generally talkative Shah Rukh Khan once said. Modest or modest, you decide. In Salman’s case, he owns the myth. There is no employee in sight. Only a sea of loyal fans who think their beloved Bhai can’t hurt.
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