MIRROR, mirror on the wall, who’s the blockbuster Bollywood actor of ‘em all.
Three Indian actors sharing a surname have ruled Bollywood box offices across three decades. It’s a touch-and-go, say movie pundits but the success of wrestling blockbuster Dangal means it’s Aamir Khan who’s currently king of the Khans.
They’re internally known as the “Khans of Bollywood”: Aamir, Shah Rukh, and Salman have been the undoubted superstars of the Hindi film industry since the mid-1990s, taking it in turns to reign supreme.
I must confess that I’m a die-hard fan of Shah Rukh, also known as ‘SRK’, who is also a producer and television personality, with millions of global admirers.
But with Dangal smashing records, Salman suffering a rare flop and Shah Rukh without a major hit in four years, the crown for now is firmly placed on Aamir’s head.
“The Khans used to be on a par but Aamir has moved ahead and Shah Rukh is kind of lagging behind recently,” film trade analyst Ramesh Bala said of the trio who all turn 52 this year and who are not related.
Dangal has set new and previously unimaginable parameters for the box office potential of a Bollywood movie since it was first released in India in December last year. It quickly became the highest-grossing Bollywood film ever, knocking another of Aamir’s movies off the top spot, and has made close to 20bil rupees (US$310million) worldwide.
Aamir plays the awesome role of real-life wrestling coach Mahavir Singh Phogat who defies the odds by raising his daughters, Geeta and Babita Phogat, to become champion wrestlers. Geeta won gold for India at the 2010 Commonwealth Games while Babita topped the podium at the 2014 edition.
Critics say the movie resonated because it was a patriotic story about a triumphant underdog that dealt with India’s skewed attitude towards girls, and credit a large part of Aamir’s success to his careful choosing of movies with a message. “Dangal” is a Hindi word used to describe a wrestling competition.
“Aamir is one person who really puts a lot of thought and effort into selecting films that are relevant to an Indian audience. There are very few actors who really do enough of that,” says film distributor Akshaye Rathi.
Rathi also points to the fact that Aamir does one film every two years on average, while Salman and Shah Rukh regularly release two a year.
“Aamir has been very consistent for a very long time. He doesn’t do as many films as Shah Rukh or Salman and the more films you do the higher the chance that one misses,” Rathi explains, as he praises Aamir lauded for taking on challenging roles.
For Dangal he gained and then lost again 25kg in weight while cinemagoers adored his portrayal of a humanoid alien stranded on Earth in PK.
Dangal has made around US$180mil more than PK in global sales thanks to a record-breaking run in the hugely profitable Chinese market, where Aamir has worked hard at building his brand, becoming the biggest Indian star there.
CRAZE IN CHINA
For the record, Dangal is the fifth highest grossing non-English movie in the history after The Mermaid, The Untouchables, Monster Hunt and Your Name. ‘Dangal’ has also become Disney’s fourth biggest hit of 2016.
China, rather amazingly, contributed to more than two-thirds of the total earning of Dangal. The film was appreciated by the ‘Who’s Who of China’, from a top member of the Politburo Standing Committee to Chinese President Xi Jinping. In fact, one of the most-talked-about points of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to China in May this year was the Chinese President telling Modi that he, too, had watched Dangal.
Dangal became a phenomenon of sorts in China. Gender discrimination and strict parenting are among the film’s themes, which won millions of Chinese hearts. And the world over with fans mesmerised over the true story of a father somersaulting backwards to get his daughters to be world wrestling champions.
Verdict: If box office collections are the parameters, we can safely pronounce that Aamir Khan is the most bankable and the biggest star among the three Khans of Bollywood.