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by Monojit Lahiri July 5 2023, 12:00 am Estimated Reading Time: 4 mins, 55 secs

Monojit Lahiri investigates the on-going discussion about what is ‘king’ – the content or the star, by taking the film Pathan (2023) as a case in point.

It was South Superstar Prabhas who triggered this entire issue. In a recent interview, he candidly confessed that “it is content that draws the audience to the theatre – not Stars!

If the film's visual effects have been meticulously crafted and seamlessly integrated to enhance its story-telling aspect, it is a huge value-addition to the film's offering, making it a compelling cinematic experience.” He, therefore hinted, that Stars were not the alpha and omega that determined a film's success and any sane film junkie (unless he/she suffers from galloping amnesia or chose to reside in desperate self-denial) will agree! God knows, the mighty once-considered-invincible, the Khans are prime examples with their recent thuds!

Now, here comes the catch: After a four-year hiatus (when all his films were shockingly under-performed) King Khan returned in Jan 2023 with Pathan. Curiosity, anticipation and expectation bogeyed together big time and in all truth, the prediction factor was kept totally on hold with prayers leading the way. When it blasted through Rs 100 crore plus on day one and followed it up with a similar whammo on day 2, all hell broke loose! As this goes into print, it is estimated that Pathan has crossed the 1000 crore mark worldwide... and counting.

So, suddenly has the ‘content-not-Stars-is-King’ mantra (so earnestly stated by Prabhas) in danger of becoming irrelevant, inaccurate or overstated... or do we need more Pathans to contest the mantra? However before we plunge into battle, let’s try and check out what really made Pathan such a mega success? Over to some Pathan watchers...

It is a loaded question, and keen to fire the first salvo is SRK junkie Preeti Agarwal. The 22-year-old Mumbaikar is beaming the Colgate smile of her life as she lets fly. “Dilwale, Fan, Raees, Harry, Zero, the films failed - not SRK! If he had bombed would he still attract the hysterical crowds and telephone number fees across all revenue streams and platforms? He was waiting for the right kind of vehicle to match his phenomenal screen personality - a magnetic presence that combines devastating reductivity with super cool action. Sugar n’ spice. Fire n’ Ice! And in Deepika, boy did he get the right trigger? The script, content and storyline too were absorbing, engaging, and very, very intelligently crafted and everything considered (controversy included!), it was a hand grenade with its mouth open, boss! Real Stars can never die - on the ground or in the sky!”.

Bangalore-based Vipin Iyer begs to disagree. “One Swallow doesn’t make a summer and freak successes do happen. Regarding movies, why films hit or flop remains one of life's enduring mysteries. Why on earth did Sholay become the iconic film it became after a disastrous opening fortnight, and Shaan, the super ambitious follow-up from the same camp (with a James Bond flavour, complete with gizmos), turn out to become such a super flop? Belting out cliched reasons for Pathan's success is, predictably, blitzing the scene, but it doesn't impress or convince me. I think it's one of those unexplainable things. Let's get back, end 2023 and then check out the scorecard about Stars whamming the Box Office, or content calling the shots, okay?”.

Renowned respected Veteran Film Critic Saibal Chatterjee wraps up the debate in his usual enlightening and insightful manner. “The fact that SRK is India's biggest export item and most popular global presence is undeniable! Hollywood stars go WOW when they meet or see him. He is supremely witty, sexy, well-spoken and charismatic, and cuts across all audiences with his deprecating charm like no other showbiz or sports star”.

He continued, “That part over, let’s cut to the chase: Why is Pathan such a blow-out when his other recent films disappointed? Surely it was the same King Khan trying out different things with different heroines? Million dollar question, but post-mortems are simple, convenient…and dumb! Regarding the success of this film, I have my considered opinion. SRK has been one of the very few super-stars who have consciously chosen to not ally or align with the all-powerful powers-that-are. He has maintained a dignified silence. He has attempted to be HIMSELF without selling out, and for this he has had to pay a heavy price with his son being (wrongly?) framed in a drug case and later the BOYCOTT PATHAN movement from vested interest. His loyal, gigantic fan base is very much into these happenings, winning him huge sympathy. When Pathan was released, they were stunned! Why? Simple. The film was more a personal statement than one depicting SRK to be a proud Indian Muslim, secular, all-embracing, who loves and will do anything for his motherland. He was just being HIMSELF! Spectacular action, sizzling SRK-Deepika chemistry, a cool star turn-around by hot villain Johnny Boy, sexy and provocative lines and songs, picturized dramatically. And, of course, Salman’s long and dashing guest appearance combined with it to offer audiences a masala spectacle that the doctor had ordered for ages but no one could dream of delivering! Locally and globally Pathan caught fire and its songs (Besharam Rang and Jhoome Jo Pathaan) remain signature tunes even 6 months after its release.”

Coming back to the subject of whether Pathan has proved that Stars can overthrow content, Chatterjee believes - no chance! Content is King and Stars will need well-made, intelligent, smart scripts from sharp directors to make the cut! The age of anything goes because stars headline the project is over.

It will be interesting to see which way the wind blows in B-town with several block busters predicted in the second half of 2023. So, Tinsel Town’s time starts-NOW!

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The writers are solely responsible for any claims arising out of the contents of this article.