Reignmen: Salman, Aamir & Shah Rukh Khanby Khalid Mohamed May 18 2020, 6:12 pm Estimated Reading Time: 11 mins, 32 secs
Khalid Mohamed on why Salman, Aamir and Shah Rukh Khan have continued to reign in Bollywood through three decades.
Currently the rules are being re-scripted. From the multiplexes the passage to streaming channels (OTT platforms) seems inevitable - at least for quite a few months, till the end-year perhaps, according to optimistic estimations.
Meanwhile, it has been announced that high-profile films featuring Amitabh Bachchan, Ayushmann Khurrana, Akshay Kumar and Vidya Balan among others, are to be premiered (huh the word is ‘dropped’) for viewing from the safety of your home entertainment system.
Be that as it may, can you imagine if a new mega-budgeted movie starring either of the Khans – Salman, Shah Rukh or Aamir - was to be dropped on the OTTs? The ‘plex owners who are already protesting against streaming channel alternatives would have a flaming fit. After all, the three Khans’ are still the reigning heroes among the cross-generational viewers, from the millennial’s to the golden oldies.
No surprise that, since they have formed the presiding trinity for over three decades now, each one of them entering the showbiz maidan towards the end of the 1980s. Aamir kicked off with an enormously successful love story, Salman for starters fretted around the same time in a Rekha-dominated domestic shampoo before becoming a prime quantity with a Rajshri Productions laundry-fresh love story and Shah Rukh made whoopee on the rapidly-developing domain of television.
Coincidentally, all three of them lingered on the margins before striking popularity platinum. Prior to that, Aamir Khan the dreamy Romeo of Qayamat se Qayamat Tak (1988), Salman Khan the besotted romantic of Maine Pyaar Kiya (1989) and Shah Rukh Khan the bike-riding lover boy of Deewana (1992) had flitted around like moths to the showbiz flame. Before they entered the A-list, all of them were hangers-on so to speak.
Aamir Khan assisted his uncle director Nasir Hussain and subsequently acted in the unconventional, quasi-experimental Raakh as well as Holi. Salman Khan modeled, assisted director Shashilal Nair (not too happily, it seems) and was a mere side-plate in Biwi To Aisi. As for Shah Rukh Khan, he was the small screen Fauji besides showing up in Mani Kaul’s labyrinthine adaptation of Dostoevsky’s The Idiot. Formally, their beginnings in Film Town could be described as a ‘struggle’, though not in the traditional Amitabh Bachchanesque mode of, “I had to sleep on a Marine Drive bench and have channas for dinner.”
Aamir and Salman originated from film families, Shah Rukh Khan was the New Delhi outsider who made up for his lack of immediate connections with the attention he attracted on Doordarshan. Apart from that, there are several points common between the three Khans—like none of them is tall.
Come to think of it, each Khan is a rebuttal of the six-foot-plus tall Angry Young Man persona of Bachchan, which had ruled over the public mind before the three young romantics asserted that it’s love -- and not rage - which makes the world go round. They wooed their petite heroines obsessively, lip-synced to melody-friendly songs and wore costumes, which suggested as if they were on casual leave. And most vitally they were in their 20s when they connected to the nation’s ishq-vishq-pyaar-vaar-deprived audience.
Today they are all in their mid-50s. Born in 1965, Aamir Khan is the eldest by a few months, having brought in his birthday on March 14. Shah Rukh turns 55 on November 2, and Salman on December 27. At present, all of them are playing characters of indeterminate age, affirming the traditional Bollywood dictum that even at middle age heroes can discover the initial flush of love. Like Salman can go goggle-eyed on seeing Sonakshi Sinha in Dabangg or Katrina Kaif in Bharat, Aamir Khan goes ape over Kareena Kapoor in 3 Idiots, ditto Shah Rukh Khan over Anushka Sharma in Rab ne Bana di Jodi, Jab Harry Met Sejal and Katrina Kaif in Jab Tak Hai Jaan and Fan. The singular exception to the rule has been Dear Zindagi where he played his age (or almost) as a psychoanalyst to Alia Bhatt.
Obviously heroes, 55-year-old-nice-guys, are still acceptable as heroes to the public mind. In fact, of the trio, Aamir Khan appears to have that Peter Pan quality; he can be overwhelmingly credible even in the roles of a fresh MBA graduate in Dil Chahta Hai or the college smarty in 3 Idiots. By contrast, when he buffs up his body to portray a mean vendetta machine in Ghajini, he may look the part but the viewer does have to suspend that sense of disbelief. Physically explosive heroism is not his scene, never mind the huge box-office receipts of the gore spilling, take on Hollywood’s temporary memory loss cult flick Memento.
Still, Aamir Khan’s primary strength is his boyishness -- allied with an almost-annoying compulsion to do the right thing (read perfectionism, as written in his one-man dictionary). Alas, there’s a detectable self-righteousness instead of madness in his method. As an actor, he’s self-directed and not the director’s delight at all. Motivation: Why-am-I-doing-this-and-why-am-I-doing-it-like-this? And self-consciousness about his image is elements, which may make for a good actor, but not a great one. Which is why, although he has followed the principle of selecting handpicked films; he cannot achieve the stature of the superb Dilip Kumar.
Among the Khans, he has the lowest score of approximately 55 films. It goes without saying that he is an intelligent actor. Still, you cannot help hoping he would let himself go, just open up without a second thought before the camera. On the upside, his fastidiousness can be interpreted as a sense of responsibility to the audience.
If the unchecked violence of Ghajini and the superficial terrorism dialectics of Fanaa were questionable, laurel leaves are called for his impressive performances in Lagaan, Sarfarosh and Rang de Basanti which stirred the spirit of nationalism and Taare Zameen Par, which sought to remove the bias against dyslexic children. In addition, as a film producer of Peepli Live, Delhi Belly and Dhobi Ghat, he has taken an occasional risk of backing away from the formula rules and regulations.
The Aamir Khan who is loved is the Aamir Khan of the entertainers QSQT, Dil Hai Ke Maanta Nahin, Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar, Hum Hain Rahi Pyaar Ke, Andaz Apna Apna, Rangeela and Ghulami. Like all actors he has had his bloomers too, like Tum Mere Ho (a snake madari adventure!), Daulat ki Jung, Baazi, Aatank hi Aatank, Mela and Thugs of Hindostan to cite a random few. Never mind such glitches, he’s a brand name equated with superior quality cinema. If there’s a task before Aamir now, it has be reiterated that he has push the proverbial envelope further, to take your breath away as an actor, and become more instinctive than studied before the eye of the camera.
Once, it used to rain surprises in Shah Rukh Khan’s backyard. His uncontrollable-energy, unconventional body language and stuttering dialogue had given him a distinctive appeal through the earlier harvest of a mixed bag of nearly 85 films. If Aamir Khan’s voice, dialogue delivery and diction were seductively low-key, SRK’s were rat-a-tat gunfire. And if AK’s sunshine smile was a mannerism that his fans demanded consistently, SRK’s toss of shampoo-silk hair, a raise of those diabolical Jack Nicholson-like eyebrows and a pout of his lips became his identifying characteristics. More than any other actor of his generation, he relished risks, caring a damn about the good-guy image by investing a psychotic edge to Baazigar, Darr and Anjaam. Did he succeed in that gambit as an underworld mobster Raees? Unfortunately no. At best, the attempt was comme ci comme ca.
Heartbreakingly sweet on the one hand and intolerably bitter on the other, SRK could be schizoid, two personae-for-the-price-of-one ticket. Striking menace to begin with, he then became the nice fella, the cool-kid-next-door with a concatenation of terrific performances in Kabhi Hanh Kanhi Na, Yes Boss, Raju Bang Gaya Gentleman and of course, the pitamah of all romances Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge. The nasty stalker had been tamed; he wanted to be loved by everyone from the masses to the mandarins.
SRK attained superstardom, sprinting ahead of the two other Khans for a while. Occasionally there could be an edgy Dil Se or Josh but for the most part, he became stereotyped as the lovey dovey dude Rahul in the Yash Chopra and Karan Johar candy box movies. Delicious but the star-actor’s career appeared to be veering towards the diabetic. Subsequently, he took on the Devdas role incarnated memorably by Dilip Kumar earlier and Don walloped out by Amitabh Bachchan in his heyday. Both Devdas and Don saw SRK in form but for sure the best were yet to come and auspiciously they did: Swades and Chak de India showcasing SRK without a tick of his patented mannerisms.
An intuitive actor, SRK’s strengths are his spontaneity and whooshing energy. Also, he uses his eyes expressively. His weaknesses are to over-illustrate his character (a pout to indicate displeasure, a fling of his arms to underscore rapture, and an unpunctuated ha-ha-ha to denote amusement). Another failing: he cannot determine what is a purposeful film and what is not. After Paheli, he became averse to medium-budget cinema and doesn’t speak too fondly of Mani Kaul’s cerebral, Idiot either.
That’s where Aamir Khan is a cut above SRK today. Aamir can distinguish between cinema of substance and cinema of fluff. Also, SRK’s overexposure through ad endorsements (even plugging furniture upholstery for heaven’s sake) and involvement in IPL are downers since of late, he has been scarcely visible on screen. Rab ne Bana Di Jodi was half-likeable, My Name is Khan had its heart in the right place but that’s it. Next with the special effects-stuffed Ra-One and Don 2 in his work-pack, the actor didn’t play his cards right at all. Moreover whenever an actor surrounds himself with a wah-wah-you’re-too-good durbar, the signs are ominous. Didn’t Rajesh Khanna kick himself out of the market by speeding through the same route?
And to think there was a point when SRK’s turnips – Guddu, English Babu Desi Men, Army, One Two Ka Four, Tridev – didn’t affect his star status at all. Today, his baiters are awaiting that one colossal dud to bury him. Also, you can’t help wondering why SRK has never teamed up with his Baazigar duo Abbas-Mustan again after Badshah? Could it be because they don’t fit into the profile of his durbar? Having lamented that, SRK is still too street smart for any kind of downsizing. Inshallah!
The third Khan – at this point of time, the hottest Khan – Salman is the best looking of the trio. Looks? Yes, that traditional attribute does count significantly with the audience. Besides that, he’s uber casual, tossing off performances effortlessly, without taking himself too seriously - epitomized fulsomely in Dabangg and the franchise and Bajrangi Bhaijaan. He dances loonily (the fiddling with the belt, being sexually suggestive), he displays his gym-sculpted body and laughs at himself while bashing up the baddies ten times his size.
Salman Khan could have been an all-rounder, but for his unpredictable behavior which spills over from his real life attitude to his screen performances. Frequently, you detect that his dance moves as well as his dramatic pitch are merely of the moment. His voice dubbing is careless, and his low-octave voice barely rises to that key pitch of intensity. One of a kind, Salman seems to be astonished by his own appeal. That’s his saving grace actually. Without this element, his performances could have lapsed into the pits of hopeless arrogance.
Prem is his second name, assigned to Salman Khan by Sooraj Barjatya, a director whose direction he appears to respect. No wonder, Maine Pyar Kiya and Hum Aapke Hain..Koun are Salman Khan’s most charm-oozing performances yet. With Sanjay Leela Bhansali, he was under control in Khamoshi: The Musical and Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam (his guest appearance in the director’s Saawariya was vapid though). To David Dhawan’s brain-bending comedies like Judwaa, Biwi No. 1 and Partner, he has contributed unbridled zaniness, in Prabhu Deva’s Wanted he was the invulnerable man of action and in Satish Kaushik’s Tere Naam, a weird hair-styled Majnu gone unhinged.
Clearly, the actor is to popular cinema what raw stock is to camera. He can romance, flay fists of fury and tickle the audience’s funny bone with his feather-light comedy (evidenced best of all in Andaz Apna Apna). Sorely, when it comes to transmitting sobriety and seriousness - as in Love, Phir Milenge, Kyon Ki and Mr aur Mrs Khanna - Salman Khan is ill at ease. Moreover, his choice of films has been haphazard. For instance, take Auzar, Hello Brother, God Tussi Great Ho and Veer. What were those?
Perhaps it’s best to let Salman Khan remain brattish, likeable, cool, and moody because that’s when he acts naturally. At this juncture, he is in a position to take his career and acting skills wherever he wants to. He’s acted in almost 110 films; he’s been written off several times and assailed by ceaseless controversies. Yet he has survived and is smiling wider than any of the other Khans, Khannas and Kapoors of showbiz.
Even among the Khan trio, the numbers keep crunching.