Outfit X, a cabal of terrorists for hire, are preparing an attack on India. Deployed to stop them is a grizzled, middle-aged agent with buns and washboard abs. Beach While attending his party or skydiving into an enemy hideout, he ends up teaming up with a frighteningly beautiful young agent. A whirlwind of fistfights, acrobatic near-misses, and explosions ensues.
Film critic Aseem Chhabra is not convinced by the trailer. pattern, a big-budget Bollywood movie coming out next week. But he’s watching as this marks the spectacular return of India’s greatest actor, Shah Rukh Khan, 57, after a five-year hiatus. Badshah, or the king of Bollywood. “He’s so charming and charismatic,” says Chhabra. “It would be fun to see him dance and do action scenes. I go to the movies just for that.”
pattern After a difficult few years, Khan and Bollywood will be the test. It not only follows the box office failure of his one of the world’s biggest film industries. It is also the comeback of Khan, who has been the target of harassment from hardline Hindu groups, including members of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.
Khan achieved unparalleled admiration in the 1990s as boyish pounding, eschewing macho-man stereotypes for sensitive, worldly characters in films that encapsulated globalizing Indian optimism, says Chabra. In recent years, however, some of the actor’s releases have been underwhelming.
Audiences seem tired of the cookie-cutter action and romance formats of major Bollywood production companies. Last year’s Indian box office was dominated by long-overlooked South Indian film industry films, including Golden Globe-winning Telugu hits. RRRBollywood producer Vikram Malhotra says, “The previous luxury of ‘make what you want, price it how you want it, and people will come’ is out the window.”
With two more big releases planned for this year, will Khan revive the industry’s fortunes? pattern “On paper, it has all the ingredients for a blockbuster,” says an industry executive. “Coming after such a dry patch, expectations are unusually high.”
But as the BJP wages culture wars to remake Bollywood, the film itself has become the subject of a now-familiar pattern of outrage. The ideological group Bajran Dar’s group ripped off posters at a shopping mall in Ahmedabad earlier this month. The controversy stems in part from a scene in which actor Deepika Padukone dances in a steamy orange bikini that is considered dangerously close to saffron, the sacred color of Hinduism.
To some, the industry is a bastion of India’s secular and liberal vision, thanks in part to its many Muslim stars, including Khan. It’s a cozy club for a condescending, nepotistic elite who make films that are hostile to sensibility, and it’s in need of reform.
A year after Modi took office in 2014, Khan said, “Being unworldly is the worst kind of crime you can do as a patriot.” Yogi Adityanath, his BJP chief minister in his Pradesh state of Uttar, now India’s most populous state, compared the actor to a terrorist. Khan’s work, like that of other actors who have voiced his opinion, faces calls for boycotts from right-wing groups.
In 2021, Khan’s son Aryan, who was 23 at the time, was arrested by India’s Drug Enforcement Administration and jailed for nearly a month, though authorities found no drugs in him. The charges were later dropped due to lack of evidence. Khan was earnestly silent throughout. Critics, however, claimed the incident was politically motivated, and the NCB report found that he was “deliberately targeted”.
“Bollywood is in this identity crisis right now,” says filmmaker Suhanna Sharma. She “feels besieged by the government and the bad box office.” But she insists the public’s loyalty is clear when it comes to Khan. “This love Shah Rukh enjoys,” she says. pattern We may not be able to free the industry from creative funk. But for fans around the world, King Khan’s reign isn’t over.