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Wanted: Salman Khan’s image reinvention

VINAYAK CHAKRAVORTY on the image trap that plagues every screen superstar.

Reading Time: 4 minutes

 

For Salman Khan fans, this past Eid release was far from the blast they were hoping for. Released in cinemas and for streaming on Zee5, Radhe: Your Most Wanted Bhai suddenly didn’t seem as big as the hype had promised. Ten days into the film’s run, it can safely be said that Radhe won’t be Bollywood’s event of the year, as Eid habitually would usher for the superstar till a few moons ago.

For Salman, his Eid release of 2021 underlines a repetitive streak that would be hard to gloss over. This isn’t his first lukewarm Eid show lately. There was Tubelight in 2017, Race 3 a year later, and Bharat in 2019, and the already-forgotten ‘song release’ on YouTube last year (remember “Bhai Bhai”?).

If you were to draw up Salman’s Eid balance sheet, Radhe marks the fifth consecutive year of an uneventful show on his chosen festive weekend. Compare this to his run from 2009 to 2016 (minus 2013, when he didn’t have an Eid release and Shah Rukh Khan released Chennai Express). There was Wanted in 2009, Dabangg in 2010, Bodyguard in 2011, Ek Tha Tiger in 2012, Kick in 2014, Bajrangi Bhaijaan in 2015 and Sultan in 2016.

radhe poster
Disha Patani and Salman Khan. Source: IMDb

Between 2009 and 2016, that’s a scorecard of seven blockbuster Eids. With things getting progressively colder by the year with each Eid that has followed, the balance sheet now stands at 7:5.

Salman’s upcoming roster of films would hint at the fact that he is dealing with the situation with characteristic don’t-give-a-damn attitude. Over the recent past, there has been buzz around four titles that he has lined up over the next years.

There is Kick 2, reloading the crime-action cocktail of his 2014 Eid hit Kick, co-starring Jacqueline Fernandez. Tiger 3 brings Salman back in espionage thriller mode, with Katrina Kaif. Mahesh Manjrekar’s Antim: The Final Truth is a cop action drama where he features with brother-in-law Ayush Sharma. Information on Kabhi Eid Kabhi Diwali, crediting Farhad Samji for direction and rumoured to co-star Pooja Hegde, has also been floating in the media.

Officially, it is too early for confirmation on Salman’s Eid 2022 plans yet, and rumours at various points of time over the recent past has suggested each of these titles as the chosen release for the festival next year.

Pertinently, apart from the fact that all his forthcoming films could be in for a toss-up for the coveted Eid spot, there is another point of note. They do not promise much in terms of novelty.

Consider each film individually, and you get the idea. Tiger 3 and Kick 2 aim at repeating what has already worked. Antim is said to bring him back as a cop — a Sikh cop if you insist, for some variety — after Dabangg 3 and Radhe. Conceptually, Kabhi Eid Kabhi Diwali might seem like the film is removed from his set image, riding the theme of communal harmony, but one film might not be enough to let Salman escape image trap even if it was different from what he has been doing down the decades.

READ ALSO: 6 Indian shows and movies to watch in May 2021

radhe salman khan
Randeep Hooda, Salman Khan, and Disha Patani in Radhe, Source: IMDb

The point to note here is whenever Salman has tried moving away from set image after scaling superstardom in recent times, the fans have seemed uncomfortable and responded with little enthusiasm at the box office — think Tubelight or Bharat. On the other hand, repeating his trademark blend of machismo and humour in Dabangg 3 or Radhe (an extension of the Wanted prototype from well over a decade ago) has only appeared jaded after all these years.

It’s truly a Catch-22, and it’s also where the tough deal lies about being Salman.

As a mass superstar with a fiercely loyal fan base, he cannot afford to get away from his stock image. On the other hand, he seems to have exhausted every trick to regale by staying within his set image. The need to reorganise his superstardom is an urgent one, yet obviously a Herculean task. Scripting a fool-proof Eid release isn’t quite a cakewalk for Salman right now, and he would have to be extra cautious choosing his next Eidi for fans.

Image trap woes beyond a certain point of time is a malady that plagues every screen superstar. Almost every Bollywood big gun has faced it after a point and it’s only the rare Amitabh Bachchan who manages to successfully reinvent and stay relevant as the marquee around him changes with time.

You could of course say there is a difference between Salman and most other superstars of Bollywood. On screen and off it, he has somehow been a survivor. But to put a brake on his slide of recent years on next Eid, he would surely need to bank on much more than unadulterated bunkum to surprise his fans.

For a mainstream hero on the wrong side of 50 and not known to love the idea of surprising fans, that could be a tricky deal.

Vinayak Chakravorty, IANS


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