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Salman Khan: How 2009 changed Bhai’s game and paved way for his superstardom

Salman Khan's films prove why we as Indian audience prefer heroic characters over realism, who can fight off evil single handedly, over-dramatise simple moments, and create song and dance about love.

Written by Mimansa Shekhar | New Delhi |
Updated: December 28, 2021 2:59:43 pm
salman khan tiger filmsSalman Khan's onscreen image changed post Wanted (2009). (Photo: YRF)

Salman Khan’s extended cameo in Baghban was on the lines of his righteous Prem in several films. The actor, however, thought his role in it was unrealistic. In fact he didn’t like playing the obsessive lover in Tere Naam too. He believes Radhe was everything a man should never be!

Both Baghban and Tere Naam came in 2003, two films that brought some shine to his flailing filmography with titles like Tumko Na Bhool Paayenge, Hello Brother and Yeh Hai Jalwa. Salman’s career that started in 1988-1989 with Biwi Ho To Aisi and Maine Pyar Kiya seemingly got wings, but in his own words, he was out of work for 4-5 months after Maine Pyar Kiya. His father Salim Khan had to request GP Sippy to sign Salman for Patthar Ke Phool.

maine pyar kiya salman khan bhagyashree Salman Khan and Bhagyashree in a still from Maine Pyar Kiya (1989). (Photo: Express Archives)

To say that Salman Khan’s career remained a bumpy ride for the first decade won’t be wrong. While he found a safe zone under Rajshri movies, his experiments with comedies gave him a genre to rely on — Andaz Apna Apna, Judwaa, Biwi No.1, Mujhse Shaadi Karogi, Maine Pyaar Kyun Kiya and No Entry, to name a few.

Salman did the maximum cameos in early 2000s too. Some were to honour bonds of friendships, others were to keep him in the spotlight. But Salman was still far from the superstardom he enjoys today. And the stuff he was doing only impressed a select fan base. On the way, he tried ensemble Salaam-e-Ishq, Hollywood movie Marigold and even hosted 10 Ka Dum on television. No doubt Salman was a bonafide star of Bollywood, but he was still away from the stratospheric success of today.

2008 was a year Salman was at his lowest with God Tussi Great Ho, Hello, Heroes and Yuvvraaj falling flat. Salman was in a dire need for a career makeover. Within the next one year, tables turned and Salman found a new lease of life.

So what changed?

salman khan wanted film Wanted (2009) changed the game plan of Salman Khan.

Salman Khan collaborated with Prabhu Deva for the first time in Wanted in 2009, a remake of Telugu blockbuster Pokiri. The film had Prabhu Deva’s style of direction written all over with unreal action, massy dialogues, flexing of muscles, and unique dance steps — everything that Salman rarely did onscreen hitherto. His larger than life persona, shocking twist and the focus on ‘macho persona’ made Wanted, a game-changer, and despite being a huge risk, it became a one-of-a-kind genre in Bollywood.

Wanted ended up crossing Rs 100-crore at the box office. This was also his first Eid release, a start to a trend that he’s been following till date. Fans began calling his releases, Salman’s “Eidi.” We don’t disagree!

At this time, Salman’s other contemporary Shah Rukh Khan was at the top of his game with blockbusters like Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, Mohabbatein, Devdas, K3G, Kal Ho Naa Ho, Main Hoon Na, Veer-Zaara, Don and Om Shanti Om. The third Khan, Aamir had Lagaan, Dil Chahta Hai, Rang De Basanti, Ghajini and 3 Idiots to his credit.

salman khan sonakshi sinha dabangg Dabangg was the Bollywood launchpad of Sonakshi Sinha. (Photo: Arbaaz Khan Productions)

Akshay Kumar, on the other end of the Khan-spectrum, was successfully embarking on unique scripts in Hera Pheri, Ajnabee, Aitraaz, Namastey London, Heyy Babyy, Bhool Bhulaiyaa, Welcome and Singh Is Kinng. Salman was back in the race with Wanted being that breakthrough.

The next few years for Salman were experimental with more remakes of south-Indian hits. Ready, Bodyguard, Kick and Jai Ho (Stalin) being some. The common thread in all was Salman playing a common man with superhuman strength, in the role of a vigilante of sorts, and featured a face-off action sequence with an equally chiseled villain. And in between the heavy punches were some (bizarre) one-lines that found place in the daily lingo of his fans.

The trend of signature dialogues started with “Ek baar jo maine commitment kar di” in Wanted, followed by more like “Mujhpe ek ehsaan karna, mujhpe koi ehsaan mat karna”, “Zindagi mein teen cheezein kabhi underestimate mat karna – I, Me, aur Myself” and “Swagat nahi karoge hamara?”

While his remake-culture was getting more takers in Bollywood, Salman came up with two of his most successful original action franchises – Dabangg (2010) and Tiger series (2012, 2017). The former had him playing a gray character Chulbul Pandey who’s now a high point of his career. And Ek Tha Tiger gave birth to RAW agent Avinash Rathod aka Tiger. Both the films had equally successful sequels too. Infact Dabangg patented his style of acting, even if many critics dismissed it as no-acting!

His newfound fame came within a span of 5-6 years. And just when we were settling down for his no-brainer masala entertainers, Salman delivered Bajrangi Bhaijaan in 2015. The Kabir Khan directorial was a heart-touching tale of humanity, another turning point in Salman’s career. Was it a ploy at an image-makeover for Salman? Probably yes, and he did succeed!

Sultan, salman khan, sultan Box office, sultan images, entertainment Sultan broke several box office records for Salman Khan’s films. (Photo: YRF)

Such was the emotional impact that even Aamir Khan was seen wiping off his tears. And can we forget the viral video of six-year-old Suzi crying in her mother’s lap? Salman followed it up with more such projects like Sultan, Tubelight and Bharat which tapped on the section of audience that kept away from his movies due to a fix formula. He later got Suzi to play young Anushka Sharma in Sultan.

Another major factor that worked for Salman was music, even if it came with meaningless lyrics. Film’s predictable plot was fixed by its chartbuster songs and Salman’s unique hook steps that were easy to imitate. The actor earlier said in Aap Ki Adalat how he had exhausted such steps. According to him, he’d tried everything from dancing with his belt to pockets, and feels he now needs to do some serious dancing.

salman khan suzi gilrl bajrangi bhaijaan sultan Salman Khan’s young fan Suzi Khan hails from Bahrain. (Photo: Facebook/Suzi Khan)

In 2019, Farah Khan shared on the sets of Super Dancer, “During one of the first screen test of Salman Khan, I was supposed to teach him to dance, I actually ran away after 4 hours and cried saying, ‘Nobody can teach you to dance, you don’t know at all’. I was shocked when I came to know the makers had selected him in the movie Maine Pyaar Kiya and when I saw the movie, I was even more shocked to see how good he was in it.”

Salman’s films prove why we as Indian audience prefer heroic characters over realism, who can fight off evil singlehandedly, over-dramatise simple moments, and create song and dance about love. Somewhere in the middle of Devil and Chulbul Pandey, Prem got lost, but it gave rise to Salman Khan as a force to reckon with.

Today, Salman enjoys a ridiculously loyal fanbase that stands as his army. They wait for his films, dance to his songs, and see a ‘Bhai’ in him literally. So even if his movies fail to impress (read Radhe and Race 3) it barely affects his super-stardom. He has his own method of quietly going out of the way to support his friends in the industry too. When Shah Rukh Khan’s son Aryan Khan got embroiled in the drug case recently, Salman was one of the first celebs to visit SRK at his home.

Salman, despite making hundreds of crores at the box office, famously only uses ten percent of his earnings leaving rest for charity under his Being Human Foundation. He has been living in a one-room flat at Galaxy Apartment for decades, is one of the highest tax payers of the country and keeps his promise of not doing intimate scenes onscreen. He says he’ll consider marriage post the verdict of the Blackbuck poaching case. In his words, he’s kept 3-4 years of his life in buffer, just in case he is sentenced to jail. Life will stabilise for him only after that. Till then, he continues to call himself a “virgin” and laugh at it too.

Happy birthday, Salman Khan!

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