Bollywood’s comeback, Shah Rukh Khan style

Still from Shah Rukh Khan's new movie Dunki

Based in Chennai, southern India, Sudhir Kothari, 36, is a financial analyst and advisor. He has reserved dhol (drum) players, garlands, and a special five-kilogram (11-pound) chocolate-truffle cake. For the special 9am “First Day, First Show” of Dunki, Khan’s new film that opens worldwide on Thursday, the Rohini Silver Screens theater has allowed him to erect a 7.4-meter (25-foot) cutout of Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan. The T-shirts, badges, and wristbands he had ordered arrived on time.

Kothari, a devoted “SKRian,” as Khan’s admirers refer to him, told Al Jazeera that in 2013, he converted his personal Twitter account into a fan club three or four days after “SRK sir started following me.” SRKChennaiFC, his handle, currently has 167,600 followers.

Kothari, who writes a book with the same title and prefers to be called “The Only Fan SRK Follows” rather than by his own name, was busy until late Wednesday night managing the preparations at the theater that was reserved for SRK fans after SRK’s production team submitted a letter of support. They will light fireworks and dance after covering Khan’s cutout with milk and garland.

They will also cut the cake, dance, and post videos on their handles with ecstatic adjectives and hashtags like #DunkiReview to pique the interest of potential ticket buyers inside the 550-seat theater.

Most likely, Khan—who follows 74 accounts on X with 43.9 million followers, five of which are fan accounts—will thank the celebratory videos in a heartfelt manner and #Dunki.

The administrator of Khan’s largest fan club, SRK Universe, which has 3.2 million Facebook fans, Yash Paryani, tweeted that fans are planning “1,000+ first day, first shows in 65 countries” for December 21.

“These numbers are not 100 percent accurate,” but fans and fan clubs post them because “euphoria is very contagious,” according to Rishil Jogani, who told Al Jazeera that he is a member of “a small group of admins of Khan’s fan clubs that take some big decisions.” The fear of missing out, or FOMO, encourages people to purchase tickets.

Every fan Al Jazeera spoke with claimed that they “don’t get a penny” or free tickets, and that they only do this out of love and hope to meet Khan end result: “For SRK films to do wonders and for him to be happy”.

Unlike Khan’s two multi-star, action-packed hits that were released earlier this year, Dunki will test Khan’s box office influence and is primarily dependent on him. He has spent months marketing it in a manner akin to the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party, which is currently in power in India and with which he has had multiple run-ins. This was done in preparation for that. However, it’s unclear if all of this work will be worthwhile this time.

Hopes for a hat-trick

Still from Shah Rukh Khan's new movie Dunki

Khan, 58, has had a very happy year since making his comeback to the big screen following a four-year break, several failures, and a significant personal setback.

His two blockbuster hits, Jawan [Soldier] in September and Pathaan, which came out in January of this year, are among the top 10 highest-grossing Indian films of all time. Industry insiders stated that Khan is aiming for a hat-trick with Dunki.

In 2015, Khan’s last big box office success, he also raised awareness of the nation’s growing religious intolerance, which strained relations with the ruling right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). After three box office disasters and two mediocre releases, there was a coordinated backlash, his movies were called into question and harassed online, and it appeared that he had lost his touch.

Aryan Khan, his then-24-year-old son, was detained in 2021 amid the pandemic in connection with a suspected drug bust on a cruise ship off the coast of Mumbai, along with seven other people. The young Khan was sentenced to roughly three weeks in jail after being accused of possessing, using, and selling illegal substances. All charges were dropped after seven months.

Khan has never been shy and is not easily frightened. A Mumbai mafia boss allegedly threatened to have him star in a movie, to which he retaliated by saying, “Shoot me if you want to, but I won’t work for you.” “I am a Pathaan,” he said, alluding to his proud lineage as a warrior.

His trademark repartee made every public appearance sparkle. Sharp and well-read, he frequently made appearances on comedy and reality TV shows, as well as candid interviews, especially to promote his movies.

However, he became quiet and withdrew from public view after his son was arrested and attempts were reportedly made to extract money from Khan. He stopped meeting with the media and appearing on TV shows, but he remained silent about his son’s arrest and the accusations made against him.

His online and offline fan base, which is currently among the largest and busiest of any Bollywood star, was the only relationship he persisted in keeping.

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According to Paryani, Khan’s admirers from all over the world purchased 50,000 tickets for the first day of the first show of Pathaan when it was released in January. They broke their own record and purchased 85,000 tickets for Jawan.

Khan is currently being credited with bringing Bollywood back to life after the industry had been struggling for a hit for a few years, with a total gross earning of 21 billion rupees ($253 million) at the box office.

“What we have witnessed – Shah Rukh Khan as a phenomenon in 2023 – is the result of a well-thought-out strategy,” producer and industry expert Girish Johar told Al Jazeera. He claimed, “The movies were positioned, marketed, and released in a way that his fan base, box office receipts, and his craze grow daily, with every film.”

During India’s Republic Day weekend, Pathaan, a multi-star film featuring prominent Bollywood stars like Salman Khan, John Abraham, and Deepika Padukone, was released in three languages on a large number of screens both domestically and internationally.

Leading Tamil director Atlee’s Jawan features a number of well-known southern Indian celebrities with enormous fan bases both domestically and overseas.

The south used to receive [250 million to 300 million rupees; $3 million to 3.6 million] from Hindi films. According to Johar, Jawan was the first Bollywood movie to make [700 million to 800 million rupees; $8.4 million to 9.6 million] in the south.

Regarding Dunki, which takes its name from the “donkey route” that was used to smuggle people from the subcontinent to Europe, Khan’s supporters are optimistic. They said, “The movie’s content will speak for itself say and are focused on ensuring that the film, made on less than one-third of Jawan’s budget, beats it at the box office.

Industry insiders doubt that will occur since, in contrast to Khan’s two action movies this year, Dunki is an emotional drama about an illegal immigrant’s journey from Punjab to the United Kingdom, and action usually wins out in India these days.

2023: Shah Rukh Khan’s reinvention

Shah Rukh Khan celebrating his birthday with his fans in Mumbai last month

Khan, who is frequently referred to as the “King of Bollywood,” came in first place in Duff & Phelps’ 2016 celebrity valuation report with a brand value of $131.2 million. He fell to the tenth spot by 2022, with a $55.7 million valuation.

PR guru and seasoned spokesperson Dilip Cherian declared, “2023 can be defined as the year of Shah Rukh Khan’s reinvention,” outlining the three actions Khan took to take control of his “reinvention.”
Known for his romantic lead roles, Khan, for example, chose to play characters who were all about “heroism, machismo and nationalism” in order to match his films with the national mood.

“Look at any of the big, blockbuster movies from the past year; they all have guys with guns in themposters,” said Rohini Ramnathan, a radio jockey who anchored Khan’s birthday celebrations on November 2 with fans.

The second thing Khan did, according to Cherian, was “totally abandon the mainstream media” in order to maintain control over his reputation, brand, and story. That made sure it was a one-way messaging campaign and that he wouldn’t have to respond to any questions or lose his cool around journalists as had happened in the past.

Third, videos of these outings have gone viral and have been covered by mainstream media. These videos, along with his visits to religious shrines, matches at the recently concluded Cricket World Cup, and his appearance at his daughter’s film premiere, “create the surround sound that is created — this gives you [Khan] content to play with in the media.”

In order to advance Dunki, Khan, the brand representative of UAE’s Burjeel Hospital, toured Dubai recently, but has not done any event in India.



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