Salman Khan turns 47: How the loveable ‘Prem’ became ‘Dabangg’ Chulbul Pandey

New Delhi: Some call him ‘enfant terrible’, ‘box-office juggernaut’ and ‘Rajinikanth of Bollywood’, while others deploy epithets like ‘munificent’, ‘unpretentious’ and ‘destiny’s child’ to describe him. Salman Khan is one of the most successful actors, and compelling characters, Bollywood has ever seen. The fact that he is ruling the roost from the last 24 years is a trenchant testament of his longevity, colossal stardom and unswerving popularity.

In the current scenario, he’s hailed as a man with the Midas touch. All of his last five movies – Dabangg, Ready, Bodyguard, Ek Tha Tiger and Dabanng 2 – have been monumental blockbusters raking in moolah in spades. He has delivered the biggest hits of last three years – Dabangg (145 crore, 2010), Bodyguard (150 crore, 2011) and Ek Tha Tiger (199.3 crore, 2012) – and this unprecedented success has propelled him in a league of his own where is way ahead of his contemporaries. He’s competing with himself at the box-office, defying all the tenets of cinema and shaterring his own records.

More than the phenomenal success of his movies, it’s his maddening fame among all quarters of the audience which is astonishing. His name evokes untramelled euphoria and mass hysteria. People go berserk to catch a glimpse of his and flock to theatres just to watch their ‘Bhai’ pulling off stunning action sequences, pummeling baddies with uninhibited belligerence, mouthing zany one-liners with charismatic ease, and romancing the heroine with sprightly nonchalance. He becomes larger than the movie and all the other finer nuances like screenplay, rationale and coherence are reduced to being periphery. His dazzling screen presence and unmatched charisma take over the movie, and conveniently camouflage all the loopholes. Critics may crib about the quality of his movies but his every dialogue and distinct dance move is widely emulated and become national rage.

While girls drooled over his chiselled body, the guys rushed to gyms to carve out the similar physique.

Salman Khan turns 47: How the loveable 'Prem' became 'Dabangg' Chulbul Pandey

His golden run at the box-office started with Dabangg in 2010 and he pushed the envelope with his every subsequent movie. His flicks like Wanted (2009) and Dabangg (2010) gave a new lease of life to single screen theaters, which were on the cusp of becoming obsolete, and brought back the masala potboilers in vogue. The post-Dabangg phase is deemed as the best in Salman’s illustrious career. Though he has been a superstar ever since the release of Maine Pyaar Kiya (1989), and has belted out some of the biggest blockbusters in last 25 years, an aura of glorious invincibility eluded him for a variety of reasons.

There’s no denying the fact that his personal and professional life have turned over a new leaf in last four years. Earlier the spate of hits were followd by a few bummers which would neutralize his success. His long list of controversies and abrasive equation with the media the didn’t help matters either. Despite his movies becoming massive hits, he was more in the news for unwarranted reasons rather than his professional attainments. Discretion, discipline and diplomacy were never his watchwords. Media had a field day writing reams about his infamous affair and spats while calling him names.

He started his acting career with a small role in Biwi Ho Toh Aisi (1988) but was shot to fame with Maine Pyaar Kiya which became one of the biggest hits in the history of Indian cinema. His portrayal of Prem, a suave lover boy, made him an instant hit with women. He won Filmfare award for the best male debutant for the movie. In the next couple of years, he unleashed a string of hits – Baaghi, Sanam Bewafa, Patthar Ke Phool and Saajan – and was christened as the successor of Amitabh Bachchan, who was in the twilight of his magnificent career. He won lavish encomium from audience and critics for his

But then came a lull period when all his six releases in the next two years (1992-1993) – Suryavanshi, Jaagruti, Ek Ladki Ek Ladka, Nischay, Chandra Mukhi, Dil Tera Aashiq – took gigantic pasting at the ticket window. They all were commercial and critical disasters, and Salman’s choice of movies and his lacklustre performances were savagely excoriated. While he was licking his wounds, his contemporaries – Aamir Khan and Shah Rukh Khan – raced ahead of him.

Aamir, who made a thumping debut with Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak (1988), ran into rought weather pushing out a slew of damp squibs in 1989 but sallied back to consolidate his position with hits like Dil (1991), Dil Hai Ki Manta Nahi (1991), Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikander (1992) and Hum Hai Rahi Pyaar ke (1993). Shah Rukh began his career with Deewana (1992), which became a hit, and soon gained stardom with Baazigar, a movie which Salman turned down, and Darr in 1993. His endearing performance in Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa (1993) came in for copious adulation. SRK notched up Filmfare Best Actor in both popular (Baazigar) and critics (KBKN) category.

Sooraj Barjatya, who made Maine Pyaar Kiya, came to his rescue and Hum Aapke Hain Kaun (1994) earned Salman a status of superstar. The movie went on to become the highest grossing movie of Bollywood and vindicated that Salman is here to stay. His chemistry with Madhuri Dixit was cracking and audience lapped up the movie with bountiful glee. Though Andaz Apna Apna (1994), when Aamir and Salman cobbled together for the only time, didn’t succeed at the box-office, it gained the cult status ever since and is regarded one of the best comedy movies ever made. But behind all the euphoria, there was a haramtia – Hum Aapke Hain Kaun scooped all the major awards (Best Film, Best Director, Best Actress, Best Music) but Best Actor. While the whole crew of HAHK exulted in joy, Salman had to bit the bullet.

Salman and SRK came together in Rakesh Roshan’s Karan Arjun (1995) and the movie turned out to be a huge hit. It still holds the record for completing silver jubilee in most cities (20). Between Karan Arjun and his next hit Jeet (1996), there were another set of his movies – Sangdil Sanam, Veergati, Majhdhaar, Chaand Ka Tukda and Khamoshi -which sank without a trace. Meanwhile, SRK and Aamir also churned out all-time blockbusters in form of Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge (1995) and Raja Hindustani (1996). Fittingly they won Filmfare Best Actor award for the respective movies.

The years 1998 and 1999 were landmark in Salman’s career. He bashed out seven superhits in these two years. It started with Pyaar Kiya Toh Darna Kya (1998). Though the movie was a huge hit, what took the cake was the song ‘O O jaane Jana’ which set the pulse of younsgters on fire. His ‘shirtless’ avatar was met with loud cheers and became a defining norm of all Salman’s subsequent releases to date. While girls drooled over his chiselled body, the guys rushed to gyms to carve out the similar physique.

Jab Pyaar Kisi Se Hota Hai was a musical hit and Bandhan did tremendously well in the interiors. He also shone in Karan Johar’s mega blockbuster Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998). In a brief cameo, he left an indellible impact and was one of the major reasons for the film’s stupendous success. Though, SRK was in the lead role, Karan have admitted in many interviews that it was Salman’s presence in the move, rolled as a surprise package, which gave the movie a great fillip.

In 1999, Salman unfurled three biggest hits of the year – Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, Biwi No. 1 and Hum Saath Saath Hai – and two flops (Jaanam Samjha Karo and Hello Brother). His pairing with his then-girlfriend Aishwarya Rai in HDDCS earned rave reviews and his sensitive performance as Samir is deemed as one of his finest. HDDCS also catapulted the director Sanjay Leela Bhansali to glory who had earlier made Khamoshi with Salman.

Meanwhile, media tagged Salman, SRK and Aamir as ‘Khan Troika’ of Bollywood. Each one of them had their own strenghts and Achilles heels. SRK managed to forge a fruitful association with bigwigs of Bollywood – Yash Chopra and Subhash Ghai – and deliver some thunderous hits like Dil Toh Paagal Hai and Pardes (1997), Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998). SRK had a distinct advantage over his contemporaries in the manner he handled media with tact and aplomb. Though his tally of flop movies – Zammana Deewana, Guddu, Oh Darling! Yeh Hai India, Trimurti, English Babu, Desi Mam, Chaahat, Koyla, Duplicate, Dil Se et al – well exceeded his list of successful movies, he was crowned as ‘Baadshah of Bollywood’. Aamir disillusion with award functions and Salman’s indifference meant that SRK continued to bag all the major awards almost every year.

Aamir was methodical and thoughtful in his choice of movies and consistently gave quality movies like Rangeela (1995), Raja Hindustani (1996), Ghulam (1998) and Sarfarosh (1999). He had his share of wacks – Baazi and Aatank Hi Aatank – but they were few and much less than his contemoraries. His pursuit of perfection like a man possessed earned him a moniker, ‘Mr Perfectionist’. Though all these movies did well but barring Raja Hindustani, none of his movies were monumental hits. However, Aamir’s name became synonyms with quality.

On the contrary, Salman Khan was the biggest draw in the nineties. He cranked out maximum, and biggest, hits between 1990-1999 and often made the movie work completely on his own steam. He had, and still enjoys, an universal appeal which neither of his counterparts in ‘Khan Troika’ possessed. His movies opened to packed houses in both Bihar and Birmindham; UP and UK. While SRK remains the undisputed king in the overseas market, Aamir is the biggest force to reckon with among class audience.

His insouciant, and sometimes indifferent, attitude towards selection of movies and life, and volatile demeanour at times marred his image. His rocky love affair with Aishwarwya Rai, which started on the sets of HDDCS, made him an emotional wreck and landed him in the soup with his contemparies and police authorities.He already had a police case going against him for killing black deers during shooting of HSSH in 1998 and later Aishwarya’s parents lodged a police complaint against him for mentally harrassing him by showing up at their door at odd hours and creating ruckus. He landed on the sets of Chalte Chalte in an inebriated state and picked up a fight with SRK over Aishwarya, who was later thrown out of the movie and was replaced by Rani Mukherjee.

His professional life nosedived alarmingly between 2000-2002 and there came a point when producers stopped offering him movies and his career hit rock bottom. Though Dulhan Hum Le Jayenge, Har Dil Jo Pyaar Karega (2000) and Chori Chori Chupke Chupke (2001) did reasonably well, they were no where close to his earlier blockbusters. Chal Mere Bhai, Kahin Pyaar Na Ho Jaye, Tumko Naa Bhool Payenge and Yeh Hai Jalwa bit dust one after another.

In October 2002, his car rolled on the footpath at night and killed one person while leaving four others seriously wounded. The print and electronic media went into an overdrive proclaiming him as a lunatic. He was arrested by police after two days and was later granted bail. When Vivek Oberoi called a press conference on April 1, 2003 and accused Salman of threatening and abusing him incessantly by calling him 41 times in one night, it looked like the end of the world for Salman. But the industry people stood behind Salman and lampooned Vivek for his ‘silly’ antics. Sanjay Bhansali and Sunil Shetty tagged Oberoi as a ‘publicity seeker.’

Despite all the upheavals, his popularity, surprisingly, didn’t dip among his fans who continued to cheer and root for him. He bounced back with Tere Naam which released on August 15 2003 and spawned pandomonium among the audience. His portrayal of Radhe, a volatile but emotional and large-hearted man, was reminiscent of his real life character and left viewers in the cinema hall with a lump in their throat. His hair-style became supremely popular and the success of the movie put him back in a place where he belonged. The music of the film was composed by Hmiesh Reshmaiya who considers it as his best work. It won him many awards that year.

Next two years saw him delivering hits like Mujhse Shaadi Karogi, Garv (2004), Maine Pyaar Kyun Kiya, No Entry and Lucky (2005), and also duds like Dil Ne Jise Apna Kaha and Kyon Ki. Garv, MSK and Dil Ne Jise Apna Kaha were released in a matter of 6 weeks and cut into each other’s business. As had become a norm with Salman, after two hugely successful years, came two equally disastrous years (2006 and 2008). Jaan-E-Mann, Baabul, Shaadi Karke Phas Gaya Yaar, Yuvraj, Saawan, God Tussi Great Ho, Heroes, Marigold (his Hollywood venture) and Salaam-E-Ishq were monstrous flops. Though it is noteworthy that he had minuscule roles on Heroes and Sawaan while SKPGY and GTGH took years to complete which made them look tame and stale. Partner (2007) was his only respite in these two years. It resurrected Govinda’s career and was second biggest hit of the year after Om Shanti Om.

In 2008, two incidents happened which transformed the avenue of Salman’s professional and personal life. He made his debut on TV with his immensely successful show ‘Dus Ka Dum’. It gave audience a chance to see Salman from close quarters. His connect with his fans grew stronger and most robust. He was a warm, charming and entertaining host and revealed many unseen aspects of his personality. The ‘bad boy’ image was eradicated and ‘Being Human’ was born. Another significant thing happened when Salman and SRK almost came to blows at the occasion of Katrina Kaif’s birthday’s bash on July 16, 2008. It was presumed that Salman jokingly mocked SRK for calling himself ‘King’ and took dig at his flop TV show ‘Kya Aap Panchvi Paas Se Tej Hai’. SRK, allegedly, said some uncharitable things about his ex-girlfriend Aishwarya which took Salman’s goat.

The fight between the two titans became the talking point of Bollywood and camps were formed. It also gave Salman a ‘wake-up’ call and a shot in the arm. Suddenly, he started to take his work more seriously and became more meticulous about selection of movies. He started taking keen interest in the making of the film and his involvement in all departments increased. His vast experience and instincts enabled him to chip in with insightful suggestions. He stopped signing movies for emotional reasons or doing nugatory cameos in movies which were designed to sell on his name. He also became image concious and started interacting with media more frequently.

He promoted Wanted (2009) with elan and reaped rich dividends. When Main and Mrs Khanna flopped, he gave an earful to his brother Sohail Khan for the wrong promotion and letting his fans down. With Dabangg (2010), he cracked the code of his success. He analaysed that his fans expect and want to see him in a certain kinds of movies and roles. He also came to realise that it is enormously vital to choose the correct release date for a movie no matter hiw big a star you are. He ensured that there’s sufficient gap between the release of his two movies so that each movie could earn to its potential and his fans don’t get bored or baffled.

He always had unprecedented fan-following and innate flair, the meticulous planning and organized thinking worked wonders for him. He’s become more consistent, credible and crafty. Wanted (2009), Dabangg (2010), Bodyguard (2011) and Ek Tha Tiger (2012) released on Eid in consecutive years and made merry. His charitable trust Being Human’s brand value is burgeoning with each passing day and they have launched T-shirts and other accessories to raise money for various causes. Salman is termed as humanitarian and his name has become synonyms with humanity.

Even in professional life, Salman has been mighty generous. He has launched the careers of many directors, female actresses and music directors who swear by him. Sanjay Bhansali, Himesh, Sajid-Wajid, Sonakshi Sinha and Katrina Kaif make no bones while asserting that they owe their careers to him. Himesh and Sajid-Wajid got to the extent of calling him the man they worship, along with the God and their parents. He lent helping hand to Govinda when he was going through his worst phase and roped him in Partner. He’s one of the few people in the industry who promotes new talent.

Another fascinating aspect of his career is that he has delivered some of his biggest hits with first-time directors like Sooraj Barjatya (Maine Pyaar Kiya), Karan Johar (Kuch Kuch Hota Hai), Abhinav Kashyap (Dabangg), Prabhu Deva (Wanted) and Siddique (Bodyguard). His most successful associations are with Barjatya (Maine Pyar Kiya, Hum Aapke Hain Kaun, Hum Saath Saath Hai) and David Dhawan (Biwi No. 1, Judwa, Mujhse Shaadi Karogi, Partner, Maine Pyaar Kyun Kiya).

When one looks back at Salman’s career, it is amazing to see what he has achieved despite so many factors stacked against him. Though he’s a fine actors who has toyed with variety of genres – romantic, comedy and action – with eximious success, his acting finesse is not in the league of great actors. He weathered an avalanche of controversies and lull patches with implacable resolve and always emerged stronger than before. His pluck and chivalry are well-documented and helped him to see through the rough phases. Despite making several awful career choices, his fame, inexplicably, didn’t falter. His connect with the audience has always remained intact. Perhaps, everyone sees himself/herself in him – a mischievous kid who is innocent and kind at heart but refuses to grow up.

At 47, he remains India’s most eligible bachelor, most successful superstar and the biggest brand. He has attained everything working on his on terms and conditions without compromising on his principles. He is an entertainer in its truest sense whose enigma lies in his loyal fans.


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