THE most remarkable Bollywood story of 2023 has been the resurgence of Shah Rukh Khan. After a decade of delivering dud films, the former undisputed king of Bollywood has reclaimed his crown with a dream year that started with the blockbuster hit Pathaan.
The high-grossing Hindi film reignited a career that had dramatically declined in the past decade and showed that King Khan still had the star power to rule Hindi cinema.
That momentum continued with the recently released film Jawan, which, like Pathaan, is an action entertainer that has clocked up huge numbers at the box office. The year’s two biggest Indian cinema successes have firmly re-established him again.
He will round off the year with a lead role in ace director Raj Kumar Hirani’s next film Dunki, which is expected to be his greatest movie of 2023. Bollywood’s current best filmmaker has a 100 per cent success record with films like Sanju, PK and 3 Idiots, which means Dunki will likely become Khan’s biggest commercial hit, when it is released on December 22.
One star having three such blockbusters in a single year is unprecedented in the modern era of Indian cinema.
What led king Khan back towards the top was his disastrous 2018 film Zero, where he foolishly played a dwarf. Hitting rock bottom with that film was perhaps the best thing that could have happened to him. It made the superstar actor step back and finally take stock at what went wrong with his massively successful career. He also looked at what was working in the market and which filmmakers were finding success.
Action had been the hottest genre, but he wasn’t doing anything in that space, so rectified it by signing Pathaan, a movie that joined a successful spy franchise and was helmed by hit War director Siddharth Anand. He would star opposite current Bollywood queen Deepika Padukone and get Salman Khan to make a cameo as his successful Tiger character. By correctly ticking every box, he found the right formula with Pathaan.
The huge global success of South Indian cinema was something Khan couldn’t ignore, so he teamed up with successful Tamil director Atlee on action film Jawan. He would load this with big-name cameos and star opposite successful South Indian superstars Vijay Sethupathi and Nayanthara, which would broaden his Pan-Indian appeal. Last but not least, the only director in Bollywood who has a 100 per cent success record is Hirani, so teaming up with him ufor Dunki was always going to reap rewards. He was originally supposed to take on the title role in Hirani’s debut film Munna Bhai MBBS, but couldn’t due to an injury and Sanjay Dutt stepped into what would become an iconic role. Dunki is expected to break records when it will be released in December and round off a year that will truly belong to Khan.
The actor rising back to the top after being in the wilderness shows off his immense global star power, smartness, and movie savvy, but also demonstrates the lack of competition currently in Hindi cinema. Probably for the first time in Bollywood history there are no bankable heroes in their twenties. There is a very limited amount in the thirties and forties, which leaves the path clear for 56-yearold Khan. A clear illustration of that was the announcement of Ranveer Singh playing the title role in Don 3 being met with a backlash because it was a franchise Shah Rukh had popularised. All of this has shown that the king Khan has owned 2023, exuded raw power onscreen and got back his crown.