“There may soon be a generation that believes Eid is celebrated because a Salman Khan film is releasing” - Shirish Kunder
The year 2008 was particularly terrible for Salman Khan. Both his releases - 'God Tussi Great Ho' and 'Yuvvraj' came a cropper at the Box office. Even the ones which had him in guest appearances — 'Heroes' and 'Hello' — failed to make an impact. The most shattering blow was that these movies didn't even fetch good openings. Earlier, most of Salman’s eventual under-performers received splendid initials; now, the writing seemed to be on the wall: reinvent or perish.
Salman’s next, 'Wanted’, faced several impediments. The film industry was in the throes of a financial downturn due to the global recession. Investors were loath to invest big money in the movies. Salman's career was fraying at the edges, and hence distributors were unwilling to shell out a huge amount to buy this one. ‘Wanted’ was also slated to release during Ramzan, which is considered inauspicious for movies since a large segment of Muslim population stays away from the theatres during this time.
Another point against ‘Wanted’ doing well was its plot: a hard-core action potboiler, on the lines of 1980s cinema, and an anomaly in an era of romantic-comedies and NRI family dramas.
Ultimately, Boney Kapoor, the producer of 'Wanted', decided to sell the movie to the distributors on a commission basis. With all the odds stacked against it, the film — a remake of a South movie 'Pokkiri' — released on September 18, 2009 to a moderate opening. However, collections began to soar after the weekend as Eid fell on Monday (September 21, 2009). From then onwards, ‘Wanted’ had a splendiferous run at the turnstile.
Before 'Wanted', Eid wasn't the most sough-after festival for the release of movies. Diwali and Christmas were considered to be auspicious and lucrative release festivals. It was 'Wanted' that brought the commercial potential of Eid to the forefront. It, in fact, did more business than even '3 idiots' in single screens, which were on the verge of being extinct.
Not only did it put Salman's career back on track, it also ushered in an era of untrammelled domination for the superstar. Salman had been a superstar since his debut movie as a leading man in 'Maine Pyaar Kiya' in 1989, but his popularity was at its lowest ebb in 2008. He desperately needed to reinvent and deliver a big hit to remain relevant as a bankable star.
The movie also changed the image of Salman. He had attained stardom by playing a lover boy in most of his films till then ('Tere Naam' and 'Garv' being notable exceptions). The 'new' Salman was an insouciant action hero, doubling up as a messiah, who bashed up hoodlums with nonchalance while spouting clap-traps such as 'Ek baar jo maine commitment kardi, uske baad toh main khud ki bhi nahi sunta' (‘Once I commit, I don't even listen to myself’).
So, 'Wanted' achieved many a thing in one fell swoop — established Eid as the most fruitful festival for movies, pitchforked the hard-boiled action genre into vogue, and drastically overhauled the image of Salman.
The success of 'Wanted' also brought about a remarkable transformation in the approach of Salman. He was accused of sleepwalking through his role, looking uninterested on the silver screen and being slapdash in choosing the release dates of his films — either there weren’t any release of his in 12 month or 3 films of his would release in a span of a couple of months. Such a haphazard attitude prevented his movies from realising their real potential at the Box Office.
After 'Wanted', Salman decided to release only one or two films in a year, that too on premier festivals. While Eid blockbusters became a constant, his movies released on Diwali ('Rem Ratan Dhan Payo') and Christmas ('Tiger Zinda Hai' and 'Dabangg 2') also fared fabulously at the ticket counters. The sufficient time span between the release of his movies enabled them to fulfil their commercial potential to the hilt and also gave them breathing space.
On Eid 2010, 'Dabangg' became an even bigger blockbuster than 'Wanted' and broke all the records to emerge as second highest grossing movie of all-time. The pattern continued in 2011 ('Bodyguard'), 2012 ('Ek Tha Tiger'), 2014 ('Kick'), 2015 ('Bajrangi Bhaijaan'), and 2016 ('Sultan'). All these films set the theatres ablaze and raked in a lot of moolah for the distributors, exhibitors and producers.
In this decade (2010-), Salman has delivered 10 solo blockbusters and one superhit. No other actor in the history of Bollywood has dished out as many solo blockbusters in their careers as Salman has reeled off in one decade. He also holds the record of unfurling Biggest Grosser of the Year the maximum number of times. Also, he's the only superstar to churn out five outright blockbusters on the trot.
Such has been his dominance in this decade that none has dared to clash their movies with him even on festivals that can easily accommodate two big releases. In fact, Shah Rukh Khan, postponed his 'Raees', which was slated to come on Eid 2016, to avoid clash with Salman's 'Sultan'. Overall, all of his movies, despite coming on festivals, have enjoyed solo releases in this decade, a record which is unprecedented.
However, there have been a couple of blips as well during this period of Box Office belligerence. 'Tubelight', released on Eid 2017, turned out to be a bummer, and 'Race 3', which came out on Eid 2018, also didn't measure up to expectations, although it earned Rs 170 crore net in India.
Before 2009, Salman was a superstar, but not infallible. After Eid 2009, he managed to create a 'Bhai' cult and an aura of invincibility that the entire industry articulated and acknowledged with awe. Aamir Khan, his contemporary, proclaimed, "Salman is a true blue superstar. He stands in a movie and it becomes a blockbuster. No one and nothing else matters. While the rest of us have to work diligently, and wisely choose scripts and directors to deliver a success."