It is hazardous to assert with authority who – so far as the three Khans are concerned – the first among equals is. In an industry where fortunes are devastatingly fickle, longevity is a rare commodity. But Shah Rukh, Salman and Aamir have not only survived the vagaries of time, they have transcended them. Even after being in business for more than 25 years, the three are not yet consigned to playing character roles and are still the reigning superstars of the country.
They all have their own unique strengths and methods that have helped them sustain their dizzying stardom for so long. Their career graphs and choice of movies have been as divergent as chalk and cheese; the sole unifying factor is their unrelenting popularity among the masses. It is nigh impossible to say who, overall, has been the bigger star; all three of them come out on top on different parameters.
Despite all this, ‘King Khan’, the sobriquet bestowed upon SRK, walks away with the crown for being the most ‘consistent’ superstar.
Shah Rukh made his debut with ‘Deewana’ in 1992 and the movie became a runaway hit. But the movie which catapulted him into the big league were ‘Baazigar’ and ‘Darr’ which released within the space of a couple of months in 1993. Since then, there has been no looking back. He consolidated his stardom with ‘Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge’ in 1995 and remained creditably consistent over the years. One can argue that he did not deliver any hit in 1996 and 1999 and 2005 but there has been never been a prolonged bad patch in his career (until recently). He has had his share of flops but they were never in a heap, and more importantly his standing and stardom remained unaffected.
That is not to say that he’s been no.1 all the time, but from 1993 to 2015, SRK has always remained among the top 3 salable stars.
Salman, on the other hand, became an instant rage with ‘Maine Pyaar Kiya’, which released in 1989. From 1989 to 1991, he churned out a slew of successful films and was tipped to be the numero uno. But 1992 and 1993 turned out to be his ‘annus horribilis’ as 8 of his films tanked. Of course, he bounced back with ‘Hum Aapke Hair Kaun’ in 1994 and went on to rule the 1990s, but during 1992-1993, he was out of top 3 list. Later too in his career – between 2006 to 2008 – he wasn’t among the top 3 superstars. It is to his credit that in the current decade (2010- ), he has been having a dream run and is ahead of all his rivals by a mile.
Aamir has always had the best success ratio among the three, but in the 1990s, he did not unfurl as many blockbusters as the other two. Most of his films in the 90s were successful, but of these only ‘Dil’ and ‘Raja Hindustani’ were unequivocal blockbusters. Movies such as ‘Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikander’, ‘Hum Hain Raahi Pyaar Ke’ and ‘Sarfarosh’ did well but didn’t exactly set the Box Office ablaze.
Also, until 2008, Aamir’s popularity was largely restricted to urban centres. Apart from the above mentioned films, ‘Dil Chahta Hai’ and ‘Rang De Basanti’ too minted gold only in ‘A’ cities. In the 2000-2009 decade, he took a sabbatical of 4 years (from 2001 to 2005) so was clearly out of the stardom marathon. However, since ‘Ghajini” (2008) he has become an unstoppable force and dished out 5 all-time blockbusters – a stupendous feat. While his standing among the top 3 fluctuated between 1990-2007, it has been like an unwavering flame from 2008 onwards.
As mentioned above, SRK did face a few setbacks during 1993-2015, but two things are of important here: his flops each year were buffered by a huge blockbuster or his contemporaries weren’t doing extraordinarily well that he was pushed out of top 3 rankings. For example, ‘Dil Se’ and ‘Duplicate’ did not do well on the trot in 1998 but ‘Kuch Such Hota Hai’ in the same year became the biggest blockbuster of the season and his position remained intact.
Similarly, in 2000 the failures of ‘Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani’ and ‘Josh’ were compensated by super success of ‘Mohabbatein’. The same pattern was repeated in 2001 when ‘Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham’ became 2nd highest grosser of the year after ‘One Two Ka Four’ and ‘Asoka’ flopped unceremoniously. On the other hand, Aamir, Salman or Akshay didn’t whip out any movie in those years which were bigger hits than SRK’s ones.
SRK was not number one all through 1993-2015. Salman was clearly ahead of him between 1998-1999 while Sunny Deol took the top honors in 2001. Aamir and Salman are vying for the top spot since 2009. In the current decade, his sole blockbuster is ‘Chennai Express’ but hits like ‘Don 2’, ‘Happy New Year’ and ‘Jab Take Hai Jaan’ kept him afloat. Another notable point is that even his under-performer such as ‘Ra.One’ did more business than hits of Akshay Kumar, Ajay Devgan and Ranbir Kapoor. Other stars have held sway at different points of time and become no.1 but SRK was never pushed out of top 3 bracket till 2015.
Of late, however, his position has begun to slip. The downward spiral started with the underperformance of ‘Dilwale’ in 2015 and has continued since then. ‘Fan’ and ‘Jab Harry Met Sejal’ sank without a trace subsequently, while ‘Raees’ just about managed to break even. On the other hand, Akshay Kumar has bashed out 5 consecutive hits in last 2 years and has captured the no.3 position.
Aamir and Salman have seem to have implacably occupied the nos.1 & 2 positions with a host of blockbusters in this decade. For the first time since 1993, SRK is out of top 3. But, he still remains a superstar. His Box Office pull has diminished a touch, but not vanished. Hope persists that he would sally back and recapture his rightful place in the pantheon.
It is testimony to his acumen, assiduity and unmistakable charisma that despite being an outsider, Shah Rukh has sustained super stardom for so long and is perhaps the most ‘consistent’ superstar of his generation.