I wonder if Salman Khan ever has conversations with himself. If he did, it would go along these lines.
(To himself, in the mirror): You muffed up again this Id, didn’t you?
Salman (shrugging): Hum nahi sudhrenge.
One must remember that his finest self-produced film, Bajrangi Bhaijaan (BB), which recovered nine times its investment of Rs 100 crore, came eight Ids ago. It also had a story and main screenplay by Vijayendra Prasad, father of S.S. Rajamouli, the writer of blockbusters like Bahubali and RRR, with Kabir Khan as director. From a selfie with Hanuman to a Sufi number by Adnan Sami, the music by Pritam catered to all tastes, and it had Kareena Kapoor as its heroine with competent, known actors like Om Puri and Nawazuddin Siddiqui in memorable cameo roles. These were important elements that Salman soon discarded in the cocky belief that he had become master of all departments. His next Id release, Sultan (2016), also successful, was produced by a big banner like YRF where Salman could not call all the shots.
The slide began in 2017 with Tubelight. It’s baffling why he chose to adapt the US film Little Boy (2015) as this is what Wikipedia has recorded: “The film received negative reviews from mainstream critics and earned $17 million on a $20 million budget.” Tubelight had nothing that his fans looked for in a Salman Khan film. And overconfidence in his star power drove him to cast his own non-saleable brother Sohail Khan and Zhu Zhu, an unknown Chinese actress, in pivotal roles.
Tubelight was the film where the producer-actor, who had worked amicably with Kabir Khan in BB, was replaced by an unrecognisable Salman which resulted in unpleasant creative differences with his director.
But, despite the backlash to Tubelight, his next, Race 3, was symptomatic of the new Salman, who demanded a say in every department — he reworked the script with Shiraz Ahmed, he cast repeated rejects like Daisy Shah, Bobby Deol and Saqib Saleem in vital roles, decided the music, even wrote some lyrics and placed puppet Remo D’Souza in the director’s chair. Although Tips, the producer of Race 3, maintains that it was one of its most profitable films, the franchise received a severe dent in its credibility.
Still, there were no conversations with himself. Ali Abbas Zafar, who had teamed with Salman for YRF’s Sultan, was signed to direct Bharat (Id, 2019). However, as producer, this was a different Salman and there were clashes once again. But did that worry anybody? Only numbers mattered. With Bharat getting an opening day collection of Rs 42 crore and grossing over Rs 300 crore, followed by a weakly- scripted Dabangg 3, which also grossed over Rs 200 crore, the belief that he was infallible only got stronger. He had installed Prabhu Devaa, another pliable director, to helm Dabangg 3 and his next, Radhe: Your Most Wanted Bhai (2021). Even Radhe’sunderwhelming theatrical collection of Rs 19 crore didn’t halt the swagger. In Kisi Ka Bhai Kisi Ki Jaan, his new khichdi that has failed, every past mistake has been repeated instead of handing the job to different departmental professionals.
Before next Id, should we gift Salman a mirror?
PS: Contrary to the norm of noisy pre- release promotions, a finger-on-the-lip is being observed by The Kerala Story crew. The trailer of the Kerala girl who was converted to Islam and inducted into ISIS has kicked up such a storm that any statements by producer Vipul Shah and his team may only create a controversy and harm the film. Adah Sharma, who plays the lead, is a terrific mimic, has a wacky sense of humour and is a substantial actress. She was the girl with Akshay Kumar in the big gorilla ad for a soft drink. Unfortunately, in films like the Commando series that Vipul produced only Vidyut Jamval’s action scenes are remembered. But with The Kerala Story tipped to get a passionate reaction from the audience, Adah will perhaps get the recognition that’s been eluding her. The forecast for this Friday is that The Kerala Story will be another theatrical craze like The Kashmir Files.
Bharathi S. Pradhan is a senior journalist and author