The Pulp Pit
How Race 3 reveals Salman Khan's hit formula
At a time when all other superstars are experimenting, the ploy has become his freak USP.
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Salman Khan is back this Eid with Race 3, and he looks set to score yet another blockbuster. It all spells déjà vu, though — not because the superstar is back on his favourite Friday of the year but because you cannot help spotting an irony about the whole situation.
Race 3 marks Salman’s foray into the franchise that has crafted unique space as Bollywood entertainment. Yet, as the high-voltage mix of action and drama unfolds, you feel you are watching any other Salman Khan film.
In almost a nod to Sultan, Salman’s 2016 Eid release where he essayed the title role, the actor’s character in Race 3 is called Sikandar. His stunts are a mishmash of his notable action hits — prominently Tiger Zinda Hai, Dabangg and Kick. It seems the diktat to director Remo D’Souza was clear: Craft a Salman movie out of Race formula.
Therein lies the irony, as well as a fair indication of what lies ahead for Bollywood’s reigning Khan.
At 52, Salman has clearly understood the obvious. If he has to keep scoring the blockbusters, he must keep repeating himself. So, if churning out sequels of his recent blockbusters was not enough, he now seems in the mood to take over franchises such as Race, which might allow him to revel in the only screen avatar that ever worked for him — the larger-than-life hero of the masses.
The fact would seem amusing considering other superstars of Salman’s generation — as well as younger lead actors — have only seemed eager to give reinvention a shot. Shah Rukh Khan has been playing everything from a wily gangster (Raees) to an obsessively unhinged movie star fan (Fan) to a disillusioned lover (Jab Harry Met Sejal). Shah Rukh’s next casts release, Zero, casts him as a vertically-challenged do-gooder.
Akshay Kumar has smartly reorganised his messiah-of-the-masses avatar from larger-than-life absurdities to a comparatively realistic social do-gooder mould in films such as Pad Man and Toilet Ek Prem Katha. Aamir Khan and Ajay Devgn have by and large avoided the image trap over the years, and continue to do so.
In a strange way, Salman’s game plan to continue playing the larger-than-life hero has become his USP, at a time when every other actor is giving up hardcore masala glamour.
The idea incidentally is also in sync with the image Salman projects off screen. He has always been Bollywood’s bad boy with a heart of gold. It is a real-life image that endears him to his fiercely loyal fan base who will not accept him any other way on screen, too.
Salman’s image management team is aware that he thrives on blind fan faith. Importantly, his loyalists do not like it if he tries stepping outside their comfort zone as his fans, as last year’s Eid release Tubelight proved. In Tubelight, Salman tried playing with image. He set aside his trademark six-pack swagger to essay a vulnerable, specially-abled man.
Talking of Tubelight’s dud show later to the media, Salman recalled how fans were disappointed with the second half of his 2003 romantic tragedy, Tere Naam. They loved the first half where he revelled in bad-boy swagger, he contended, but did not like the second half where the hero loses sanity and is confined to an asylum.
Tubelight, like Tere Naam, cast Salman in an avatar fans did not want to see him in — the hero who gets beaten up and cries.
Salman’s next release Bharat is scheduled to release on Eid 2019. Remake of the 2014 Korean hit Ode To My Father, Bharat is a larger-than-life combo of tearjerker melodrama and action that should suit his image. The story spans from the Independence era to present times and casts Salman in a role that ages through the decades.
A look at the actor’s recent and upcoming films reveals his slant at rehashes. He has been relying on sequels and the idea has been lucrative.
His Christmas 2017 release Tiger Zinda Hai grossed Rs 569 crore globally. The sequel of the 2012 blockbuster Ek Tha Tiger established the super-saleable Tiger franchise of spy thrillers for the superstar. Talks are on for a 2019 release for Dabangg 3. Kick 2 should follow.
For Salman, repetition clearly rakes it in.