First things first.
Salman Khan is a genuine Bollywood superstar with his weight worth in gold.
He has tonnes of charisma oozing out of every pore of his body. He has a massive fan following, perhaps the greatest currently by an Indian film star.
He is going through a stellar box office run and churning out one superhit after another. Of course, all the above is actually the same thing.
That he has a huge fan following and that they watch his every movie of his no matter what it is and that the producers rake in all the moolah.
But how does he fare when compared to other superstars down the ages? That would be an interesting comparison. Box office success cannot be the only parameter in deciding how good or bad a superstar is. There are many other factors at play here.
No acting chops
First, let's take acting, which should ideally be the core competency of any actor. India is probably the only country in the world in which you can be a superstar with many superhits despite being a bad actor.
I had raised this point in "8 reasons Bollywood must do away with song and dance".
The Bollywood formula severely brings down the quality of cinema and nothing typifies this more than Salman. He is a really bad actor and can't act for nuts. He is the king of the formula film and needs a trophy heroine, a good choreographer and great songs to deliver a superhit.
|Since Maine Pyar Kiya (1989), Salman Khan has specialised in playing the lover boy action hero.|
He looks totally out of his league with method actors like Irrfan Khan, Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Manoj Bajpayi. Forget the superstars of yesteryears; he can't even hold his own against the current crop. A downright hammer like Shah Rukh Khan came out with some sterling performances like Swades (2004), Chak De! India (2007) and Fan (2016).
Salman has not matched up to even that.
Always the lover bad boy
He is good for regular love stories like Maine Pyar Kiya (1989), marriage videos like Hum Aapke Hain Koun..! (1994)and Prem Ratan Dhan Payo (2015) along with reincarnation masalas flicks like Karan Arjun (1995).
Dabangg (2010) was the ultimate supersized Bollywood masala flick, though it all fell apart in Dabangg 2 (2012) which was a really terrible film.
Whenever Salman has tried something different, he has fallen flat on his face. He couldn't pull off the Bollywood-Hollywood crossover Marigold: An Adventure in India (2007) or be a pop star in London Dreams (2009) or pull off period film Veer (2010) or get across a movie with a message like Jai Ho (2014).
|Dabangg scorched the box office and is a rare good film in Salman's career.|
To his credit, he has intermittently tried things like Saajan (1991) and Khamoshi: The Musical (1996) along with the above, but they have been far apart and not as impactful or successful. He is good only for the standard Bollywood masala fare. There was also Andaz Apna Apna (1994), but forget Paresh Rawal and Aamir Khan, even Raveena Tandon gave a better performance than him.
Others experimented, not Bhai
The report card of the other superstars has been totally different. Almost every Raj Kapoor starring film was innovative, different and a success at the box office. Dilip Kumar gave some amazing performances in Devdas (1955) and Mughal-E-Azam (1960) among many other films.
Dev Anand was a path breaking actor in the 1940s and 1950s and even later on came out with unique gems like RK Narayan's Guide (1965), the surprising Jewel Thief (1967) and Haré Raama Haré Krishna (1971) which explored the hippie and drug culture, novel for Bollywood.
Anand (1971) is considered by many as Bollywood's greatest and that didn't even have a heroine opposite Rajesh Khanna. India's greatest romantic superhero didn't even romance anyone in Bawarchi (1972).
Amitabh Bachchan is probably the greatest of them all and he's had classics like Deewar (1975) and Trishul (1978) from the 1970s right up to Black (2005) and Paa (2009) in the 2000s. Even Piku (2015) was both different and a commercial success.
|Aamir and Shah Rukh Khan have peppered their careers with a number of experimental films.|
Aamir Khan is the king of the "different" and his great acting performances and novel films are too many to list.
Akshay Kumar has really evolved of late. He's come out with the philosophical OMG - Oh My God! (2012),the realistic heist Special 26 (2013), the thriller Baby (2015) and the semi-historical Airlift (2016). All refreshingly different. All commercial successes.
Salman has been stuck playing the romancing fighting dancing hero since the 1980s and is yet to get out of his comfort zone.
Bollywood has been guilty of promoting male chauvinism and to an extent eve teasing. Here again Salman is the perfect alpha male and far from trying to reduce what's bad in Bollywood, he instead enhances and lives off it.
Though he's the singing-dancing-fighting superstar, he's not even the best at that. Akshay's fight sequences are far better and Hrithik Roshan is by far the more superior dancer. Again, Salman looks "good" at dancing and that's enough. Salman has pulled through on pure charisma alone.
Talking of Hrithik, even he can boast of different performances and films like the Krrish series, Lakshya (2004) and Jodhaa Akbar (2008).
Box office bravado
Salman's career in short: Bad acting. Bad scripts. Bad films full of contradictions and plot holes. Male chauvinism to the core. But downright brilliant at the box office.
Maybe he's the only superstar who boasts of such a lop-sided record.
The chances of finding a Salman movie in the IMdB Top 250 are remote. (Aamir has had many though). In fact, if you look at the "Salman Khan Rs 100 Crore Club", most of them score below 6/10. Even Dabangg is a mere 6.3.
One exception is Bajrangi Bhaijaan (2015), but there too, the show stealer was child actor, Harshaali Malhotra. Salman will complete 30 years in Bollywood in a couple of years and for such a long career, he has too few good performances and too few really good films.
No role model
Then he's no role model either.
Salman has been involved with too many incidents. There are cases related in court pertaining to drunk driving, the death of a pedestrianand the killing of a black buck.
There have been rumours of his misbehaving with his girlfriends and creating scenes on the film set and Vivek Oberoi even went public with it. He also has the dubious distinction of being involved with the first Bollywood film funded by the underworld. (Chhota Shakeel - Chori Chori Chupke Chupke, 2001.)
It's quite embarrassing that his father Salim Khan has to come and keep defending his son. Salim, along with Javed Akhtar, formed the legendary Salim-Javed script-writing duo, which came out with some of Bollywood's best movies. Salman has matched his father at the box office, but absolutely at nothing else.
People keep talking of online trolling, but Salman makes no efforts to control his fans and every article written against him is attacked.
As you can see, he is the only superstar who ticks all the wrong boxes both online and offline.
It's not that he has always been consistent at the box office. He was going through a really lean patch before Dabangg (2010). SRK ruled from the box office from 1992 to 2007.
Aamir Khan has come out with a string of all-time blockbusters.
Ghajini (2008, that created the Rs 100 Crore Club), 3 Idiots (2009, the first to Rs 150 crore and Rs 200 crore), Dhoom 3 (2013, first to reach Rs 250 crore) and PK (2014, the first Bollywood film to make $100 million worldwide).
In fact, Aamir stands out because he tops in both critical acclaim and box office.
Trollish fan base
Recently, Salman remarked that he felt "like a raped woman". While it was way out of line, I was totally surprised by the over the top reaction it generated since it's pretty tame compared to some of the stuff he's been accused of.
|Nothing seems to be interfering with the imminent box office success of Salman Khan's upcoming Sultan.|
One prominent reviewer tweeted that he would boycott Salman's upcoming Sultan. Social media raged and ranted 24X7. I guess maybe it was the last straw on the camel's back.
Salman has been accused of so many misdeeds and one has to be so constrained in speaking about him for fear of his fans in the past that now many people feel they can take it no more.
Coming back to the present: Sultan will be released this Eid. It has great music. Anushka Sharma looks good. Salman plays a has-been wrestler who claws his way back. This will generate great sympathy among his audiences.
So far it has a superhit written all over it. The box office dice is as it is loaded in favour of the Khans. I had written of this in "SRK's Fan reveals Bollywood's new king (and it's not the superstar)".
But once the dust has settled, the fact will remain that Salman will still be in the running for the title of "the worst superstar of all time".
That's the real tragedy.