Does Shah Rukh Khan need a change of strategy?

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As Jab Tak Hai Jaan looks to somehow trundle past 100 crores at the domestic box office, one wonders what’s wrong with Shah Rukh Khan.

His film is struggling to get past 100 crores which is not even a milestone any more. With constantly increasing number of screens and ticket prices, every big film is likely to achieve that. While the films of Shah Rukh’s rivals are creating new and newer records and earning audience’s love, his films seem to be failing on both counts. The only solace being the overseas earnings which are mostly due to a wider release as compared to other films. But being happy with overseas numbers without making any impact on the audiences back home is quite meaningless as far as somebody’s impact as a star is concerned. Overseas collection is just numbers. It is the collective earnings from various places put together. It indicates that money has come but that doesn’t mean that the film has made any noteworthy impact at any particular place.

Contrary to the popular belief and the faith of his fans, SRK has not been ‘ruling the industry for 20 years’ etc. His career has been full of ups and downs like that of any other star. For one or two hit films, there have been an equal number or more of flop films. The number of flops was more in the first decade of his career and the second decade kind of reversed the ratio. But the failures did keep coming. Only difference being this time they were not at all being recognized by him or by the media. Propagating of the ‘king’ myth was kind of coming in the way of honest analysis of things and accepting the basic fact that you win some, you lose some. It’s part of the game.

Shah Rukh’s overall career tally of hits and misses stands something like this –
TOTAL RELEASES: 51
Super Hit/Blockbuster 17
Hit 6
Average 8
Flop 20
Overseas Hit from above 51 21

Note: Hits include My Name Is Khan, Ra.One and Don 2 on the basis of their overall collection and Flops don’t include his guest appearances. All flops have Shah Rukh as a lead or as an important character in a multi-starrer. There can be a disagreement on one or two films but more or less this is the picture.

Let’s just glance through Shah Rukh’s career without dwelling much on the inconsequential films and considering only the major films.

Shah Rukh made a transition from TV to films in 1990 through Dil Aashna Hai. This film did not make any splash but Deewana released in the same year did. Shah Rukh had a supporting role in the film. His acting in Deewana was artificial and theatrical but his passion and enthusiasm was palpable. He was noticed and even liked in this musical hit. In 1992, his then Godfather Aziz Mirza cast him in Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman. It was a reprised version of Raj Kapoor’s Shree 420. Though this film was not a major success, Shah Rukh managed to steal some hearts. Maya Memsaab released in the same year was a total washout. Shah Rukh was being recognized and liked but he was far from being a star.

The Mixed Bag (1990-2001)

The major breakthrough came in 1993 with Yash Chopra’s Darr. This Hollywood inspired story of an obsessive lover and his scary ways of following the object of his obsession was lapped up by the audience. Super hit music and Yash Chopra’s deft direction made this film the biggest blockbuster of the year. Shah Rukh’s obsessive ways in the film and the K-K-K-K Kiran stammer amused the audience to no end and the young actor got a lot of appreciation.

This was followed by Bazigar where he once again played a character with negative shades. This film too was inspired by Hollywood. Shah Rukh really shone in Bazigar as the deceptive, cold blooded murderer seeking revenge. Darr and Bazigar made Shah Rukh stand out in comparison to his more popular contemporaries with chocolate boy looks. But his later attempts at similar roles in Anjam and Raam Jaane didn’t prove to be that successful. Anjaam released in 1994 was a flop. Kabhi Haa, Kabhi Na, released in the same year, did garner some attention but even this film was not a big success.

Shah Rukh’s next big hit came in 1995 in the form of Karan-Arjun alongside Salman Khan. This reincarnation saga with all the requisite masala thrown in was a bumper hit of the year. This was followed by watershed Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jaayenge. A film that won universal appreciation and became an all-time blockbuster. Shah Rukh had surely arrived and also seemed to have found his groove. He became a star now. But that wasn’t the guarantee of further success. In 1996, he came up with two ordinary films English Babu, Desi Mem and Chahat. Both obviously flopped badly. 1997 brought a big hit for Shah Rukh in the form of Pardes though it was not entirely his film. After that once again there were not do successful films like Yes Boss and unsuccessful Koyla. But he ended 1997 with a bang with super hit Dil Toh Pagal Hai.

This super hit film was once again followed by flop Duplicate and much talked about but unsuccessful Dil Se. But Karan Johar’s Kuch Kuch Hota Hai didn’t let 1998 be a totally disappointing year for Shah Rukh. This breezy and emotional romance proved to be an all time blockbuster film. It was followed by Badshah released in 1999 which didn’t do a great business and was an average fare. It was followed by unsuccessful Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani and moderately successful Josh in 2000. Once again it was Yash Chopra banner for rescue and Mohabbatein released in the same year was a super duper hit.

The Golden Phase (2001-2008)

The year 2001 started with flop Ashoka but it was followed by blockbuster Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham. 2001 onwards till 2008 Shah Rukh has an enviable success record. With an exception of just two unsuccessful films, he has churned out hit after hit during this period. His record in this period is as follows – 2002 – Devdas (Hit), 2003 – Chalte Chalte (Hit), Kal Ho Na Ho (Hit), 2004 – Main Hoon Na (Hit), Veer Zaara (Super hit), Swades (Flop), 2005 –Paheli (Flop), 2006 – Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna (Hit), Don (Hit), 2007 – Chak De! India (Super hit), Om Shanti Om (Blockbuster), 2008 – Rab ne bana di jodi (Blockbuster). These eight years can be termed as a truly golden phase in Shah Rukh’s career.

Things started going wrong in 2010 with My Name is Khan. This film is considered a hit on the strength of its overseas collections but the fact is that it totally failed to impress the audience back home. His subsequent releases Ra.One and Don 2 met with the similar fate and Jab Tak Hai Jaan is probably the weakest performer of Shah Rukh’s films in recent times.

Formula Failure?

The main reason for this could be making films with an eye on the overseas market. After DDLJ, a trend to please NRI audiences started. Therefore the stories were related to people living in foreign countries or returning from these countries. Sometimes, the drama happened in India as well as some foreign country while at times the story was entirely set in the foreign country. Most of the shoot was carried out on foreign locales. This not only changed the look of the film but also the substance of the film. After a while, not only Indians living abroad but even the foreign audience started reacting very positively to these films as they looked like their own films but had all the Bollywood ingredients of song & dance, emotion & drama and colorful spectacles. The formula worked big time. It brought in collections in foreign currency and also gave Shah Rukh some recognition in these countries.

MNIK, Ra.One and Don2 all were clearly aimed at capitalizing on this and taking a further leap as far as international recognition is concerned. It was evident in the story and treatment of MNIK that it was aimed at making a splash internationally. Ra.One also seemed to have been made with a dream of making it a popular franchise like Superman and Spiderman. Don 2 was a Hollywood style action-thriller totally devoid of emotions that Indian audience cannot do without.

The reason for Indian audience’s rejecting these films was plain and simple – they were not made for them.
What could be the strategy change?

Make films with Indian audience in mind

So, the first strategy change for Shah Rukh would be to start making films for the Indian audience but make it of such a quality that it would also appeal to the international audience.

Change of tracks

Just a fleeting look through Shah Rukh’s career and three things stand out. ONE- that he has been most successful in romantic or emotional dramas, TWO,- almost all of his huge successes have come from Yash Chopra or Karan Johar and THREE whenever he has tried to experiment, he has failed.

Stories high on emotion and romance, high production values turning the film into a grand spectacle, super hit music, first rate technicians, popular co-stars seems to be the formula.

The strangest thing about his latest film is that it is made by Yash Chopra, it is a romantic and emotional drama and he is playing the kind of role he is most liked in and yet the formula seems to have failed this time.

Today, the main problem with him doing romantic films is his age. These roles don’t suit him anymore as age has started showing on his face. Floppy hair notwithstanding, he doesn’t look 25 or 30 anymore. And Indian audience is definitely not ready for mature love stories. So, he needs to look for a total change of track.

So, the strategy change for him would be to go beyond romance and give a try to a totally new genre. He has a good sense of comedy and has a good comic timing. Comedy is a genre that is always in demand. So, he should give it a try. Also family dramas high on emotions would work well for him. He can also look to play strong characters in interesting stories that do not necessarily fit into any genre.

No Action films

Shah Rukh should stop being too competitive and doing everything that others are doing. He has his strengths and weaknesses. He should play to his strengths. He should avoid doing action films just because others are doing it. Action is the genre that doesn’t suit him no matter how hard he tries. So, an out and out action film should be avoided.

Being Adventurous

Shahrukh should stop believing in the ‘king’ humbug and should start taking risks in the sense he shouldn’t look to make films only for potential record collections and accolades. He did negative roles in the beginning of his career but that wasn’t taking risks. He was a newcomer. He had no set image and he had nothing to lose. He should get into that mode once again. For the past few years he has been looking to do films that are grand enough for his carefully crafted ‘king’ image and has ended up doing dazzling but soulless productions.

The other two Khans of the Khan trio don’t take their superstardom too seriously. All through their respective careers, they have taken risks of working with newcomers or unknown or failed people. They also go for scripts that don’t look like winners right away. Shah Rukh should also look to work for the fun and excitement of it rather than doing films to impress or clinging on to an image and trying to prove that he is No.1.

Work over Image Building

That brings us to the huge image building exercise that is relentlessly being carried on for and by Shah Rukh. It may be necessary but it has been proved that it doesn’t work beyond a point. So, next strategy change would be, to concentrate more on work rather than on image building. After all he is a film star. People connect with him through his films. If films fail to connect, all other image building exercises are not going to make much difference. So, he should just relax, try to have fun, make good films and let the image building take a back seat.

These are the broad and immediate strategy changes for Shah Rukh that one can think of. It’s not that Shah Rukh is waiting for tips and advice from people but he can surely do with some feedback from his fans and also from ‘non-fans’. And no matter whether he takes note of this or not, we will surely have fun discussing it. So, what do you think?

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