From silver jubilees to opening weekend: The changing face of superstardom in Bollywood

Ever wondered why the three Khans – Aamir, Salman Khan, Shah Rukh — Akshay Kumar or Hrithik Roshan are...

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Ever wondered why the three Khans – Aamir, Salman Khan, Shah Rukh — Akshay Kumar or Hrithik Roshan are considered the last of the male superstars? Besides delivering blockbusters across the years (read: great return on investment ratio), the one factor that has contributed immensely to the notion of their superstardom also has to do with the number of weeks their films ran at the box office, at least in the initial phase of their careers.

Today, the opening weekend collection is perhaps the primary tool to gauge an actor’s stardom but back in the era when social media didn’t exist and publicity was not all-encompassing, the number of weeks a film spent at the box office was the biggest parameter to judge a star.

With so many films clogging the box office calendar every week (check any language films in a theatre near you and you’ll be surprised to see how many films get released every friday), the audiences would be spoilt for choice. With this non-stop cycle, the chances of a film enjoying a long run at the box office are next to none. Add to that the online streaming platforms vying for the same day release of films, the phenomenon of watching a film run for months on end is now a thing of the past.

Aamir Khan, SRK and Salman Khan. Images from PTI

Back in 1967 when Farz became a hit, it ran for over 50-weeks, and not only announced Jeetendra’s arrival but also established him as a rising star.

Interestingly enough for the first few weeks, the film ran to empty halls. Jeetendra had pinned all his hopes on the spy thriller and in fact, choose to buy tickets in bulk to ensure that the film continued to run for a little longer. Before the tide turned, the actor’s father decided to watch his son’s big-ticket film and when he asked the usher to guide him to his seat he was told to sit anywhere he felt like for the hall was empty. The film enjoyed a golden jubilee (50 weeks) across the country and is still recalled at the one that transformed Jeetendra’s fortunes.

The box office run of a star’s hit separated them from the rest and this, somewhere also attributed to the difference between their stature.

Take for instance Dev Anand and Raj Kapoor where the former might have enjoyed more hits quantitatively but Kapoor’s Barsaat (1949) that also featured Nargis, Premnath and Nimmi ran for 100-weeks in some centres, ensured a hierarchy between them. Similarly, the 1960s might have been dominated by the likes of Rajendra Kumar, also called ‘Jubilee Kumar’ for the hits he consistently delivered, or Manoj Kumar and Shammi Kapoor, the 150-week run of Mughal-e-Azam (1960) continued to maintain the aura of Dilip Kumar, who had bigger hits in the 1950s.

In the decade that followed, Rajesh Khanna ruled the roost with a string of box office hits but more than the number of hits it was the degree of success in terms of a film’s box office run that cemented his stature.

Rajesh Khanna. Image from Youtube

Khanna had a bevy of certified platinum jubilee hits or films that run for at least 75 weeks before the 1960s ended with Aradhana (1969), Do Raaste (1969), and Bandhan (1969) and carried on his jubilee run with Kati Patang (1970), Sachaa Jhutha (1970) Aan Milo Sajna (1970), Anand (1971), Dushmun (1971), Haathi Mere Saathi (1971), Amar Prem (1971) and Apna Desh (1972) to name a few. The only other star that had managed to come close to Khanna’s numbers in terms of hits was Salman Khan post-Maine Pyar Kiya (1989), which enjoyed a golden jubilee but even though Sanam Bewafa (1990), Baaghi: A Rebel for Love (1990), Saajan (1991), Kurbaan (1991) were successful they never as big as Khanna’s films in terms of the time spent at box office.

The reason why Dharmendra and Manoj Kumar were considered to the stars that withstood the Rajesh Khanna phenomenon can be gauged from the long hits they enjoyed in the early 1970s where films like Jeevan Mrityu (1970) and Roti Kapda Aur Makaan (1974) had a 100-week run. Sholay (1975) run for 250-weeks and had it not been for Ramesh Sippy’s follow-up, Shaan (1980), it would have carried on for longer and parallelly jubilee hits such as Deewar (1975), Amar Akbar Anthony (1977), Trishul (1978), Muqaddar Ka Sikander (1978) and Don (1978) added to Amitabh Bachchan’s elevation as the box office king.

The number of weeks any film spent at the box office also became the tool to recognize the next generation of stars.

It was the 100 plus weeks that Subhash Ghai’s Hero (1983) ran for that adorned the ‘showman’ tag on the filmmaker and ushered Jackie Shroff in as one of the frontrunners in the race for the next to replace Amitabh Bachchan post-1984 once the superstar entered politics fulltime. In Sridevi’s case it was the Nagina (1986) and its platinum jubilee run that settled all doubts about her being the next numero uno and in the same way, Salman Khan’s Maine Pyar Kiya laid the foundation for his stardom.

The success that the stars of the 1990s enjoyed with golden or even platinum jubilees – Hum Aapke Hai Koun …! (1994), Mohra (1994), Karan Arjun (1995), Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995), Sabse Bada Khiladi (1995) and Raja Hindustani (1996) – came to an end by the second-half of the decade. This is was a period where alternate platforms like satellite television and home entertainment started to permeate into Indian homes. The greater the success cable TV or the DVD market became, the lesser number of weeks films got in the cinema halls as once they were beamed right into the drawing rooms no one seemed interested to go a movie-hall unless it was a big screen extravagance say a Titanic or a Lagaan.

This was also a time when the multiplex culture blossomed and there was a huge demand for films to fill the screens. As a result, smaller films mushroomed and the indie film movement in India gained momentum, as did language films playing across the country.

It’s practically impossible to imagine a film running for a year in any multiplex in this day and age. Today, a big release featuring a Salman Khan or Akshay Kumar could manage to play in all the screens of a multiplex but this is more with the idea of making the most of the opening weekend as opposed to playing for a longer time. Perhaps this is why Kaho Na Pyar Hai (2000) running for a year in cinema halls catapulted Hrithik Roshan to the league of the last of the superstars.

Like the big hits of the past that ran for years, Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge enjoyed a 1009-week run or nearly 20-years from October 19, 1995, to February 19, 2015, at the same cinema hall, Maratha Mandir, but that era is a done deal.


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