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A hero's journey: Shah Rukh Khan - the Jawan, the Pathaan, the Underdog

Shah Rukh Khan's success in 2023 is one of the most remarkable underdog stories in the country.

A hero's journey: Shah Rukh Khan - the Jawan, the Pathaan, the Underdog
The different shades of SRK.

Last Updated: 08.22 AM, Sep 16, 2023


With Jawan, Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan is on the verge of scoring the biggest-ever commercial hit in his career. The success of this movie, written and directed by Tamil director Atlee, is so extensive that it is set to redefine mainstream Hindi cinema, reshaping the look and feel of its future movies.

It's not the first time a dreamy-eyed South Indian filmmaker joined forces with a superstar and redefined the landscape of Hindi cinema. Back in 2008, AR Murugadoss rewrote the meaning of commercial success in Bollywood with Ghajini, a rip-off of Christopher Nolan's runway hit Memento. Starring Amari Khan in the lead role, the movie about a bereaved lover with faulty memory seeking vengeance created the prestigious Rs 100 club in Bollywood. For over a decade, a movie's success was measured by its ability to cross the Rs 100 crore mark in domestic earnings.

The biggest superstars of Bollywood were seemingly obsessed with adding movies to this elite club. If a star missed this box office milestone one too many times, it sparked doubts about one's star power. As the mainstream Hindi filmmakers became engrossed in this rat race, they lost connection with the masses.

Director Atlee with SRK.
Director Atlee with SRK.

The rise of South Indian cinema

Bollywood began to lose its appeal to a new generation of viewers. The industry lost its risk appetite, which stifled innovation and imaginative storytelling that could fascinate and excite audiences. Bollywood was stuck in a rut, unaware of its predicament. Meanwhile, the South Indian film industry was pushing boundaries in terms of storytelling, technology, scale, and ambition.

The turning point came in 2015 with the release of SS Rajamouli's Baahubali: The Beginning, followed by Baahubali: The Conclusion two years later. These films reshaped the entire landscape of India's entertainment industry. South Indian cinema had been revitalized, inspiring filmmakers to dream bigger, take risks, and tap into the domestic movie market's true potential. There was no turning back after Rajamouli's revelation.


As South Indian cinema surged ahead with passion and determination, Hindi filmmakers struggled to catch up. Baahubali 2 created the Rs 1000 crore club, catering to a market at least three times larger than Bollywood's biggest hits, and the Hindi film industry had no response. However, a unique crisis specific to North India threatened to engulf Bollywood in a toxic black hole.

Bollywood's darkest hours

While film stars have always been targets for various reasons, no other film industry in the country faced such intense brutality. At one point, it seemed as though Bollywood was the root cause of all pressing issues in the country. Countless controversies, targeted attacks, and relentless online trolling left everyone questioning its future.

Had the country changed to the extent that it no longer celebrated its biggest stars? Had the communal experience of cinema been poisoned? Were movie theatres no longer safe?

It was a nightmare not only for the Hindi film fraternity but also for all those who cherished the cinema-going experience. If an industry as vast and rich as Bollywood could be brought to its knees by a section of ruthless vested interests, then no industry was safe. This had a demoralizing effect on neighbouring industries.

Shah Rukh Khan in Pathaan
Shah Rukh Khan in Pathaan

The return of the hero

And just like in movies, when all hope seemed lost, Shah Rukh Khan made a timely comeback with Pathaan after a four-year hiatus. With a resounding "Zinda Hai" (I am alive), he reignited the dormant love of the masses for Hindi movies. He restored cinema halls as safe havens where the distrust stemming from political differences disappeared into the darkness.

With Jawan, he completed his hero's journey, facing trials and tribulations with unwavering dignity and integrity, devoid of any darkness in his heart. He returned to share the elixir of his journey with the entire nation.

Shah Rukh Khan's success in 2023 is one of the most remarkable underdog stories in the country. Mentioning SRK and "underdog" in the same sentence may sound paradoxical, but such is life.

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