"We haven’t experienced this happiness in a while."
Siddharth Anand’s action thriller Pathaan, the latest film in the YRF Spy Universe, was released to the masses on January 25, 2023.
The film’s teaser promised an action-packed big-screen experience in which John Abraham and Deepika Padukone also play a key part.
But the focus, even before Pathaan’s release, was on Shah Rukh Khan for his millions of fans, who plays the titular character of a covert operative who has gone missing.
With an unkempt long-haired look, the 57-year-old continues to have the magnetic screen presence one has always associated with the megastar.
The first appearance of his character in the teaser was all it took to establish why he is such a significant force in Indian entertainment.
The film has had an undeniably great weekend and it is safe to say that it’s on its way to becoming a long-distance runner at the box office.
In recent times, most Bollywood films have disappeared in the quicksand of commercial failure, a disappointing phase that has dragged on for too long.
Pre-release hype is rapidly jettisoned by negative feedback, resulting in empty cinema halls on opening weekends.
So, what does Pathaan owe its success to? And what can Bollywood implement from this? Let’s find out.
Ayan Mukerji’s grand fantasy Brahmastra: Shiva – Part I was a rare success despite its reported Rs 400 crore budget.
Pathaan is an equally, if not more, important big-budget film whose success has dispelled doubts about Bollywood’s inability to make profit earners with the sort of consistency that is essential.
Shah Rukh Khan returned to the big screen in a much-awaited central role after 2018.
His last two releases were Imtiaz Ali’s When Harry Met Sejal, a 2017 romantic comedy in which he played a tourist guide.
In 2018, he played a dwarf in Aanand L Rai’s Zero, a romantic comedy.
Neither When Harry Met Sejal nor Zero performed well at the box office.
Pathaan managed to break through and its mass appeal is worth crediting.
Shah Rukh Khan has delivered colossal successes in his hit-studded career.
He has been the architect of unforgettable memories, among them Abbas-Mustan’s Baazigar, Yash Chopra’s Darr, Aditya Chopra’s Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, Karan Johar’s Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Devdas and Shimit Amin’s Chak De! India.
His success story as an actor, plus his articulateness, has contributed to his incredible fan following, which has continued to grow for decades.
These fans rushed to theatres to watch Pathaan in the initial days of its release simply because their idol appeared in a hero’s role after a long time.
The Indian film industry left its faith in the hands of Shah Rukh’s fans because it needed to re-emerge as an industry whose products are widely watched, not repeatedly ignored.
In 2022, Shah Rukh Khan made as many as three special appearances, all of them impactful.
He was an interviewer in the Hindi version of R Madhavan’s biographical drama Rocketry: The Nambi Effect.
He appeared as himself in Advait Chandan’s romantic drama Laal Singh Chaddha.
His most substantial appearance was in Brahmastra in which he played a scientist, who is a member of a secret society called Brahmansh and possesses an ‘astra’ or a weapon called Vanarastra.
His few minutes of appearance at the start helped the plot gain momentum, resulting in one of the watchable portions of the entire film.
His onscreen appearances in 2022 served as reminders of bigger things to come.
2023 will have as many as three Shah Rukh Khan releases, a big number for any Indian actor of significance.
Apart from Pathaan, he will appear in Atlee’s action thriller Jawan and Rajkumar Hirani’s comedy-drama, Dunki.
Jawan and Dunki have been making waves, too, but Pathaan is the first new release with him in the central role, which makes it a crucial film.
Alongside Shah Rukh Khan, Deepika Padukone played an important role in the film, which marked their fourth project together.
Deepika Padukone debuted in Bollywood opposite Shah Rukh Khan in the 2007 film Om Shanti Om and then they co-starred in Happy New Year and Chennai Express – all four movies did well at the box office.
While Shah Rukh Khan and Deepika Padukone’s magic was seen in cinemas, John Abraham garnered praise on social media.
One user wrote: “An action film is as good as its antagonist, John Abraham bringing back suave villainy.
“After Arjun Rampal as Mukesh Mehra, Jim really is a delicious combination of charm and evil hotness!”
Others expressed their desire to see John’s character in Pathaan in a separate film.
Shah Rukh Khan also shared his fondness of John Abraham’s performance in Pathaan at a press conference, in which he said:
“’I really do believe that the backbone of Pathaan, as a character, as an actor and essaying that role; the best thing about Pathaan is Jim played by John Abraham.”
The film also stars Dimple Kapadia, Ashutosh Rana and Salman Khan in pivotal roles.
Trade expert Ramesh Bala opened up about the no media interview strategy and said that with Shah Rukh Khan’s Pathaan, it is possible that the star cast will say something controversial during interviews and the quote will go viral, which will generate negativity.
This no-interview strategy was in a way a blessing in disguise which was initially done to avoid negativity.
Pathaan naturally got all the publicity it needed despite not doing any major promotion, be it roadshows or media appearances by following the no media interview strategy.
This helped them save money too. YRF films were going through a terrible phase with four flops at the box office including Bunty Aur Babli 2, Jayeshbhai Jordaar, Samrat Prithviraj and Shamshera.
All the films failed despite having big stars. 2022 was a terrible year not only for Yash Raj Films but the whole of Bollywood.
Pathaan’s promotional strategy was primarily fan clubs and the love that the Indian audience has for Shah Rukh Khan.
There were calls to ban the film unless the hit song ‘Besharam Rang’ was removed, protesters tore up posters and burnt Shah Rukh’s effigies, and the film had been accused of promoting nudity and obscenity.
There have been sustained calls to boycott Pathaan and abusive hashtags have trended on social media.
But as the countdown to Pathaan‘s release began, Shah Rukh Khan and the filmmakers skirted around the controversies, instead concentrating on the film’s promotion.
Pathaan is currently the 15th highest-grossing Indian film ever and the attention now turns to whether the film can reach Rs. 1,000 Crore (£98 million).
Only Dangal, Baahubali 2, RRR and KGF: Chapter 2 have surpassed this mark.
The film’s success may also warrant a sequel, something Siddharth Anand has hinted at.
Shah Rukh Khan stated that he would be on board for Pathaan 2. He said: “This is a big day for us, my family. We haven’t experienced this happiness in a while.
“Whenever he (Siddharth Anand) wants me to do Pathaan 2, I’ll do it.
“If they want to make a sequel, it’ll be my honour to do it.”