Shah Rukh Khan
Bollywood actor Shah Rukh in 'Jawan', also starring Nayanthara and Vijay Sethupathi, out in UAE cinemas on September 7 Image Credit: IMDB

Hollywood has famously declared that the 21st century will witness the end of the movie star era, where iconic stars dominate. However, Indian cinema — and Bollywood — is in no mood to succumb to that death knell. The proverbial proof lies in the blockbusters that ruled 2023.

The top three highest grossers in India this year belong to stars who dominated the 90s and beyond. Shah Rukh Khan’s spy thriller ‘Pathaan’ led the race with a collection of over $130 million worldwide, while actor Sunny Deol’s ‘Gadar 2’ is the second contender, at $83 million. The third on this highest-grossing list is superstar Rajinikanth’s ‘Jailer’, which grossed a similar amount.

The average age of its lead actors, with Khan at 57, Deol at 65, and Rajinikanth at 72, easily stands at 64, underlining the enduring power of India’s iconic actors. Ageing movie idols are not an endangered breed in Bollywood and beyond.

Think about it: while it may be difficult to recall the story and plot twists in these films, these lead actors did the heavy lifting by pulling people back into theatres with their sheer on-screen charisma and bravado. Even the uncertain post-Covid-19 climate didn’t faze them. Their collective swagger and studied histrionics have seen them stand tall, even with streamers altering the entertainment game.

Shah Rukh Khan
Shah Rukh in a still from 'Jawan'. Image Credit: IMDB

It’s also been observed that Hollywood is navigating a cinematic landscape where superhero franchises overshadow star power (the only exception being Tom Cruise who makes his own rules at the box office with each Mission: Impossible movie), but Bollywood marches to a completely different tune. The reverence towards a star like Khan remains unshaken, and Shah Rukh Khan, in his late 50s, is being lionised like never before.

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Rajinikanth in 'Jailer'. Image Credit: Supplied

Tomorrow, Khan’s ‘Jawan’ releases in cinemas worldwide and the UAE theatres. According to the movie’s international distributor, Yash Raj Films, the anticipation surrounding this film was a testament to Khan’s enduring popularity. Advance ticket bookings, which opened more than three weeks before the opening date, got off to a blistering start. If it’s a “Shah Rukh film” or a “Rajinikanth film,” no one is waiting for reviews to trickle in. Their presence alone as the leading force carries enormous clout, and they are able to command huge box office numbers just by starring in a movie.

In the last few years, Khan has also stopped promoting his films through interviews with prominent media outlets across the globe. A fan interaction at the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, a dance or two for his thousands of clamouring fans, and speaking a few lines to a large audience are their chosen methods of promoting films. Actor Rajinikanth is notorious for being media-shy. These stars have now touched stratospheric heights where traditional methods of promoting films — like hopping from one Indian city to the other or one country to the other drumming up buzz — are simply not their modus operandi to interact with their fans.

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Sunny Deol and Ameesha Patel, stars of Bollywood hit 'Gadar 2'. Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News

The stars of ‘Gadar 2,’ Sunny Deol and Ameesha Patel, arrived in Dubai days after their film was declared a mammoth hit. But as Deol pointed out, stardom and stars shouldn’t be overanalyzed.

“Why do we talk so much about what and who’s relevant and what’s modern cinema … Art is something that’s beautiful and has to just connect with people. Let’s not analyse it so deeply. What do people actually want, is the only question,” said Deol.

And it looks like icons like Khan, Rajinikanth, and Deol — whose careers saw a stupendous revival — have figured out the formula to win over fans. Star power mixed with a passable storyline and bombastic dialogues often strike gold, or at least that’s what 2023 has taught us. Their continued success reminds us that star power transcends age and evolving industry trends. And true movie stardom remains a force to be reckoned with in Indian cinema.