Shahrukh Khan SRK
Bollywood actor Shahrukh Khan at the Auto Expo 2023 Image Credit: AFP

There can be little debate on who should be India’s ‘Person of the Year 2023’. It has to be Shah Rukh Khan. He owned 2023.

His last hit movie was in 2013, Chennai Express. Since then, his movies have flopped, one after the other, until Pathaan in 2023.

Shah Rukh Khan’s decade of failure becomes starker when you see the success of the other Khans, Aamir and Salman. In 2023, he overshadowed Salman Khan.

Why were Shah Rukh Khan’s films failing? Perhaps he was doing too many soft and romantic roles, which no longer suited him as he grew older. He was experimenting with directors and roles, and these experiments did not work with the audience.

All three SRK movies in 2023 were political in their ways. They engaged with the politics of the times; they didn’t shy away from political engagement.


There was also the larger decline of Bollywood — by the time COVID-19 arrived, obituaries of Hindi cinema were being written. People had enough good cinema on OTTs and did not want to buy expensive tickets and overpriced popcorn. Turns out the rumours of the death of Bollywood were greatly exaggerated.

Shah Rukh Khan’s second coming is worthy of a Bollywood movie. He rose like a Phoenix from the ashes, the sort of thing that happens to the underdog hero in every film. Except, this was real.

Pathaan ended his hit drought and broke all records, earning 10.5 billion Indian rupees (463 million UAE dirhams) in worldwide collections.

If this was not enough, there were two more SRK movies this year. Released in September, Jawan broke Pathaan’s records, earning 11.48 billion rupees. The third, Dunki, hasn’t done well but still made an impressive 3 billion rupees. Together, the three movies grossed 25 billion rupees.

Action is back

Clearly, Shah Rukh Khan fans now want to see him as an action hero, not in romantic roles. This is part of a larger trend, heralded by South Indian films, showing that moviegoers had had enough of ‘realism’. And they could get any amount of it on OTT platforms. To pay for the overpriced popcorn, they demanded their hero to be larger than life, transporting them into a world removed from their own.

Action is back, and Shah Rukh Khan, best known as the perfect Bollywood lover, is now an action hero.

Personal is political

Yet the success of SRK in 2023 isn’t simply about Bollywood catching up with the changing tastes of audiences. It had to do a lot with Shah Rukh Khan himself.

In 2021, his son Aryan Khan was wrongly arrested on charges of possessing narcotics. The charges have since been dropped. The arrest came across as personal and vindictive. Even if Shah Rukh Khan’s movies had failed, he was still a huge star, and the incident created a lot of sympathy for him.

Since Zero in 2018, Pathaan was also the first Shah Rukh Khan film in almost five years. This, too, created a sense of déjà vu in SRK fans.

A new marketing trick

Pathaan was facing the usual “boycott” calls from political elements. This had been a headache for Bollywood for some years. Filmmakers felt the movies were not doing well because of boycott calls over flimsy political issues.

With Pathaan, Shah Rukh Khan copied the Tamil cinema trick of using “fan clubs”. His fan base was mobilised to create hype for all three films. Some went to these movies only to see the promised spectacle of young men going wild in the theatres, dancing to songs and so on.

Relying on fan clubs for success, Shah Rukh Khan stopped giving interviews to the media.

Hope springs eternal

SRK’s comeback year is a matter of great hope for India. It shows that there’s always light at the end of the tunnel.

Usually, when people have moved on from an artist, they move on for good. Re-inventions rarely work. Artists have a peak that can never be re-captured.

Yet if Shah Rukh Khan can become a “superstar” after a decade of success drought, then anything is possible.

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All three SRK movies in 2023 were political in their ways. They engaged with the politics of the times; they didn’t shy away from political engagement.

Shah Rukh Khan did not speak up about the arrest of his son or the political attacks on him. But he has spoken through his movies. A great artist lets his or her work speak.

For India, the year of SRK gives hope that the political conversation is still alive. The culture wars aren’t over.