It’s a similar tale in each of the four single-screen theatres and the three multiplexes in the city of the Taj. “Combined, there are about 60 shows of Bodyguard every day in Agra. Most are houseful. That’s staggering,” he says.
The success story is being replicated across India, even abroad. Trade expert Komal Nahta says the film raked in a record-breaking 11 lakh dirham (about Rs 1.36 crore) on Tuesday, the opening day in Dubai. Even in UK, the first-day collection of 60,000 pounds (about Rs 44 lakh) was equally impressive.
Like Bodyguard, Dabangg and Wanted (2009) were also released during Eid. “He has a huge following among the Muslim youth. With an Eid release he is able to capitalize on it,” says Nahta. That’s correct but not the full truth. The 45-year-old actor is equally popular among urban lower-middle class youth and the underclass across communities.
Social scientist Shiv Viswanathan believes the secret of Salman’s popularity lies in his ability to combine machismo and irreverence, innocence and mischievousness. “He combines opposites effortlessly,” he says.
Distributor Sanjay Mehta puts the second surge in the star’s popularity in perspective. In the past 10 years, Bollywood was dominated by feel-good family dramas, love stories and naughty comedies. “Salman was the first to spot the shortage of action films and its possible demand. With Wanted and Dabangg, he reinvented himself as an all-action hero who also delivers one-liners, makes people laugh. With a few changes, Bodyguard continues in the same vein,” he says.
Salman’s bulging biceps in Veergati (1995) spurred the ‘bodybuilding’ craze in small town India. Almost two decades later, he continues to be every neighbourhood gym’s No 1 poster boy. Yet, his major early hits were either romantic comedies or emotional dramas: Maine Pyaar Kiya (1989), Hum Aapke Hain Kaun (1994), Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam (1999).
The actor’s reinvention as an action star became possible after the regular men of muscle — Sunny Deol, Sanjay Dutt, Ajay Devgun and Akshay Kumar — recast themselves as funny-face comics and uneasy romantics. The new Salman filled that gap. True, he was always at home in action flicks (Garv, 2003). But with Wanted and Dabangg, he repositioned himself as Bollywood’s top action man.
Viswanathan says that part of Salman’s charm lies in the fact that he makes no claims of being an intellectual. “He is just normal and healthy, a child of nature, the boy next door. And he is sheer entertainment. He is non-problematic intellectually. And that works in an age where everybody seems to be into problem solving,” he says. Mehta says that Salman’s rebellious streak has also endeared him to the masses. “They find him more human,” he says.
In recent years, the actor has matured in real life. Salman doesn’t make headlines any more for allegedly shooting black bucks or breaking glass panes of his girlfriend’s home or reportedly driving over people sleeping on the pavement.
Now he makes news primarily for breaking box-office records, for being able to figure out the people’s pulse unerringly. Time and again. There is something about Salman Khan.