Book Reviews

Behind the scenes with the box office badshahs of Bollywood

Meenakshi Verma Ambwani | Updated on September 18, 2021

Shah Rukh Khan, Salman Khan and Aamir Khan

Kaveree Bamzai’s book on the three Khans – Aamir, Salman and Shah Rukh - traces their rise to stardom against India’s rapidly changing socio-political landscape

· The three actors, all born in 1965, rose to prominence against the backdrop of economic liberalisation in the country.

· The author does not shy away from giving the readers a take on some of the big controversial events around their lives.

· The three stars have positioned themselves distinctly differently – one as a middle-class icon, another as a working class champion and the third as an NRI hero

There is no better time than now to look at the legacy of the three Khans of Bollywood as the film industry is grappling with one of its most challenging phases in the post-Covid world. Veteran journalist Kaveree Bamzai’s “The Three Khans and the Emergence of New India” examines the three-decade long journey of the superstars Shah Rukh Khan, Salman Khan and Aamir Khan in great detail while parallely chronicling the evolving political and social contours of the country.

The three actors, all born in 1965, rose to prominence against the backdrop of economic liberalisation and social transformation happening simultaneously in the country. Bamzai notes. “What has made the three Khans such enduring stars, so adaptable to the changed India, and so relevant even thirty years on? It is because they have, along with their audiences, constructed myths about who they might be and, in particular, who their audiences would like them to be. These myths were by-products of their movies,” she points out.

The book relies heavily on views of film academicians and analysts to outline the impact of various movies and career moves of the three actors. What keeps the reader hooked are behind-the-scenes anecdotes that provide the full context of the films, topped up with commentary on the social and political milieu when these films got released.

The book is no hagiography as the author does not shy away from giving the readers a take on some of the big controversial events around their lives. Whether it’s the juicy details about the infamous fight between Shah Rukh Khan and Salman Khan in 2008 or the bad and expensive bets made by some Hollywood studios’ while dabbling in Hindi movies in the last decade, forcing them to almost shut shop. The book gives readers a front-row view to the various developments that shaped Bollywood and various decisions made by the Khans.

Right at the start, the book gives a reckoner of sorts on the way the three actors have positioned themselves to stay relevant in the industry. Bamzai describes Aamir Khan as the middle-class icon. Pointing to films such as Dil Chahta Hai and Lagaan, she goes on to say that he has established himself as the thinking man’s superstar and has come to be known to make films that “invariably carried a message.”

Chronicling the journey of Shah Rukh Khan’s emergence as the NRI Hero, the author believes while his roles have been varied, he “always underlines his level of comfort with Western ways even while retaining his innate Indianness.”

At the same time, Salman Khan who began re-establishing his box office successes with films such as Tere Naam, Wanted, Dabangg and Bajrangi Bhaijaan, offers Bollywood fans a model for the working class champion displaying “more openness and cultural hybridity—than the so-called elite.”

These superstars began establishing themselves in the 90s when Indians were getting introduced to the concept of consumerism and the Indian economy was opening up to foreign money and brands. It notes the role all the three actors played in helping the Indian audience navigate these changes.

But will the triumvirate continue their run as the box office badshahs after three decades? The pandemic has re-written the playbook with over 20 OTT platforms ready to offer consumers a variety of long-form and short-form stories. The pandemic has also accelerated the process of democratisation of talent. With no restricted windows for smaller films, the playing field of actors has levelled. It also remains to be seen how quickly the multiplexes will witness recovery with various concerns around a third-wave. The book also aptly points to the successes of the so-called “character actors” thanks to the OTT platforms in recent times.

“But for that distinction to remain, the three Khans will have to tell stories that matter to India and the world. The world is ready for it, with its emphasis on greater diversity in storytelling. The Khans have to step out of their comfort zones,” Bamzai states in the book.

The book's intent is rather ambitious - after all it is no mean task to profile three of India's biggest stars, analyse their filmography, and at the same time weave in the socio-political currents sweeping through the country, especially given the surname of these powerful actors. Does Bamzai manage to do justice? Yes. The book does pack a lot of punch in less than 250 pages.

The Three Khans: And the Emergence of New India

Kaveree Bamzai


Rs 399

248 pages.

Check out the book on Amazon

(Meenakshi Verma Ambwani is Deputy Editor at The Hindu BusinessLine and tracks the media industry keenly)

Published on September 18, 2021

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