Swati Sharma in Vox:
Talk about a comeback.
One of the biggest movie stars in the world is at one of the most tenuous moments in his career. Bollywood titan Shah Rukh Khan hasn’t made a movie in almost five years, his two most recent films failed to captivate audiences, he’s at odds with India’s ruling government, and his industry has been plagued by pandemic disruptions, boycotts from right-wing activists, and anger over nepotism. His latest film, which was released on January 25, is perhaps the biggest test of his star power in his 30-year career.
But the stakes of Khan’s movie Pathaan go far beyond the actor’s relevance. A Muslim man from a middle-class family, Khan hasn’t succumbed to the growing trend of Hindu nationalism that has dominated Bollywood for the last several years. He’s in fact been a target of the right-wing Hindutva government that has been in power since 2014, due to the charismatic star’s singular influence in India and many other parts of the world.
When the sleek high-budget action film Pathaan came out on the eve of India’s Republic Day, it became the biggest film in the world, knocking down Avatar: The Way of Water, which had held the top spot for weeks. Few predicted this level of success for the movie, but many are celebrating the beloved star’s return to the spotlight. The film has broken all sorts of records. It is one of the highest-grossing Hindi films of all time and, according to Deadline, the first Bollywood movie to earn $100 million without a release in China. It’s one thing to have huge box office numbers; it’s another to reach these kinds of milestones.