Will 'Tiger 3' mark the arrival of Salman Khan 3.0.?

The superstar is on a mission to prove that he has still got what it takes to stir the masses

By Yasser Usman

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Published: Thu 2 Nov 2023, 6:42 PM

Last updated: Thu 2 Nov 2023, 6:55 PM

‘Jab tak tiger mara nahin... tab tak tiger haara nahin’ (Until the tiger is not dead, the tiger has not lost), Salman Khan announces in the trailer of Tiger 3, which is basically Tiger’s way of saying, “I’m not dead yet, baby!” Releasing next week, this action-packed bonanza is being hailed as Khan’s comeback, after six years without a blockbuster since Tiger Zinda Hai (2017). With rival Shah Rukh Khan delivering two massive hits this year, Salman is feeling the pressure, too. Whatever Tiger’s mission is in the spy universe, Salman Khan is on a mission to prove he's still on top of his game.

Shah Rukh Khan's resurrection as an action star in Pathaan and Jawan may be the talk of the town, but let's not forget that Salman Khan pulled off a similar feat more than a decade ago, and it is a flashback worth delving into.

Salman began as the quintessential boy next door who was stubborn and rebellious in love, as Prem. He was a major star in the 1990s along with SRK and Aamir Khan. While the early 2000s had Shah Rukh Khan blazing all the guns and becoming the ‘King Khan’ of Bollywood, Salman faced personal challenges, turbulent relationships and legal issues that garnered more attention than his films. In 2005, Salman Khan gave one of the biggest hits of the year in No Entry, but the success wasn't solely his. It had Anil Kapoor and Fardeen Khan too in leading roles. That same year he had two major flops in Lucky: No Time For Love and Kyonki. The rot had set in.

The year 2006 was a total washout for Salman with with a string of box office disasters like Shaadi Karke Phas Gaya Yaar, Saawan, Babul, Jaan-E-Mann. In the following year (2007) his much-anticipated Salaam-e-Ishq and his crossover debut Marigold tanked awfully. Salman managed to turn things around with Partner, a rip-off of the Will Smith rom-com Hitch. But again, the film's triumph was not solely attributed to him, as reviews often credited his co-star, Govinda’s hilarious performance, for the movie's success.

The downward spiral continued in 2008, with all five of Salman Khan's releases performing poorly at the box office. Even his big budget projects like God Tussi Great Ho (with Amitabh Bachchan) as well as Subhash Ghai’s Yuvvraaj flopped badly. While actors like Shah Rukh Khan, Aamir Khan and Akshay Kumar were delivering hits, Salman’s career was in a shambles. Significantly, with all his personal turbulence and brush with law, Salman’s real-life image had transformed to the angry ‘Bhai’ image while all these flop films were still stuck in the romantic comedy era. Clearly, he was no longer the romantic hero that he had been in the 1990s. It was time to transform the screen personality to stay relevant.

Tiger Zinda Hai
Tiger Zinda Hai

No one had great expectations with his next, a remake of Telegu action film Pokiri (2006), but Wanted dropped on September 18, 2009, and magic happened. Salman fans returned to the theatres because it had the undiluted, rugged Bhai ‘swag’ that they were waiting for: the new Salman Khan. Fans were dancing the hook steps of Mera Hi Jalwa and cheering on the famous Bhai punchline ‘Ek bar joh maine commitment kar di’ (Once I have committed to something...) As a film reviewer, I witnessed Salman Khan's resurrection in a single-screen theatre that day. With him, the audience was on fire, too. Salman Khan was back.

However, his next two big releases, Main Aurr Mrs Khanna (2009) and London Dreams (2009), both with him in the old soft, romantic avatar, failed to make an impact. Yet, Salman, much like Shah Rukh in 2023, had found his way ahead. With Dabangg, he definitively proved it. The tough-as-nails cop, Chulbul Pandey, famously inquired, ‘Swagat nahi karoge hamara?’ (Won’t you welcome me?) and fans embraced it like never before. After all, it was Bhai fully embracing his new action hero persona, and his one-liners and wisecracks became as iconic as his action sequences.

Salman Khan continued to reprise his role as an action star, consistently delivering massive hits that solidified his status as Bollywood's leading superstar. Blockbusters like Ready, Bodyguard, Ek Tha Tiger, Kick, and Bajrangi Bhaijaan showcased Salman being himself, which is precisely what his fans eagerly flocked to theatres for. All these characters were an extension of his real-life Bhai persona. In this regard, he truly became Bollywood’s equivalent of Rajinikanth.

Ek Tha Tiger
Ek Tha Tiger

This formula worked successfully until audiences began to notice that Salman's films were becoming stale and predictably formulaic. Tubelight, Race 3, Bharat, Dabangg 3, Radhe, Antim and this year’s dud Kisi Ka Bhai Kisi Ki Jaan underscored that even the most devoted fans have their limits.

That brings us back to Tiger 3, which seems like an extension of the previous two Tiger films in terms of both visual style and plot. While it appears promising, the pressing question is: Will it be enough? Every resurgence requires a fresh and evolved version of oneself. Though Salman Khan's fans cherish his swag, perhaps he needs to explore better narratives and collaborate with different filmmakers. We’re applauding Shah Rukh Khan for his resurgence, but let's not forget that the ‘OG comeback’ as an action star belongs to Salman Khan. If Shah Rukh can do it, so can Salman. I'll be there for the first show.


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