India’s film industry turns out more films annually than both the U.S. and China. In 2012, Bollywood sold 2.6 billion cinema seats, compared to Hollywood’s 1.36 billion tickets.
In 2014, Khan was making more money than Tom Cruise.
The young man who made his debut in 1988 with the television TV series, Fauji (Soldier), is now the world’s second richest actor. When he tried to break into Bollywood, actresses weren’t exactly falling over themselves to star alongside him. Today, starlets less than half his age want to romance him on screen, such is his charisma. So it’s no surprise that Khan actually makes more than big Hollywood stars such as Tom Cruise and Johnny Depp, and only comes second to American comedian Jerry Seinfeld on the list of top earning actors (Wealth-X’s Hollywood and Bollywood Rich List, 2014). Rumour has it that he charges nearly Dh67,000 per minute for a public appearance. The actor’s personal fortune is estimated at £350m (Dh1.9 billion) from starring in films, endorsing a variety of brands, public appearances, private performances and concerts.
India is the only major market where Hollywood films struggle to compete and are making serious efforts to penetrate into the country.
Speaking about his global fan base, the 50-year-old actor said, “It never ceases to amaze me; because the last film we released in Peru. [And now] we are releasing [films] in markets like Finland and Sweden, markets where we never thought a Hindi film would go out, even with subtitles or dub.”
Nothing spells “having made it” more boldly than gracing covers of some of most popular international magazines. And Khan has made it to several. He was the first Indian male actor to make the cover of Time magazine, for their 2004 special report Asia’s Heroes 20 under 40. Last year, he became the first Indian celebrity to feature on the cover of Forbes Middle East, topping their list of Top Indians in the Arab World. The actor, who was featured in the magazine for his contribution to the entertainment industry, flew down to Dubai for the launch of the edition in May.
“But I think you’re completely right. I’ve always had this worry that if we’re not able to change our cinema quickly enough we would be over taken. Like, principal movies all around the world are Hollywood films, India is the only country where local cinemas does better than international cinemas,” King Khan admitted.
When My Name is Khan was announced as part of the movie line-up at the Berlin International Film Festival in 2012, tickets sold out in five seconds after being auctioned on eBay for a whopping €1,000 each. Khan’s fandom is such that it surpasses geographical boundaries. A German newspaper once stated that the Bollywood superstar was as popular as the Pope. SRK Universe, one of the actor’s biggest online fan clubs, has close to 2 million followers worldwide.
Khan isn’t called the most bankable actor in Bollywood for nothing. The actor has numbers and awards to back the claim. Along with Bollywood legend Dilip Kumar, Shah Rukh Khan is the only other actor to have won eight Filmfare awards, making him the undisputed top actor in the industry. Khan also holds the record for the highest number of Best Actor nominations in a single year.
A defining measure of a ruler is the number of loyal subjects he commands. SRK’s Twitter following is undeniably kingly in size.
And of course in order to reign as box office king, a leader needs box office hits. Here King Khan is challenged by other pretenders to the throne, most notably India’s two other megastar Khans, but still he holds his own.
There are those who are not swayed by big numbers alone, preferring to base their beliefs instead on less tangible factors. And I can offer that sort of proof as well. Let’s start with retinues. Every king has his royal retinue, and SRK’s is as substantial as one would expect.
Kings are traditionally paid tribute for their greatness. In Hollywood, only major stars are granted “above the title” billing. But no one other than SRK, to my knowledge, has had their own movie actually named for them, in the movie title. To wit:
And like any good ruler, Shah Rukh Khan is a model of good conduct. In his personal life, he embodies the very idea of India. He is a proud Muslim, married to a proud Hindu. He is well educated, as are his children. His fandom extends well beyond India’s borders and is said to include such international luminaries as Shakira, Barack Obama, Zayn Malik, and Snoop Dogg.
Finally, a good king inspires devotion that extends far beyond the box office and into the spiritual lives of his subjects. In a country that worships film stars as deities, Khan is the biggest and most revered figure in the pantheon. During the Eid festival, which marks the end of Ramadan, his millions of Muslim fans have been known to watch his latest blockbuster up to three times a day in a quasi-religious celebratory ritual. Indian film critic Anupama Chopra has described SRK as a “Modern-day god; on the streets in India, his posters are sold alongside those of religious deities. Temples have been erected in his name.”