For almost half his life, Shah Rukh Khan has reigned as one of Bollywood’s most successful actors. But Khan—who turns 50 today—has also emerged as one of the smartest business minds in India’s burgeoning Hindi film industry.
On Forbes’ list of the world’s highest paid actors in 2015, Khan ranked 18 out of 34 actors, with annual earnings of $26 million (Rs170 crore). His films comfortably bring in more than Rs100 crore ($16 million) at the domestic box-office—a so-called benchmark of success in Bollywood, making him one of the most bankable actors in the country’s history.
But unlike many of his Bollywood contemporaries, Khan often puts his own money into his films. His production company, Red Chillies Entertainment, has produced a long list of blockbusters—Don 2, Chennai Express, Happy New Year.
“You have to put your money where your mouth is. There is a huge amount of money in the market. I don’t work with that money. I work with my own money,” Khan told the Mint newspaper last month. “I don’t borrow from the banks.”
Later this year, Khan’s business acumen will be tested again. In December, Dilwale—a romantic comedy starring Khan and co-produced by Red Chillies Entertainment—will go head-to-head with another big budget film Bajirao Mastani.
But the “King of Bollywood,” as Khan has been anointed, already has a plan.
Clash of the titans
On paper, both films have massive budgets, an all-star cast and big production houses with significant publicity firepower.
Khan, though, has taken an unconventional marketing approach: Dilwale’s trailer would be released in cinema halls along with the Salman Khan’s movie Prem Ratan Dhan Payo only a month before its release.
“This means that the lakhs of Indians and non-resident Indians who will dutifully file into cinemas on Nov. 12 to watch Salman Khan in a double role will be treated with a glimpse of Shah Rukh Khan for free,” Nandini Ramnath explained in Scroll.in.
Bajirao Mastani, on the other hand, released its trailer mid-July, a good five months before the film’s release. With over 10-million views on YouTube, the Sanjay Leela Bhansali-directed period film, starring Ranveer Singh, Priyanka Chopra and Deepika Padukone, has gained traction, but Khan has more tricks up his sleeve.
Khan has deftly converted the 20-year-anniversary of his biggest Bollywood hit—Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge—into a marketing opportunity for Dilwale. Both films star Kajol and Shah Rukh Khan, whom film critic Raja Sen recently described as Hindi cinema’s “last truly great pair.”
Riding on their popular on-screen chemistry, Rohit Shetty, director of Dilwale, launched a 20-year-anniversary tribute to India’s landmark film, while plugging his own film. The YouTube video has been viewed more than 3.2 million times.
This isn’t the first time Khan and Bhansali will be clashing at the box office.
In 2008, Bhansali’s Saawariya and Khan’s Om Shanti Om—which the actor both produced and starred in—released on the same day. The former miserably failed; the latter went on to become one of the biggest hits of the year.
A year later, Michael Lynton, the then chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment, which produced Bhansali’s film, told the New York Times: “You don’t go up against Shah Rukh Khan, no matter how good your product is.”