Shahrukh Khan shot to fame in the 1990’s through his portrayal of the small town boy with big dreams in Yes Boss and Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman. In him, young men saw their own futures as economic liberalisation reforms were introduced by the government. Possibilities of leaving one’s hometown for Delhi or Bombay to make a fortune seemed real. For a while after, SRK portrayed the city boy in Dil Toh Pagal Hai and Kuch Kuch Hota Hai and fans liked this too – it was the ‘after’ part of their before-and-after dreams. If we work hard, we’ll own companies and get posh little ladies like Rani Mukerji to fall for us. Then came the 2000s and the reforms seemed to help only those who were already in a position to reap its benefits. Unlike SRK movies, class barriers weren’t broken as easily in real life. SRK no longer spoke to masses with US-based flicks like Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna.
Fast forward to the mid-2000s when Salman Khan’s career saw a revival. With films like Dabangg, Bajrangi Bhaijaan and Sultan, Salman, on the other hand, brought Bollywood back to the small town guy who needed no metropolitan culture to validate him. He didn’t need to toss out American slang to make him ‘cool’, he was ‘India’s pride’. Even Akshay Kumar carved a place for himself in such films.
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SRK suddenly found himself a victim of changing economic times with his films appealing to a shrinking audience. But with Raees – the Hindi-speaking, definite breadwinner of the house – Shahrukh can also enter Salman’s domain. Raees departs from SRK’s metrosexual roles (the sensitive hero) and returns to a time (to put it in macho terms) ‘when men were men’ – this is something the crowds of young men in India want to see and can relate to. It may not be one of Shahrukh’s highest earning films, but Raees will be a turning point in his career to regain his footing in the box office and Bollywood in general.