Bet your money on Aamir Khan: his movies are critically acclaimed and they earn crores. Several hundred crores.
With Ghajini, he started the trend of Bollywood movies that earned Rs 100 crore or more. The 2008 film took 18 days to cross the Rs 100 crore mark. The next year Khan acted in 3 Idiots, which went on to make Rs 202 crore in India. 3 Idiots' earning was unbroken till Krrish 3 and Chennai Express hit the screens in 2013.Aamir, once again, broke box office records with Dhoom 3, a multi-starrer in 2013. Foreign markets had opened up by now and Dhoom 3 went on to become the highest grossing Bollywood film ever with earnings of approximately Rs 550 crore worldwide.
A year after Dhoom 3, Aamir has surprised everybody with PK. The film began its journey like any other big Bollywood starrer, gathering Rs 26.63 crore when it opened on December 19. This was several crores less than the openings of Ek Tha Tiger (Rs. 32.92 crore on Day 1) and Chennai Express (Rs. 33.12 crore on Day 1), but thanks to largely positive reviews, PK's business picked up and it is now the most commercially successful Bollywood film ever.
It is the first film to enter the Rs 300-crore club and it has made Aamir the first Hindi film actor to cross the Rs 100 crore (with Ghajini), Rs 200 crore (3 Idiots) and Rs 300 crore (PK) marks.
Aamir and PK's success is the result of a long process. After the success of Ghajini, deep-pocket producers indulged in mindless competition to be in the Rs 100-crore club. Mindless because the focus was on marketing rather than the content. Audiences winced at each nonsensical Rs 100 crore film, but Aamir stood apart in their view.
He was in the race to make hit movies, but he 'also' did meaningful cinema. He came up with Dhobi Ghat and 3 Idiots when Golmaals and Dabanggs were ruling the ticket window. He produced and acted in Taare Zameen Par, the 2007 movie about a boy's struggles in a boarding school that is now regarded as one of the finest children's movies made in Bollywood.
Slowly and steadily Aamir found a point of equilibrium for his movies. His support for the Anna Hazare anti-corruption movement and his TV show Satyamev Jayate contributed to the image he created as a thinking and socially-conscious actor. His politics was never clear, but he became the superstar who offered you a bit more than other superstars.
Talaash, Aamir's 2012 thriller, wasn't a hit but it made headlines and earned more than Rs 90 crore despite mixed reviews. Dhoom 3 was no different than a Kick or a Singham in terms of presentation and content strategy, but it surpassed them because of the image Aamir has created for himself, his brand value.
With PK, the actor's brand value has gone up. Film critic Mayank Shekhar says Aamir commands a "captive audience". "There is a certain kind of captive audience for such a film. The presence of Aamir Khan has worked tremendously in favour of the film. You have to understand one thing here. There is a group of viewers who will anyway watch a mainstream Bollywood film. They are the same people who would watch Singham Returns or Action Jackson or Chennai Express."
"Now, you add Aamir Khan's name to this already existing group. It will immediately expand as Aamir has a credibility factor attached to it. This is the reason his mainstream, commercial films would do bigger business than other mainstream films because it attracts audience other than the usual set."
Also, PK is not solely Aamir's baby. Its director Rajkumar Hirani is a smart wielder of the megaphone. With films like Munnabhai 1 and 2, and 3 Idiots in his tally, he has created a name for himself. His last movie 3 Idiots came out five years ago, so PK was a novelty factor. Shekhar throws more light on this, "Hirani doesn't make two films in a year. PK came after five years of 3 Idiots (2009), so in a way the viewers were waiting for it."
Aamir Khan in a still from PK.
"There is a certain formula that Rajkumar Hirani has cracked. He will imbibe his stories with sugary songs and sugarcoated messages. This, coupled with smart taglines, always works. For example, there was Jaadu ki jhappi in Munnabhai or All is well in 3 Idiots. Similarly, he has coined Wrong Number in PK. The audience like such films because they give him the sense of not being judged or not being preached. Comical skits add a lot of values, plus they are entertaining," he says.
Critic and filmmaker Pratim D Gupta says Hirani used Aamir well in PK. "It was a beautiful balance of all elements. Utilising the stardom of a top star and not just use him as an actor and sending across an important and universal message but not hammering it in."
The protest by right-wing Hindu groups in many parts of the country made PK controversial-a tag which ensures that it got talked about.
"Controversy or no controversy the film would have worked. One should judge any filmmaker on the basis of their body of work," says Pratim. "And going by Rajkumar Hirani's earlier films, he would never deliberately stir up a controversy. He sure wanted a debate and it's a very important and relevant debate."
Some states' (UP, Bihar) decision to make PK tax-free just as it was earning controversy will help its earnings. PK or any other movie should not suffer because somebody "dislikes" it, says filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt. "I assume the Censor Board has given a very loud and clear message. Their philosophy is very clear that any film which has been given a certificate by the CBFC shouldn't be banned or pulled back," he says.
"It's about the law of the land. The government of India has made it known to everybody that there is a system to deal with such things, you can't simply protest against a film if it is not as per your personal likes or dislikes. Yes, some people could have problem with the film, but then they should approach the court."
PK got a smooth screen run for more than two weeks because there were no other big-star films to challenge it. Arjun Kapoor, Sonakshi Sinha's Tevar, the next big film, is releasing on January 9. PK is likely to earn more money and audiences till then.
How much will Aamir earn? To know that wait for his next movie.
(Interact with the author at Twitter/@nawabjha)