Salman more bankable than Hrithik

Salman KhanSalman Khan is on a comeback trail with over Rs 100 crore worth of Bollywood productions - numbering seven at last count - riding on his brawny shoulders over the next one year. The strong weekend opening to...
...Khan's first movie of 2004, the police- drama, Garv , reiterated his draw at the box office.

This will be followed by two more releases in the July-August period David Dhawan's comic caper Mujhse Shaadi Karoge and director Revathi's ode to AIDS victims, Phir Milenge. Salman Khan fans can look forward to another couple of releases starring their hero towards the year-end.

Come 2005, a major draw will be Sanjay Leela Bhansali's period drama Bajirao Mastani, where Khan pairs up with Rani Mukherjee and Rekha. Also in the offing is an English movie, Marigold, currently at a pre-production stage, even as there is a buzz about Khan featuring in a forthcoming Rajshri production.

Salman Khan - with at least four releases in the second half - is certainly in a position to make a difference to Bollywood's box office fortunes for the year.

"Salman Khan's USP is that he appeals to the masses," says Taran Adarsh, editor, Trade Guide. Most in the distribution and exhibition trade feel that the other reigning superstars, Shah Rukh and Hrithik, have over the years cultivated and build upon their appeal among the multiplex-goers and the overseas audiences.

Salman's draw with audiences goes more so beyond the metros in the B and C class centres in the country, feel many distributors. A pointer to this: his latest release, Garv has drawn better audience response in single screens than multiplexes, and is expected to be an average earner at the box office, riding on the collections coming in from smaller towns and cities across the country.

Khan, who has been in news over the years for his off-screen antics, has had just two releases in 2003, Tere Naam , that went on to rake in over Rs 13 crore at the box office, apart from a special appearance in another hit, Baghban . "Salman has never been as marketing-oriented as Shah Rukh is but off-late he has put extra effort to choose projects he is associated with," observes a producer who is currently working with the star.

Adarsh puts it this way: "Salman still commands that star-power to draw in the crowds. Thereafter, it all depends on the script how the movie will fare at the box office." No wonder, Khan still manages a price-tag upwards of Rs 2.5 crore for each film.

Interestingly, Khan's comeback efforts are taking place at a time when some other top Bollywood stars such as Shah Rukh, Hrithik and Aamir have cut down on the number of projects they are involved in. Hrithik - following the footsteps of Aamir and Shah Rukh - has become more choosey about his projects after the box office success of 2003's superhit Koi Mil Gaya .

However, pitfalls of being too selective are there for all to apparent: Despite the critical acclaim, his sole release for the year, Farhan Akhtar's Lakshya , did not live up to expectations at the box office, and would at best be an average-earner, faring better in some centres like Mumbai, Delhi and Kolkata.

For 37-year old Khan, who has featured in over 50 films over the last 16 years including some of the biggest box office grossers like Hum Aapke Hai Kaun and Maine Pyar Kiya , the stake have never been higher.