Do actors have distinct geographical fits? Bollywood thesps do. As in real estate, it’s all about location.
Shah Rukh Khan, one of the biggest stars in Bollywood, connects best in metro and overseas markets.
In 1995, “Dilwale dulhaniya le jeyenge” (The Brave Heart Will Take the Bride) presented Khan as a British Asian who can combine the best of East and West. Ten years after release, the film continues to run in a Mumbai theater and he continues to successfully play the global Indian who is at home in the world.
With subsequent blockbusters such as “Kuch kuch hota hai” (Something Happens, 1998), “Kabhi khushi kabhie gham” (Sometimes Happiness, Sometimes Sorrow, 2001) and “Kal ho na ho” (If Tomorrow Comes, 2003), Khan has established himself as Bollywood’s lucky mascot in the overseas market.
Khan’s yuppie persona might attract millions from Delhi to Duluth, but it doesn’t cast the same shadow in the smaller towns and villages of India. Interior cities prefer a brawnier, hands-on leading man.
In the northern regions of Punjab and Uttar Pradesh, the Deol brothers — Sunny and Bobby, respectively — are audience magnets.
Sunny, with his muscled body and homegrown, earthy charisma, has done a spate of action movies in which he beats the baddies single-handedly. The monster hit “Gadar: Ek prem katha” (Revolution: A Love Story, 2001) had him routing the Pakistani army solo. “Gadar” was Bollywood’s biggest hit in India that year but audiences abroad weren’t as enamored. Pic grossed only £280,000 ($158,000) in its entire run in the U.K. — roughly the two-day taking of Khan starrer “Veer-Zaara.”
Saif Ali Khan is largely considered a city boy or multiplex hero. His latest hit, “Salaam namaste,” an urban romantic comedy, has worked best in big cities and overseas markets.
Other A-list actors — Salman Khan, Aamir Khan, Hrithik Roshan — have cross-market appeal.
If a film ups the action and downplays romance, then even Shah Rukh can appeal to small-town India, as he proved last year with “Main hoon na” (I Am There).