Someone keeping a tab on mainstream Hindi cinema in the early nineties may recall how Subhash Ghai, Bollywood’s erstwhile showman and hitmaker, had ‘signed’ actor Jackie Shroff’s then toddler son for one of his future ventures. At that time, he is learnt to have famously announced that in the years to come, he would launch Tiger Shroff as the leading man just the way he had introduced his father in Hero (1983). Given Ghai’s standing at the time, the announcement was almost like stardom insurance for Jackie’s kid.
With time though, Ghai lost his Midas touch. By the time Tiger came of age, Ghai was well past his prime. But a younger filmmaker stepped in. It was Sajid Nadiadwala who launched Tiger five years back with Heropanti.
Still, going by the phenomenal success of Tiger’s recent film, which saw the 28-year-old actor emerge as a box-office powerhouse, Ghai can be credited for being clairvoyant enough to foresee a bright future for Jackie’s son long before he finally faced the arc-lights.
Today, Tiger is being hailed as India’s answer to Tony Jaa (the Thai action star) by none other than Akshay Kumar. Other big stars such as Hrithik Roshan are already singing hosannas to the young actor’s prowess. All this has come about in the wake of Tiger’s fifth film—Baaghi 2—a sequel to his 2016 hit Baaghi.
Directed by Ahmed Khan, the film—an unadulterated action masala entertainer in a strictly Bollywood sense—has registered mindboggling footfalls in theatres across the country since it released last month. The movie has since crossed the Rs 150 crore milestone in the domestic circuit alone, putting the success of Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s controversial, much-hyped Padmaavat in the shade.
Even though many critics do not find Tiger’s histrionics worth writing home about, the young actor has amassed a solid fan-following among the younger generation of cine-goers, especially teenagers. Theatres across cities report youngsters whistling wildly and cheering lustily the new six-packed sensation throughout the movie. This phenomenon has eluded other contemporary actors, with the notable exception of the Khan triumvirate, in recent years.
Subhash Ghai famously announced in the nineties that, in the future, he would launch Tiger just the way he had launched his father in Hero (above).
The success of Baaghi 2 has left both film industry insiders and trade experts awestruck, what with a collection of more than Rs 25 crore on the very first day of its release on March 30—an achievement only the Khans (and, of course, Baahubali) have been able to boast of in the past decade or so. “The collections of Baaghi 2 have been absolutely incredible so far, to say the least,” says veteran trade expert Atul Mohan. “We were all initially flummoxed by the outstanding cash counter figures of a movie that starred a relatively new actor. We normally expect such a humongous figure only from the big-budget movies of a megastar such as Salman Khan who has had a loyal fan-following over the years.”
Mohan, the editor of trade journal Complete Cinema, says considering the fact that Baaghi 2 had carried excellent pre-release reports and that its prequel also turned out to be a decent hit, it was expected to do a business of Rs 10-12 crore on the first day, but it surpassed all expectations by grossing Rs 25 crore. “Tiger has certainly proved all of us wrong with his box-office pull after the below-par performance of his last two outings, The Flying Jatt (2016) and Munna Michael (2017)” .
According to Mohan, this once again underlines the fact that a well-made masala movie can never go out of fashion. “If an action menu is served with the right ingredients, the audiences will flock to the theatres to savour its taste,” he says. “A well-made action movie is what attracts the audiences, regardless of prevailing trends.”
Tiger’s action movies have always seen success. “Heropanti, Baaghi and, now, Baaghi 2 have turned out to be the hits only because of his action sequences. On the contrary, The Flying Jatt and Munna Michael had dismal runs because they did not contain enough maar-dhaad sequences to keep Tiger’s fans on the edge of their seats.”
Many believe that Tiger’s ability to connect with young audiences, especially kids and teenagers, has consolidated his fan base. “Like Salman, he appears to have endeared himself to his loyal admirers,” Mohan contends. Baaghi 2 has already done double the business of its prequel in just two weeks and is therefore being seen in the industry as a veritable catalyst for the revival of action movies—a genre that seemed to be on the wane in the era of millennials. In recent years, only a few action movies, such as Tiger Zinda Hai (2017), have actually passed muster with younger audiences who are now exposed to high-quality, CGI-boosted action extravaganzas from Hollywood and other parts of the world. Even stars like Akshay Kumar and Ajay Devgn, who were once known as dependable action heroes, have switched over to content-heavy social dramas these days while Sunny Deol, who made a fortune with his legendary dhaai kilo ke haath, is well past his prime. It is only Salman Khan, who can still deliver an occasional action thriller. But then, at 52, he too is no spring chicken, with the quick cuts and slo-mos unable to hide the slowing reflexes in fight scenes.
Bollywood, in fact, desperately needed a fresh action star, and Tiger has arrived at the right time to fill the slot. “The audience did not go to theatres looking for a story in Baaghi 2, they just went to see Tiger pull off amazing stunts and nothing else,” says film writer Vinod Anupam. “He truly emerged as an action hero with this film.”
The national award-winning writer says Tiger created his own distinct identity with high-on-testosterone stunt sequences over time. “Unlike some of the other star kids, Tiger does not carry the baggage of being a high-profile star kid. He has evolved on his own, quietly making his own fans who don’t care about his pedigree,” he says. “His arrival is a bonanza for action movie lovers. When his fans go to see his movie, they don’t expect him to be a replica of his father.”
Salman Khan cackles a machine gun in Tiger Zinda Hai
That appears to be true. Many star kids, howsoever talented, failed to make it over the years because they failed to unburden themselves from the heft of huge expectations that the audiences had from them because of their pedigree. In contrast, Tiger could grow out of the looming shadow of his father’s stardom effortlessly, thanks to his abilities to create an altogether different image of himself, primarily aided by his skills in dance and action sequences—his father, despite his macho image, was always slightly awkward of body.
Industry observers believe that Baaghi 2’s success has once again emphasised the fact that there is always an audience for all the different genres of Hindi cinema. “They (audiences) are watching Newton, Bahubali and Baaghi 2, all at the same time,” says Anupam.
Film distributor Sanjay Sharma, on the other hand, says that Tiger has donned the mantle of a ‘dancing-action’ star, a title no other actor has inherited since the fading of Mithun Chakraborty from the scene. “The last time I witnessed such craze in a theatre for a dancing-action star was when Mithun was in his prime with movies like Disco Dancer (1982),” says Sharma. “Until Tiger came along, no star could emulate Mithun’s feat in the past 25 years when Bollywood’s mushy musical romances and realistic cinema had relegated the action flicks to the backseat.”
“The last time I witnessed such craze in a theatre for a dancing-action star was when Mithun was in his prime,” says distributor Sanjay Sharma.
Sharma points out that no actor can currently match Tiger in action or dance scenes. “Hrithik is undoubtedly a terrific dancer, but he cannot do action like Tiger,” he says. “Similarly, Ranbir Kapoor or Ranveer Singh are far better actors than him but they cannot do stunts the way Tiger does. That automatically puts him in an altogether different position.”
Baaghi 2 had not received positive reviews from critics after its release, unlike Blackmail, which carried excellence reports. And yet, the Irrfan-starrer dark comedy could collect only Rs 2.5 crore on the first day at the box office, a tenth of what Tiger’s movie collected. In fact, such has been the impact of the film’s commercial success that producers are more than eager to get Tiger to sign on the dotted line, mostly for action-oriented movies. Not only this, if the industry grapevine is to be believed, even the script of his next release, Karan Johar’s Student of the Year 2, believed to be a triangular love story starring Tiger opposite newbies Ananya Pandey and Tara Sutaria, is being tweaked to make the most of his new-found popularity as an action star. Whether this is true or not is immaterial, but it makes sharp business sense, given the craze among Tiger’s action-loving admirers. Bottom line: Tiger definitely packs a punch at the box office!