NEW DELHI — For most Bollywood movies, earning 1 billion rupees at the box office would be seen as a resounding success.
But for the Bollywood superstar Salman Khan, the way his most recent film, “Jai Ho,” earned 1 billion rupees, or $16 million, is seen by his critics as a failure — proof, they say, that he has alienated Muslims, who make up a large part of his fan base, with his recent appearances with Narendra Modi of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party.
Born to a Muslim father and a Hindu mother, Mr. Khan, 48, routinely draws 1 billion rupees with his films in the opening weekend alone. But “Jai Ho,” an action film about a former Indian Army major who turns into the common man’s hero, took 15 days to reach the 1-billion-rupee mark after opening on Jan. 24, an unusually slow start for a Salman Khan movie.
“Salman, your movie is flop because you are with Modi,” wrote one Facebook user on Mr. Khan’s official fan page, echoing many commenters who were upset at the actor’s association with Mr. Modi, the chief minister of Gujarat and a candidate for prime minister.
Mr. Modi has come under intense criticism for his handling of the religious riots in his state in 2002, which left more than 1,000 dead, most of them Muslims. Mr. Modi has long denied any wrongdoing, and in December, an Indian court rejected a petition seeking to prosecute him over his role in the riots, saying there wasn’t enough evidence.
Mr. Khan has been a longtime supporter of the Congress party, which leads the governing coalition in New Delhi. But on Jan. 14, he dined with Mr. Modi in Gandhinagar, the capital of Gujarat, and was photographed next to the chief minister at the state’s annual kite flying festival. After Mr. Khan’s visit to Gujarat, the state waived the entertainment tax on tickets to “Jai Ho.”
In Gujarat, he described Mr. Modi as a “good man” in televised comments and followed up with a television interview in which he said that there was no need for Mr. Modi to apologize for the Gujarat riots because an investigative team appointed by the Supreme Court had cleared him of wrongdoing.
The response from Muslims was immediate. Asaduddin Owaisi, the leader of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen, a Muslim political party based in Hyderabad, called for a boycott of “Jai Ho.”
Amjad Ali, 23, a regular commentator on the Salman Khan fan page on Facebook who is from Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, told India Ink that he wouldn’t be watching the movie. “Salman bhai was everything for me,” said Mr. Ali, a tea shop owner, using the Hindi word for brother. “He was my idol, until he justified what Modi did.”
Another commenter, Omar Ahmed of Hyderabad, 25, who said he had grown up watching Mr. Khan’s movies, expressed disappointment with his idol, although he did go to see “Jai Ho.”
“I am not saying I will give up watching his films, but he will certainly not remain my hero and the reason I would have flocked to his films,” he said.
Mr. Khan’s representatives, his brothers Sohail Khan, the director of “Jai Ho,” and Arbaaz Khan, did not respond to repeated requests for comment. The national spokeswoman for the Bharatiya Janata Party, Meenakshi Lekhi, also declined to comment.
Nandini Ramnath, the film editor of Mint, a business newspaper, said “Jai Ho,” which was universally panned by critics, would have struggled to match the lofty box-office takes of Mr. Khan’s previous films, even without the controversy.
“Modi or no Modi, ‘Jai Ho’ didn’t work wonders because of its subpar writing, lackluster direction, the absence of a credible romantic subplot between the leads and predictability in the extreme,” she said in an email. “The Modi factor might have helped the filmmakers save face, but the fact is that ‘Jai Ho’ wasn’t as entertaining, in the popular sense, as Khan’s previous films. It wasn’t up to the mark, which potential audiences seemed to realize after the opening weekend craze had died down.”
However, Mr. Khan’s previous films have also opened to bad reviews, like “Dabangg 2,” and have gone on to become a success, thanks to his sheer star power.
Shohini Ghosh, a film studies professor at Jamia Millia Islamia University in New Delhi who is writing a book about Mr. Khan’s influence, said the actor first became a star in the 1990s. Back then, religious tensions were high after militant Hindus destroyed Babri Masjid, a 16th-century mosque, in 1992. Muslim viewers in India, feeling marginalized by the Hindu majority, glommed onto the Muslim actor who played the role of the hero.
Now, she said, Mr. Khan’s Muslim fans see his recent remarks about Mr. Modi as a refusal to acknowledge the magnitude of what happened in Gujarat in 2002. “For this reason, many have refused to see ‘Jai Ho,’ ” she said.
Dr. Ghosh said many fans were also upset that Mr. Khan took part in the government-organized festival at Saifai, the ancestral village of Uttar Pradesh’s chief minister, Akhilesh Yadav, last month, because Mr. Yadav has been accused of not doing enough to stop the violence between Hindus and Muslims in Muzaffarnagar in September. Thousands of Muslims who fled their villages are still in camps.
As in Gujarat, “Jai Ho” received an exemption on the entertainment tax in Uttar Pradesh after Mr. Khan’s appearance.
“His comments on NDTV comparing the tragic events of Muzaffarnagar to everyday death in the city show how far away from his fans he is,” she said.
But even if the box-office figures for “Jai Ho” are lackluster for a Salman Khan film, it’s still too early to say that the actor’s fortunes have turned. The movie, which has earned 1.1 billion rupees in India as of Thursday, is still likely to turn a profit, no small feat in Bollywood, where relatively few movies actually make money.
Also, his sway over the film industry stands firm, as demonstrated by all the Bollywood producers who declined to speak on the record about Mr. Khan, with one saying that he feared antagonizing the star.
Published in: The New York Times
Published on: February 16, 2014