Salman Khan’s ‘Sultan’ Goes To The Mat; Wrestling Drama To Break Bollywood Bank?

Yash Raj Films

One of Bollywood’s leading icons, Salman Khan, led the 2015 Indian box office with the double whammy of Bajrangi Bhaijaan and Prem Ratan Dhan Payo, which made a combined 530-plus crore ($80 million). While Khan has been absent from screens thus far in 2016, that’s about to change. His underdog wrestling drama Sultan is due for release this week in about 50 worldwide markets including India and the U.S.

Hitting the lucrative Eid holiday, Khan again stakes out calendar space that has led to such mega-hits as Bajrangi, Kick and Ek Tha Tiger. In 2013, he stepped off the date, which led to rival/pal Shah Rukh Khan stepping in with then-record-breaker Chennai Express. Salman and SRK previously were due to go head-to-head this Eid, but the latter’s Raees ultimately opted to move to January 2017.

Sultan begins day-and-date rollout July 6, in India, Australia, Germany, the UK and more. From Yash Raj Films, it goes out in the U.S. on July 7 with pre-shows starting Wednesday night. Whether it reaches the heights of last year’s Eid smash Bajrangi is a question mark, but it’s expected to be one of the international weekend’s top grossers — and has records in its sights.

Advance bookings are hot, and awareness is high. Box office analyst Taran Adarsh tweeted this week:

A big hit would be good news for an industry that hasn’t had an outsized blockbuster on the Salman Khan level this year, or of last year’s Tollywood release Baahubali. Even Shah Rukh Khan’s Fan underperformed. So far this year, Bollywood’s biggest local title is Airlift, the Akshay Kumar starrer that released back in January for a total 128.1 crore ($19.3M), per Bollywood Hungama. In a rare turn, the market — which typically is skewed 90% toward local fare — currently is led by Disney’s The Jungle Book at $39M — the biggest Hollywood movie ever in India.

In the U.S., this year, the top Bollywood title is Kapoor & Sons, with $2.66M. Khan’s Bajrangi led 2015 at over $8M.

Directed by Ali Abbas Zafar, Sultan also stars Anushka Sharma and Randeep Hooda. The last official YouTube trailer with English subtitles has been seen nearly 23M times since late May. Check it out above.

A classic underdog tale, Sultan centers on Sultan Ali Khan, a wrestler who must defeat the odds stacked against him to make a stunning comeback. There’s also plenty of romance, music and action in the mix.

Khan’s box office appeal is so important to the local industry that shares in Bajrangi distributor Eros slid 7% when the actor was found guilty in a years-old hit-and-run case last May. He later was acquitted on appeal.

When it bowed last July amid the court tumult, Bajrangi, a family-friendly story of a man trying to bring a young, mute girl back to her home in Pakistan, logged the best opening frame ever for Khan and the third-biggest weekend ever for Bollywood at the time. It also put Khan in a class by himself. Scoring an eighth film grossing more than 100 crore ($15.7M) at the box office gave him the most Hindi-language movies over that level of any actor in history (he made it nine later in the year with PRDP; see below). What’s more, Bajrangi set Khan a new overseas benchmark with $8M in debut grosses.

In November, Bollywood audiences embraced the love and family themes of Fox International Productions’ Khan starrer Prem Ratan Dhan Payo to the tune of $31M in seven launch markets. It was the No. 2 movie internationally that weekend and smashed the record for the biggest Bollywood opening of all time with $27M over the four-day Diwale frame.

Will Sultan follow in its footsteps? Some local pundits are predicting it could take in as much as 300 crore ($45M) in the first week. Adarsh has registered bullishness and caution. He told Bollywood Hungama, “Salman Khan + Yash Raj + Eid release… it can’t get bigger than that. Over the years, Salman’s box office status has multiplied manifold and every film of his generates tremendous curiosity. The volume of business coupled with the massive fan following he enjoys, raises the bar every time a new Salman film is about to release.” He added that while “it’s a bit too early to predict if Sultan will surpass the business of his previous films,” it is “expected to shatter records.”

We’ll keep tabs on it this weekend in our international box office report.

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