For the last 10 years Anirban Banerjee has never missed the first-day first-show of a Salman Khan film. A civil engineer by profession he has been posted in various small towns in remote areas of Bihar and West Bengal, some of which didn’t have cinema halls. But, he never missed out on a show, even if it meant travelling to another town or city to watch Salman Khan’s movie. “Every time there is a new release, I make it a point to catch the first show at any cost. There have been times where I have worked in small towns with no cinema halls. On such instances, I would wake up at three in the morning, board a mail train and get off at New Jalpaiguri. Then I would drive down to the nearest cinema hall in Siliguri (a district town in West Bengal), to catch the first show. After the show, I would treat myself at my favourite restaurant and travel back to my workplace. Of course, I had to take leave for the entire day and sometimes my friends also joined me in this outing. In fact, we looked forward to such outings,” Anirban said.
Agastya Patra is another such fan who never misses a Salman Khan film. “I remember my mother once locked me up in my room because I hadn’t done well in the exams. My marks were dismal. But I had already made plans to watch Wanted, which was releasing the next day. I remember jumping terraces from our ancestral home in old Delhi, meeting my friends in secret and running away to watch the film. After spending the whole day out when I finally reached home, my mother was livid. But I didn’t care, I didn’t want to miss the show. That was my only priority then!” he recalled while reminiscing about his school days. Agastya is now a software engineer based in New Delhi.
Salman Khan fans across the world have usually turned his releases into some sort of grand event to look forward to, at times even adding festive properties to it. While critics and a section of the audience may not be exactly fond of this brand of hero worship, masses and classes in India and abroad have always done their bit to catapult Salman into the superstar status that he looks to enjoy so effortlessly now.
But this year has been different. The cinema halls are closed and the world is battling a fatal disease that is killing millions by the second almost like the game of nine pins. The fans, however, haven’t disappointed Salman even under such dire circumstances. “It is not the same thing to watch his films on a laptop or a phone. The viewing experience is different. The impact of the background music isn’t there and also certain scenes like the ones in which Salman makes an entry, or hits the goons single-handedly don’t make a mark. These things you can enjoy only with surround sound technology and a big screen. Even though I already had a Zee5 subscription I wish the film would be released in the theatres again, after the lockdown is lifted. I will watch it again,” Anirban said.
Another damper has been the OTT platform's server crashing on the day of Radhe’s release, turning the viewing experience into a disappointment. “On the first day the software kept crashing, there was frequent buffering and patchy internet connections made things worse. It wasn’t really anything to write home about. I couldn’t watch the full film despite paying for the pay-per-view slot,” said Agastya.
Sharing his take on watching a Salman Khan movie at home instead of the theatre amidst the pandemic, Kolkata-based entrepreneur, Souryadeep Banik said, “It has been a ritual for me and my wife to watch the latest Salman Khan film every Eid. We enjoy doing this together and leave the children at home so that we can make the most of the experience. But this year is different. We did watch the film on the web but it didn’t feel the same. The thrill of escaping from routine wasn’t there simply because the children were all running around. Also, the atmosphere of gloom surrounding us didn’t make things better.”
Perhaps hero worship comes at a cost. And blind hero worship comes at a bigger cost. For now, most Salman Khan fans are keeping their fingers crossed — for the lockdown to end, for theatres to reopen and to stay alive! So that when they reach the end of this dark tunnel, they can watch the film on big screens all over again!