Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan returns to the big screen with high-octane spy thriller

Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan returns to the big screen with high-octane spy thriller

The King of Bollywood is back.

Shah Rukh Khan – known locally as “King Khan” – returned to the silver screen after a four-year hiatus this week in Pathaan, an over-the-top, big-budget spy thriller that pulls out all the stops.

Khan plays a slick Indian spy named Pathaan, who is tasked with protecting India from a terrorist group plotting its demise. The film’s cast is rounded out by fellow Bollywood heavyweights Deepika Padukone and John Abraham in lead roles.

Khan is one of Bollywood’s biggest stars, with millions of fans around the world. His return to the medium was hotly anticipated.

Pathaan ’s official trailer currently has more than 72 million views on YouTube.

The film has kept Indians buzzing with excitement ahead of its release and swarms of fans came out to watch it when it premiered on Wednesday.

People wearing Pathaan t-shirts, some banging drums, gathered outside cinemas in Mumbai as queues snaked out the door, and fans posed with the movie’s poster outside a cinema in Prayagraj.

SUJIT JAISWAL/AFP or licensors
Crowds gathered outside a cinema in Mumbai on Wednesday, as "Pathaan" premiered in India. - SUJIT JAISWAL/AFP or licensors

India’s NDTV news network said that record advance bookings of over 500,000 tickets had been made for the first day.

Khan also said in a tweet that 25 single-screen cinemas across the country were reopening thanks to the film.

The film’s release was not free of controversy, however, as hardline Hindu groups called for a boycott of Pathaan over a racy song featured in the film.

In the song 'Besharam Rang' (which means "shameless colour" in Hindi) Padukone is seen wearing a saffron-coloured bikini, a colour that’s considered sacred in the Hindu religion.

Despite the controversy, the film was met with generally positive reviews from critics and fans, raising hopes that King Khan could help Bollywood get its mojo back. Indeed, in recent years, Bollywood’s winning formula for cranking out blockbusters has lost its lustre, with several big-ticket films falling flat at the box office.

Its Hindi-language output has also been challenged by films made in other languages – like last year’s breakaway hit RRR (originally released in Telugu), which won a Golden Globe this month and received an Oscar nod for best original song.