Shah Rukh Khan vs Salman Khan: A Comparison of Their Bollywood Careers

Shah Rukh Khan vs Salman Khan: A Comparison of Their Bollywood Careers

Koral Dasgupta analyses the two-decade plus journey of two of our biggest superstars
Shah Rukh Khan vs Salman Khan: A Comparison of Their Bollywood Careers

Hands up all those readers, who feel that Salman Khan and Shah Rukh Khan have started missing each other in their personal lives. Are they playing “love you-love you not” in front of cameras, and behind the scenes they wish to say “you first”? Well, I am no one to discuss the above-mentioned and apologies for the undue over-indulgence. The Salman Khan-Shah Rukh Khan tale is intriguing and fans will never have less fodder to speak in favour of or against either actors. Often a Salman Khan fan has a soft corner for Shah Rukh Khan and vice versa. Whether you are among them or no, the journey through the careers of both actors, as elaborated henceforth, is something you would love to explore.


Both these actors started as second fiddles in the films Biwi Ho To Aisi and Deewana. While Biwi Ho To Aisi made people notice Salman Khan, Deewana gave SRK more than that. People remembered the not-so-handsome guy who didn’t give your eyes surreal pleasure but makes you sit up and pay attention anyways. Salman Khan on the contrary was a face that sculpted easily in the heart. He was boyish with his smiles and bohemian longings, and had large eyes to die for. That was 1989, which experienced intense social thrillers like Parinda, love stories like Chandni, action films like Tridev and dramas like Ram Lakhan/Chalbaaz.

An old poster of Biwi Ho Toh Aisi, Salman's first film

Maine Pyar Kiya came as a breath of fresh air, carrying a “just out of college” theme, family issues, friendships, and a very young couple whose innocence played as much the protagonists as they themselves did.  Salman Khan received the Best Debut Actor award that year and is known to have written an open letter to his fans, which was emotional and deep in gratitude — qualities that the actor disowned considerably in the years to follow! Maine Pyar Kiya was probably the first film which had strong elements to initiate scopes of branding. Remember the huge Mafatlal on the terrace, where the popular song Mere rang mein was shot? And the hat which had FRIENDS inscribed on it? And that jacket of Salman Khan? Bhagyashree’s kurta?

Deewana (1992), which released in the same year with some blockbusters like Beta, Vishwatma, Shola Aur Shabnam, Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar, Bol Radha Bol and Khiladi, earned Shah Rukh Khan the Best Debut Actor Award. 

While Biwi Ho To Aisi mentions Salman Khan’s debut as a supporting cast, Shah Rukh Khan’s debut was more recognized, thanks to his successful stint with television a few years back! Though Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman was a hit, his run in the industry started only with Baazigar in 1993. Both Salman Khan and Shah Rukh Khan, after their initial high in their careers were humbled back with a series of flops!

This is how Shah Rukh Khan and Salman Khan looked when they started off their careers


Salman Khan’s relationship with the box office continued like a love-hate story, with huge success thrown among quite a number of flops. Some important titles in his career were Saajan, Andaz Apna Apna and Hum Aapke Hain Koun. All through this period, the other actor who is known as ‘King of Romance’ today, was busy with psychopathic characters that personified revenge, violence and ferocious obsessions! Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa being an exception, years 1993 and 1994 explored brutality in humanness through Shah Rukh Khan in films like Baazigar, Darr and Anjaam! The actors met in 1995 in the celluloid screen for the first time with Karan Arjun!

A still from Karan Arjun

Post this started a reverse journey for both actors. Shah Rukh Khan turned to romance with Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge; Salman Khan attacked the action genre with Veergati. 1995-96 was a lull period for Shah Rukh Khan when all his films failed to create jingles at the box office. The year 1997 brought him back with a romantic extravaganza which started with Yes Boss, Pardes, Dil To Pagal Hai, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. Dil Se, in between, was a big success worldwide and was the first Indian film to enter the top 10 in the United Kingdom box office charts.

Salman Khan divided himself between action and comedy with films like Jeet, Dus, Judwaa, Biwi No. 1, Hello Brother, Pyar Kiya toh Darna Kya, etc. He did not however withdraw himself completely from the romantic genre and kept his expressive eyes active with Jab Pyar Kisi Se Hota Hai, Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, Hum Saath Saath Hai, Kahin Pyar Na Ho Jaaye, etc.


Year 2000 was the debut year of Hrithik Roshan, and Kaho Na Pyar Hai made every existing player of Indian Film Industry stumble and take notice. While Salman Khan’s films around this time were doing quite well, Shah Rukh Khan was going through his bad days. Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani, an ambitious project by his own production house (Dreamz Unlimited has downed shutters now) tanked, and audience buried him off saying that his “boy next door” looks were obsolete in the Hrithik Roshan era! This comparison did not work against Salman Khan probably because he had always maintained a well sculpted physique and was known for his smart styling.  Salman and Shah Rukh Khan paired up for one last time in Hum Tumhare Hain Sanam but the film didn’t release until 2002

SRK had to come back with hardcore substance, which he did with Mohabbatein, a 2000 film co-starring Amitabh Bachchan. On-screen “clash of the titans” soon got reported as “off screen rivalry”, and promoted Shah Rukh Khan as Bachchan’s most eligible, new-gen competitor! Post 2000, when Shah Rukh Khan was going through a dream run in the industry, Salman Khan had hit the hard patch. Most of his films didn’t do well and his personal life too was inflicted with too many controversies.

The actor however, bounced back with Veer, and Dabangg marked his resurrection with a series of hugely successful films to follow soon after! Both actors also forayed into production houses and cricket teams. Of course Shah Rukh Khan’s business brain prompted an early response to this diversification; Salman Khan was late to catch up, maybe because his sole focus at one point of time was bringing up his NGO, Being Human.


Putting their filmography to perspective, apparently Salman Khan comes from a film family; SRK is an outsider. He was not a complete novice though; since his father ran the canteen of National School of Drama, he had sufficient contacts among who’s who of the industry. In their respective journeys as actors, Shah Rukh Khan had the support of Aziz Mirza, Karan Johar, Yash and Aditya Chopra, Farah Khan throughout his career. 

Salman Khan’s journey was rather a lonely walk with only the Barjatiyas and David Dhawan partnering with him with a few films together. Much later in his career, this actor has created an umbrella of family-owned production houses – first of its kind in Indian Film Industry – where he is the hero to films created by brothers Sohail or Arbaaz Khan or brother-in-law, Atul Agnihotri. He worked with and launched many new-comers; Karishma Kapoor was his most repeated on-screen co-actor.

Shah Rukh Khan went on to pair up successfully with Kajol, Juhi Chawla, Priety Zinta, Rani Mukherjee and recently Deepika Padukone. Unlike Shah Rukh Khan’s Swades, Chak De or My Name Is Khan, Salman Khan doesn’t have “meaningful” or “substance” films in his portfolio. “I make hit films, not meaningful films” was one of his famous dialogues!

Having said that, most of the roles featuring Shah Rukh Khan are designed on the lines of a lovable boy next door, who is unapologetic about being romantic, and has a woman-of-substance to fall for and win over! Salman Khan’s roles have mostly defined him as a Casanova, who audience would love to watch, have fun and cheer for; but women don’t want Casanovas as life partners and most boys don’t have the qualities to be one! Salman Khan hence got loved from a distance when the viewers poured themselves on SRK!

Salman Khan has been a model, much before his acting career had sunk into him. His endorsements basically employed his style and charisma, when Shah Rukh Khan was creating his brand and multiplying visibility through his ad films. Awards wise too, Shah Rukh Khan’s list is far bigger than that of Salman Khan, not because the later deserved any less, but relating to someone as handsome and volatile as him often became an issue.

Salman Khan’s volatility is something that every reporter has suffered; Shah Rukh Khan on the contrary has been the media’s blue eyed boy! Salman Khan’s career got inflicted with many evils which might have been the result of some immature decisions. His innate arrogance ruled over him for a very long time, till it was too late to mend. Also, they were of the stature that no level of support or sympathy could do any good. Shah Rukh Khan’s controversies were comparatively short-lived and manageable with apology statements or press conferences, or simply by living them to time!

Television helped Salman Khan in coming closer to the masses. It was only during Dus Ka Dum, that audience knew that he did more than breaking cameras and had a fine sense of humour. This shift of image helped in garnering great TRPs even later, with Big Boss. Comparatively, Shah Rukh Khan could never come back to television with equal grace. Also this period was a generally positive phase for Salman Khan. People started talking about his generosity and charity; he gained a lot of following and respect when people got to know about the relentless effort he had put in to make his NGO, Being Human, what it is today. No one specifically knows about Shah Rukh Khan’s charitable involvements; the actor fiercely guards that aspect from public knowledge. About the generosity count, SRK reportedly makes strategic, well calculated moves rather than giving in to emotions.

Salman Khan has always been a naturally stylish person who can just carry off anything at any given occasion. He could pull off a film with a taller heroine, Sushmita Sen way back in 1999, even in a typical male chauvinist film like Biwi No. 1! It took the other heroes quite a while to come to terms with taller girls around them.

Shah Rukh Khan never scored through his looks; in fact Juhi Chawla recalled her horror on being introduced to her hero for Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman (of course on a lighter note). Though not good-looking in the classic Bollywood sense, Shah Rukh Khan’s charm showed in his confused restlessness, witty communications, expressive body language, dimpled smiles and well-informed memory.

Shah Rukh Khan probably had known right from the beginning that his strength lied in his brain and he had to overcome his weaknesses (mannerisms, physicality, height, etc.) by exercising the gray matter. His focus on marketing himself and his films in a number of innovative ways can hence be explained. 

Though Shah Rukh Khan is known for his marketing talents and has significant hold on the overseas market, Salman Khan has his own achievements to name in terms of numbers and geographies. It was Maine Pyar Kiya, that opened Bollywood films to the overseas market with a dream run in the West Indies. It was dubbed in English as When Love Calls and in Spanish as Te Amo.  Hum Aapke Hain Koun smashed records everywhere and was the first film to gross over Rs.50 crores at the Box Office. Also, it was the first film to gross over a $1,000,000 in the US market, and over 1,000,000 Pounds in the UK market. Shah Rukh Khan is more talked about in this regard because with SALES written in caps and bold in his blood, he marketed his success as well, and much better than any other actor can ever even think of replicating. 

Brand Shah Rukh Khan thus towers over everyone else in the industry, and commands greater momentum and resultant response in his favour!