Hindi Film 101: Top Box Office Hits 1986-2000

And now we reach the era that the majority of us are actually aware of!  Yaaaaay!  Which is also why this is the shortest post, because I didn’t feel the need to give nearly as much background.  Feel free to take off in the comments with your on details for these films, if you want.

Non-Usual Disclaimer: This list is from wikipedia, if anything is wrong, blame them not me!

1986: Karma (Subhash Ghai)  Never heard of this movie until just now, sounds wonderful!  A mish-mosh of The Dirty Dozen and Sholay.  And the first time Nutan and Dilip Saheb costarred, which is kind of amazing, that they hadn’t overlapped before.  A great start to a new era of Indian film, in which story is (briefly) king, not stars.  I mean, there are a TON of stars in this film, but no one full lead role. 14 crore (equivalent to 133 crore)

1987: Hukumat (Anil Sharma)  Dang, Dharmendra!!!  52 years old and the top film of the year.  Plus 7 more hits that same year.  This film is a bit of an old folks reunion, Prem Chopra and Shammi Kapoor are in it as well.  Everyone’s kind of waiting for the next big thing this year, and in the meantime, nostalgia sells! 11 crore (equivalent to 96 crore)

1988: Tezaab (N. Chandra)  WOOT!!! Big thing alert!  The arrival of the divine MADHURI!!!!!  And also, Anil Kapoor.  Although he’s been around for a while, he was in Karma too and plenty of others over the last few years.  But in general, this is a big thing.  Two new stars, surrounded by a new supporting cast (Chunkay Panday!).  And it made more money than anything had in years. 16 crore (equivalent to 128 crore)

1989: Maine Pyar Kiya (Sooraj Barjatya) VERY BIG THING ALERT.  Salman Khan, obviously.  But more importantly, the rise of the young love romance.  Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak had come out the year before, and Tezaab had a fair amount of romance in there as well.  But this was the first massive hit of the romantic genre.  And just generally, the first truly massive hit in years, really since the early 80s.  28 crore (equivalent to 222 crore)

1990: Dil (Indra Kumar)  Another romance!  And Aamir’s first appearance on this list, supported by Madhuri.  A super fun movie, by the way, highly recommended if you haven’t seen it.  But more importantly, another very young movie.  Even the father actors were young, Anupam played the villain in Karma, and now he is playing the aging father at only 35 years old.  We are now officially into the era of the new generation. 18 crore (equivalent to 128 crore)

1991: Saajan (Lawrence D’Souza)  Salman, Madhuri, and Sanjay.  Sanjay, an odd hangover from the previous era.  Not that much older than the “young” folks, but with a career that started much younger.  However, he definitely found a home in this new love story era, the soulful brokenhearted one. 18 crore (equivalent to 109 crore)

1992: Beta (Indra Kumar) Madhuri!!!  Again!!!!  Have you noticed that if it weren’t for gender bias, Madhuri would be considered the biggest star of the era?  1988, 1990, 1991, and 1992, all the top hits.  That’s as good a record as Amitabh. 23.5 crore (equivalent to 127 crore)

1993: Aankhen (David Dhawan)  Govinda!!! There is a great old column from Anupuma on this surprise hit, in which she admits that she has always kind of liked Govinda, but it wasn’t “cool” to say that until Aankhen came out and suddenly he was everywhere.  Also, notice David Dhawan up there?  He’d been working for years already, actually graduated from IIFT (the national best film school in India), but really found himself once he started working with Govinda and cranking out these comedies.  25.25 crore (equivalent to 128 crore)

1994: Hum Aapke Hain Koun…! ( Sooraj Barjatya) Okay, take a breath, and then read the following number: 135 crore (equivalent to 756 crore)  Remember, the previous year?  Top film was 25 crore?  This is 5 times that much.  We haven’t seen a jump like this since Awara came out.  And this is the “real” start of the new era.  Sure, the signs were there, the audience was swaying this way, but this is the rocket blast that shoots it off.  From now on, it’s all stars and songs and romance.  And young stars too.

1995: Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (Aditya Chopra)  Longest running film, not the most profitable.  Never the most profitable, even when it came out.  Aditya himself said something like that, when congratulated on his success “It doesn’t matter, we are all just chasing Sooraj” Oh, and yay!  Shahrukh’s first appearance!!!!  122 crore (equivalent to 509 crore)

1996: Raja Hindustani (Dharmesh Darshan)  And here’s Aamir again.  Just like in the 50s, we are getting into a rhythm of the top 3 just trading off year by year.  And yet another romance for us! 76.34 crore (equivalent to 390 crore)

1997: Dil To Pagal Hai (Yash Chopra)  Shahrukh again!  And Yashji, back on top for the first time in ages.  No wonder he loved Shahrukh.  But it’s also down a little from the year before, and even more from the year before that and the year before that.  See?  The box office always goes up and down a little, it’s not a steady climb. 71.87 crore (equivalent to 257 crore)

1998: Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (Karan Johar)  Shahrukh!!!  Again.  He really was The King in the 90s.  Although that isn’t to say the others weren’t doing almost as well.  Salman will be coming back in the next year, and even this year he had Pyaar Kiya To Darna Kya. 106.74 crore (equivalent to 337 crore)

1999: Hum Saath Saath Hain (Sooraj Barjatya)  Sooraj rises again!  Let’s take a moment for him.  Only 25 when Maine Pyar Kiya came out, only 30 when Hum Aapke Hain Koun revolutionized the industry.  And yet, he was also kind of the “old guard”, 8 years older than Karan and Aditya.  The followed in his path, but also went a little beyond it.  Hum Saath Saath Hain was a huge hit (clearly), and yet it was beginning to fill a bit of a “more of the same”, in a way that Adi and Karan wouldn’t for at least a few years more.  81.71 crore (equivalent to 246 crore)

2000: Mohabbatein (Aditya Chopra)  Adi’s back!  And also, Shahrukh.  Again. And more importantly, Amitabh!!!  This was the film that returned him to the top of the box office and generally re-introduced him to a new generation. 90.01 crore (equivalent to 260 crore)


So, what is the story of these years?  Well, it’s a story of a successful search.  Without Amitabh, there was a reach back into the past for other old stars (Hukumat, Karma), followed finally by a discovery of new stars (Madhuri, Salman, Aamir), and finally a new audience (the Hum Aapke Hain Koun NRI and family driven box office).

And then there was kind of a settling in.  Everyone understood the new rules now, romance and family was where it was at, the 3 Khans were on top, that was how the industry was structured.  What is revolutionary about the 90s is how unrevolutionary it is.

I said in one of these posts that no one really knows when a new era starts or an old one ends, you just sort of know once it has happened.  This is the “once it has happened” section.  By Hum Aapke Hain Koun and DDLJ, suddenly everything was romance and Khans.  Was it Maine Pyar Kiya that tipped the scales?  Amitabh announcing his sabbatical in 1992 (remember, Shahenshah and Khuda Gawah came out these years, he was still making hits)?

I think it was Dil that did it.  Because Dil is really not a great movie.  A fun movie, not a great movie.  But a sign that a fun okay romance with one of the hot new young stars can be the biggest hit of the year, it doesn’t have to be brilliant or groundbreaking even, it just has to fit the template.  After Dil, the only film that doesn’t really fit the pattern is Aankhen.  Let’s call it the exception that proves the rule.

18 thoughts on “Hindi Film 101: Top Box Office Hits 1986-2000

  1. “There is a great old column from Anupuma on this surprise hit, in which she admits that she has always kind of liked Govinda, but it wasn’t “cool” to say that until Aankhen came out and suddenly he was everywhere. ”
    Do you know where I could find this because I kinda want to read it.

    Wow, what a huge jump from Aankhen to Hum Aapke Hai Koun! I know HAHK was a big deal but I never realized it was this much of a big deal. But honestly, I liked HSSH more than HAHK.


    • The Anupuma column is in her book “First Day, First Show”. Which is I think the funnest of her books. It’s a collection of articles she wrote in the early years of her career. So they are very light and silly, and they are also little time capsules, like her first interview with Shahrukh before his first movie had even come out.

      I didn’t realize HAHK was this big of a deal either! I knew it was industry changing and all that, but I hadn’t looked at the raw figures before.


        • Ooo, I don’t know if I am even qualified to answer that. I’ve only seen like two of his films myself. Partner is fun and easy (not too 90s like the others). Coolie No. 1 and Hero No.1 are I think two of his big fun 90s hits. And it isn’t a “Govinda” movie, but he is amazing in Salaam-E-Ishq, really surprisingly touching.

          But that’s not a very good answer! hopefully other people can provide more details.

          On Thu, Sep 14, 2017 at 10:19 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:



  2. Karma might be the first cop movie that I remember where the cops were the good people. They were always either late to arrive at crime scenes or in bed with the baddies in films from the previous era.

    Tezaab doesn’t air on TV as much as the saas-bahu-family melodrama “classics”. It should. I think Madhuri singlehandedly redeemed the profession for female dancers. Helen was great but cabaret, especially, later Helen-style cabaret was definitely frowned upon as a career choice. Can’t say “dancer” is still respected on the same level as “actor” or “engineer” but Madhuri gave it the respectability that it deserves. Nobody thanks her for it but they should. Madhuri can do Dhak Dhak and not make it look slutty while some of the more recent era heroines can do kathak and make it look cheap!

    Saajan and MPK both had superhit OSTs too. That’s important. Their stories weren’t too extraordinary but you remembered the performances because your brain and heart marinated in the songs that played everywhere and made you remember the nuances in the actors’ performances!

    I’ve tried to imagine Beta without Dhak Dhak and without Madhuri. I drew a total blank!
    I only remember Aakhein because of the song “Bade Kaam Ka Bandar”. Of course I was a kid when I watched it and that was the biggest takeaway for me- the monkey song!

    Hum Aapke Hain Koun was a great adaptation of Nadiya ke paar which came out what around a decade before this one? Anyway, this film makes a great point about great scripts and how they can be adapted to different classes and still be relavant and appeal to them all. Fun fact, Hum Aapke Hain Kaun ushered in the era of long phrases as film titles. It was talked about on the news and all too!

    I totally agree with you about the era. The late 80s and the early 90s were all about the rise of the middle class and for this middle class, Amitabh Bachchan was a little too rustic/small town. The actual small town now had a proper middle class and they all had the Sanjay mullet and Madhuri’s perm. I kid you not!! Even my mom had that and she likes to think of herself as more of a Deepti Naval kind of person and us kids are like “Yeah, sure!” And that’s what I find fascinating about this period.

    Madhuri and her good girl who wears makeup, has a perm and the trendiest suits thing was accepted by Indian society. That’s important because Sridevi was considered too southern and Raveena was too tall and Karisma was too white (plus she had those eyebrows) and Shilpa was too dark and none of them were balanced in their sexiness—they were just too sexy. Madhuri and Neelam might be the only two leading ladies who had the “decent girl” reputation and following. Even Sridevi was seen as a southern siren. I guess it is all about being relatable to the masses which is what propelled the Khans to where they got. They’ve stopped being relatable to the masses today.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Starting at the end, my mother had a Madhuri perm too!!! Well, not a “Madhuri” perm, just “the long permed hairstyle every woman in America had in the 90s”. Have you seen Sleepless in Seattle? Besides being a wonderful movie, it’s even a plot point that every woman in America had the exact same mid length permed hairstyle.

      1986, Karma, Rajiv Gandhi is in power and suddenly the state can be trusted. Well, on film. And it worked, another ten years or so of sucking up to state authorities and film FINALLY got industry status.

      Back when I first got into films, you couldn’t find Tezaab anywhere. Ek Do Teen wasn’t on youtube (and EVERYTHING was on youtube), and I think i had to actually buy the DVD before I could watch it because none of the rental places had it. And then, of course, I loved it! Some of it is silly, and most of the wonderfulness is Madhuri, but there’s also some good stuff in there. Anupam Kher is great, Chunkay Panday is surprisingly touching. Also, if you can track down a copy, it’s a remake of a very strange and amazing American film called Streets of Fire.

      I like the “marinated” idea. Those songs actually had a purpose in the story, not that anything ‘happened” in them externally, but you could take the time to feel the subtle shifts in the characters emotions through the songs. It’s a lot more meaningful to have Sanjay imagine a whole love song, than to just have him say “I’m in love”.

      I still haven’t seen Beta, and I am glad to know I’m not missing anythign! Since i have seen Dhak Dhak. And that “we just had sex in the barn” song. Haven’t seen Aankhen either, should I track it down or just watch the monkey song?

      So it’s all HAHKs fault that I have such a had time pronouncing/spelling movie titles? Oh well, at least they make for tidy twitter hashtags.

      On Fri, Sep 15, 2017 at 12:38 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:



        • I haven’t, just looked it up. Sachin is in it! There was an Isreali movie a few years back that played at some art theaters with the exact same plot as well. Very strange to read the description and go “hey wait a minute!”. But wasn’t an official remake or anything, just a sign of how the story of a younger sister and her older sister’s widower is kind of cross-cultural.

          On Fri, Sep 15, 2017 at 7:11 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:



  3. Pingback: Hindi Film 101: Top Box Office Hits 2000-Today!!! Shahrukh to Prabhas | dontcallitbollywood

  4. Pingback: Hindi Film 101 Index | dontcallitbollywood

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