Thank you to Genevieve for asking an interesting question! I started to write her a long answer and then realized this could be an interesting post.
I’m going to start by doing kind of an over view of who arrived when and how, and then we can end by discussing who we see continuing to be important into the 2020s.
At midnight on 1/1/2010, as I remember it, there were two male stars who were jostling for the “Hrithik” position with hopes of jumping from there to the “Khan” position. Hrithik himself hadn’t had a release in 2 years and there was a lot of pressure on his next film Kites.
Meanwhile Shahid Kapoor was coming off of two critical/commercial hits, Jab We Met and Kaminey, and had just completed his first Yash Raj film Dil Bole Hadippa.
And Ranbir Kapoor, the New Kapoor, was only 3 years into his career and riding high Wake Up Sid, Rocket Singh, and Ajab Prem, all of them decent commercial hits and big critical hits.
And how about the Khans themselves? Shahrukh was on a down turn, record breaking hit 3 years earlier with Om Shanti Om, but then Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi was only a minor success and Billu was a disaster. Big hopes for his Karan Johar reunion My Name is Khan.
Aamir was King just then, coming off of 3 Idiots, but he had already announced a break of a few years for little Peepli Live and Dhobi Ghat and then Talaash, so folks knew there would be room for others.
Salman, after several rocky years, had one major hit with Wanted and two flops in 2009. It wasn’t clear if he was on his way back up or not.
Jumping ahead, what did things look like at Midnight on 1/1/2015?
Ranbir had his ups and downs. He wasn’t at the top yet, but he was leading the pack in 2015. Barfi! and Rockstar gave him critical acclaim, and Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani gave him massive box office success. But then he made Besheram which was such a shocking flop it left him treading water in 2015.
Shahid Kapoor similarly frittered away his leads. 2010, 2011, and 2012 were flop after flop after flop, most damaging the historic epic he made with his father that took over a year to film and lost a lot of money. He came back in 2013 with two modest action/comedy hits R…Rajkumar and Phata Poster Nikla Hero, and in 2014 he got his critical love back with Haider. But he was still struggling to reach the next level.
While Ranbir and Shahid were running place, two newcomers sprinted up to join them, Ranveer Singh and Varun Dhawan. Ranveer burst on the scene in 2010 with Band Baaja Baarat, immediately making an impact. His next film Ladies Versus Ricky Behl was only a modest hit, but it kept him in the minds of the public at a time when Ranbir and Shahid were fading a bit. Lootera gave him critical acclaim to rival Ranbir and Shahid’s, and that same year Ram-Leela gave him the blockbuster hit he needed. 2014 was a slack year for him, a modest hit with Gunday and a flop with Kill Dil, but savvy PR manouvers plus his new relationship with Deepika Padukone kept him ever present in the minds of the public.
Varun started slower than Ranveer but quickly caught up through pure different impact. He started in 2012 with Student of the Year where the industry watches quickly picked him out as the most talented of the three leads. After a year to gather his strength, in 2014 he burst forth with Main Tera Hero and Humpty Sharma announcing him as a major talent in both romance and comedy, and immediately bringing in the youth audience that was feeling left behind by Shahid and Ranbir and Ranveer’s angst. At midnight at the start of 2015, this young upstart looked like he could be the next big thing.
And Hrithik, what of him? The odd in between star straddling the youth generation and the established Khans? The one who is almost but not quite as famous as the Khans? He had a rough start to the decade, but righted his ship with Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara that gave him the kind of critical accolades he hadn’t had in years, and Agneepath that gave him both critical and commercial success. Bang Bang in 2014 was pure commercial hit, as was Krrish 3 the year before. The biggest challenge for his stardom at the moment was riding the waves of his divorce scandal, and avoiding criticism of being a brainless “just” commercial star based on the bad reviews for Bang Bang and Krrish 3. But his upcoming reunion with his Jodha-Akbar director for the historic epic Mohenjo Daro should fix that.
Finally, the Khans! Shahrukh had a rough 2011, after no films for over a year he released two back to back, the first a success but also a disappointment Ra.One, and the second a surprise record breaker Don 2. He followed that with Jab Tak Hain Jaan, a decent hit but one that left the audience feeling he had nothing new to say. And then 2013 brought Chennai Express, fresh and fun and record breaking, proving he still had commercial power. Followed by two films that tried to recapture that magic and failed, Dilwale and Happy New Year. While the box office for both was good, it wasn’t record breaking, and the critics weren’t in love with either film. By 2015, Shahrukh was being held up as an example of everything wrong with the old guard and why it was time for a fresh face.
Salman started the decade with a bang, after Wanted in 2009, he had Dabangg in 2010 and then Ready and Bodyguard in 2011 announcing himself as a new action star. Ek Tha Tiger and Dabangg 2 in 2012 brought “Bhai fever” to new heights, even the critics were liking his stuff as good solid Masala. 2013 and 2014 were weak years, no release at all in 2013 and 2014 had Kick, his worst box office in years. Perhaps because of that, he took a risk on two more family oriented films in 2015, and at midnight that year the question for everyone was if the most stable of the Khans would be able to continue his box office hit record or would fade away.
Aamir was solidly established as the quality over quantity star at this moment. He started the decade with modest films, Dhobhi Ghat and Talaash. And then he went big again in 2013 with Dhoom 3 followed by PK in 2014. Both massive box office record breakers, but without the critical acclaim of his other work. An Aamir film could still bring in the people who “don’t really watch Hindi films” because he was better than the other stars, but the critics weren’t quite as enamored of him, and the industry as a whole was cautious about someone who only released a film every few years. They needed new blood.
And finally, Midnight on 1/1/2020!
In the last ten years, the stars who started, Shahid and Ranbir, have found their natural level. Shahid started the decade with hits and critical acclaim, went up and down over the years, but is ending it solidly established as an actor who has a permanent level of fame, and a permanent level of talent. The downside is, he reached that point by accepting he would never be a Khan, or even a Hrithik. Taking the co-lead role in Padmavat, Udta Punjab, and Rangoon rather than holding out for a sole lead, let him be a part of big films and get back his critical acclaim and name recognition. Kabir Singh was a big blockbuster film for him, but the credit was given to his performance, and the script, NOT to name recognition alone. Also during this decade, Shahid married and started a family, further restructuring himself from “next young hot thing” to “stable family man”. Shahid is going into 2020 as an actor who will always be famous and always be working, but will never be the Most Famous.
Ranbir ended the decade in a very different place than where he started. He had two major hits in the second half, Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani and Sanju, and one solid film Ae Dil Hai Mushkil. But he also had the massive flop Jagga Jasoos, the disappointment Tamasha, and just plain didn’t work as much as he should have. More importantly, his personal life was a roller coaster that left the public feeling more interested in him as a playboy than a movie star. Going into the 2020s, his personal life is more dramatic than ever, and his career is in limbo as his last film was a major hit, but his next film seems like it will never release. Certainly it seems unlikely that his career will grow beyond the point of “big name who makes one movie every two years” to the level of controlling the industry.
And then there’s Ranveer. Excellently positioned at this moment in every way. A history of a wide variety of films all of them hits, a personal life that is stable and yet not boring, and coming up in 2020 he has a potentially massive blockbuster with his Cricket saga, his first biopic. He’s had ten years and still hasn’t reached “his name alone guarantees opening day box office” point, but he is getting awfully close.
Varun, after an exciting entry, has slowed down quite a bit. The first half of the decade was All About Varun. He not only had commercial success, but critical success with Badlapur. But then Badrinath and Judwaa 2, while hits, were not quite the hits people were hoping for. October was not quite the critical hit he was hoping for either. And finally he ended the decade with Kalank and Sui Dhaaga, two forgettable films that ate up precious work time. Varun will have to struggle hard to make up his lost ground and catch up to Ranveer after this.
Ranveer and Varun might have been feeling pretty cocky in 2015, but they didn’t realize their next rivals were already quietly working away. Ayushmann Khurrana was launched in 2012 in a surprise sleeper hit Vicky Donor. The focus was more on the film as a whole and its unusual topic (sperm donation) than on this odd singer/VJ from Delhi who played the lead. The next two years saw two flops for Ayushmann, and he looked likely to disappear as a one hit wonder. And then came Dum Lage Ke Haisha mid-decade. A solid success, a very different film, and Ayushmann’s name was being mentioned again. DLKH essentially restarted Ayushmann’s career and he took advantage of that, no films at all in 2016 but then 2-3 films every year since then. Ayushmann, without any bells and whistles or effort to sell his private life (married with kids at the time of his first film already), has rapidly become the young star most likely to be able to “open” a film. The audience knows what an “Ayushmann” film will be like and that they will like it.
And then there’s Rajkummar Rao. His first film role, which got him critical attention, was LSD in 2010. But after that, he just kept being offered small parts where the critics noticed him and no one else did. Kai Po Che in 2013 should have been his break out, but it wasn’t. In the end it was the dangerous brilliant art film Shahid that put him front and center. Followed by a semi-mainstream film Queen that resulted in interviews and articles allowing the public to finally know the man behind these performances. His lowkey charm kept him going for another three years until his break out year of 2017. People liked Rajkummar’s humility, his willingness to take unusual roles in small films, and his sweet love story with his CityLights co-star Patralekha. And then in 2017 Bareilly Ki Barfi, where he stole the screen from the “hero” Ayushmann, announced him as a major new talent. Stree in 2018 made him a solid box office proposition. 2019 has been hard on him, 3 flops that didn’t even get critical acclaim (Ek Ladki, Judgementall, Made in China), but he still has some goodwill to burn. If he manages to recover with a solid performance in a successful film in 2020 that, combined with his general popularity, could give him some real box office heft and industry power.
And then there’s Vicky Kaushal, the latest entry. His first name role was in a small part in Anurag Kashyap’s Bombay Velvet in 2015. An industry kid, he grew up on film sets but as a craftsman’s son, not a major player. He put in his time as assistant director and so on, then took the small role in BV. Which lead to him being offered a lead role in a promising art film produced by the director of Bombay Velvet, Masaan. The critics sat up and took notice of his performance, and the industry sat up and took notice of his charisma. He was cast again in a supporting role by Anurag in Raman Raghav in 2016, and then finally in 2018 he broke through with his love interest part in Raazi. Followed by Sanju and Manmarziyaan, all the same year, each of them letting him shine in what should have been a supporting role. And then in 2019 he had his first lead role in what turned into one of the hits of the year, Uri. But his biggest problem going into 2020 is that Uri was an action film and his upcoming film is an action film as well. If he wants to be an action star, he is well on the way. But if he wants to be an all around star, he needs to focus on variety in 2020. Put his name and face in front of fans of all genres, not just one.
Tiger Shroff is the most mercurial. His first film was solid but not spectacular, Heropanti in 2014, then nothing in 2015 as he prepared for his next roles. 2016 was a mixed bag, Baaghi was surprise hit among the young male audience, but The Flying Jatt was a flop. Munna Michael in 2017 was a disaster in every way. And then in 2018 Tiger’s Baaghi 2 broke past all expectations, giving him a box office hit that beat the Khans and Hrithik’s records, not to mention Varun, Ranveer, Ranbir, etc. If he had maintained that level, he would be the next big thing, no question. But 2019 saw him take the lead in a flop (Student of the Year 2), and the second role in a hit where the lead far over shadowed him. On the other hand, his talent as an actor, dancer, and fighter has grown enormously in just the past 5 years. Who is to say where he might be 5 years from now?
Hrithik, surprisingly, has had the biggest changes over the past 10 years! For the last 5, his fate has been tied up with Tiger. Tiger was seen as the “next Hrithik”, younger and stronger and better. While Hrithik’s films flopped, or were trapped in production, Tiger seemed like a better option. And then the two of them were put in a film together and Hrithik proved that the old guard still had power. It’s not so easy to unseat a King, even a half-king like Hrithik. Going into 2020, Hrithik is in a better position that he has been since his launch in 2001. It may have taken 20 years, but this could finally be the decade when Hrithik leaps levels and kills the Khans.
Shahrukh Khan is in the worst situation of his career right now. Kind of. On the one hand, the combination of flops and disappointments over time is worse than ever before, he hasn’t broken a record since 2013, and Dilwale and Happy New Year both did good business but not as good as expected. He hasn’t had a universally loved and acclaimed film in 7 years, and that’s really bad. On the other hand, his previous series of flops back at the turn of the century happened when he was trying to get his studio off the ground and generally fighting for a place in the industry. Purely as a film actor, Shahrukh has less power than ever. But as a Movie Star, complete with fame, fortune, and power, he has grown with ever year. But he may be ready to step back from the active role and go behind the curtain, supporting younger actors for the next decade.
Aamir Khan is in a bad place too. His system for the past decade was very few films, but major hits. Until Thugs of Hindostan became a major flop instead. If his next film is another record breaking hit, then he will be back on solid ground for the next decade. If his next film is another record breaking flop, then he will be moved back several steps and will have to fight his way back.
And then there’s Salman. He was the Top Khan for the whole decade of the 2010s, hit after hit after hit. And he’s basically still there! Bajrangi Bhaijaan in 2015, Tiger Zinda Hai in 2017, he’s still setting records. And Bharat and Dabangg 3 this year both did decent. However, over all, he’s had a slight slide in the past few years as the younger generation has risen to him. Hrithik and Tiger’s action hits are right in the Salman comfort zone, and Varun’s the new face of Salman-style comedy. He’s going to have to work a little harder to maintain his place in the upcoming years.
So, that’s where we are!
2010, the three Khans were on top with Hrithik running right behind, and Ranbir and Shahid chasing Hrithik.
2020, the three Khans are still on top with Hrithik even closer behind, Ranbir and Shahid dropped to their own race track to the side, Ranveer and Varun right on Hrithik’s tail, and Ayushmann and Rajkummar and Vicky closely following, with Tiger suddenly dropping to 5th place but with a possibility of making up ground.