Charlie Yerme, 29, is a video editor based out of Nagpur. He is also the president of The Club SRK, a city-based fan club devoted to Shah Rukh Khan.
It was set up in 2013 to 'celebrate sir's movies,' said Yerme. The club started by screening Chennai Express and has screened several SRK films since, along with participating in charity.
"Pathaan (Khan's latest release) came after a four-year gap. So we were very excited," says Yerme.
The club has been putting up posters, did a flash dance to promote the movie and booked an entire hall for the first day first show. At 7 am on January 25 (the day Pathaan released), the 100-plus member club burst firecrackers before settling down to watch the film at 8 am.
There are hundreds of such clubs -- in Jalgaon, Beed, Chennai, Kolkata, Akola, Yavatmal, Bengaluru, Sitamarhi, New York, Canada, Nigeria etc. Every Indian city/town or a major country has a fan club for the man whose fan base has been estimated at 3.5 billion by Time Magazine.
Traditionally, Khan's films have been among the top grossers in India and bring in roughly half of the overseas earnings for the Rs 19,100 crore/Rs 191 billion (2019) Indian film business. He is widely acknowledged as a global symbol of the soft power of Indian's unique cinema.
The potency of his fandom has been on full display.
Siddharth Anand's Pathaan (Yash Raj Films) is a stylish spy thriller with lots of wit and some superb action.
The film grossed Rs 220 crore/Rs 2.2 billion at the global box office in the first two days of its release; with roughly half of it coming from India. It is on its way to becoming, arguably, one of the biggest Indian hits. The only debate is whether it will cross Dangal's Rs 2,200 crore/Rs 22 billion or RRR's Rs 1,200 crore/Rs 12 billion global gross.
The numbers are more astounding if you consider that unlike every other Yash Raj release, the movie didn't see any high-decibel marketing campaign around Pathaan. In fact, considering its budget (Rs 250 crore/Rs 2.5 billion) and cast (Khan, Deepika Padukone and John Abraham), there was no noise at all.
Some posters, publicity material, and sound bytes were released, along with several 15-minute Ask SRK sessions on Twitter.
But that is it.
There was no press interaction, interviews with cast, no conferences, podcasts or appearances on The Kapil Sharma Show, a huge amplifier for shows and films.
Yash Raj Films declined to speak. That it keeps tabs on the fandom and supports them with posters and publicity material is well-known.
"SRK fan clubs came out in huge numbers to create a groundswell of support, and to celebrate the film before and during its release," says Akshay Rathi, director, Aashirward Theatres.
The theatre chain owns and operates 17 single screen theatres across Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh.
Every little detail about the movie -- teaser, trailer, songs -- have been shared and re-shared millions of times on social media by fan clubs with members running into hundreds of thousands at times.
They, arguably, also helped reduce the impact that a cabal exhorting viewers to boycott, raised. There are videos and posts of fan club members cutting cakes, bursting firecrackers, and dancing in theatres.
One of the biggest fan clubs, SRK Universe, booked 50,000 tickets across cities in India for a first-day, first-show screening. It had screenings planned in 200 cities.
Traditionally, such strong fandom is associated with Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam cinema.
In Hindi, fandom became less potent as the industry corporatised and multiplexes became the main source of revenues. "Storytelling became more elitist," says Rathi.
It was edgier films like Omkara or Delhi Belly that brought in multiplex audiences.
The mass entertainers that united people in the joy and celebration of cinema, a la Dabangg, were few and far in between as single screens continued to shut down. That is when the mass Hindi film fans turned to films like Pushpa (Telugu) or KGF (Kannada) reckons Rathi.
The big Hindi hits recently -- Drishyam 2, Gangubai Kathiawadi or Brahmastra -- have engaged and entertained, says Rathi.
But Pathaan is being 'celebrated,' the way films were in single screens. It has already revived 25 single screens.
Analysts point out that that OTT has satiated the Hindi audience' need for the different cinema that multiplexes offered.
Now, it is spectacle films such as RRR and Brahmastra that are bringing them back.
Pathaan is pure spectacle; the kind of film that is making millions cheer and dance in theatres -- with lots of encouragement from SRKians, as they call themselves.
- The Rediff Reviews: Sukanya Verma and Aseem Chhabra