The recent era of Bollywood has been all about the careers of the three famous Khans, with a fourth one following suit. Since entering the scene in the 1990s, the Khans - Aamir, Salman and Shah Rukh - have ruled the hearts of millions of fans across the globe, so much so that the fourth, Saif Ali, built a career in the slipstream of the trio, and is now a shining star in his own right.
The length of their popular reign, three decades, hits home when you realise that Sara Ali Khan, Saif's daughter, made her debut this month: the next generation is coming to the fore, even as the four Khans are still romantic heroes in their own films.
That said, 2018 could go down as the year that the tide turned for the Khans.
Here are four reasons it wasn't a good year for the Khans
1. More misses than hits
There are two sides of a coin for an actor: hits and flops. The Khans have spent more time on the flop side recently. Salman had Bajrangi Bhaijaan and Sultan, but then he had a big dip with Tubelight, before rising a bit with Tiger Zinda Hai before producing a dud with Race 3; all the while, his bulging biceps and six-pack abs bore the burden as much as they could.
Aamir's output has always been about quality and not quantity. Yet his 2016 offering Dangal was followed by the damp squib of 2018 that was Thugs of Hindostan - his only offering for the year.
Shah Rukh, christened the King Khan of Bollywood, has had his worst run in recent times. From Fan to Jab Harry Met Sejal and now Zero, nothing seems to be working for him. In fact, Shah Rukh has not had an out-and-out hit since Jab Tak Hai Jaan in 2012. Perhaps he's too busy looking for a film to launch his daughter Suhana.
Saif, on the other hand, has had mixed success. Originally part of the first two Race films, before he was sidelined by Salman, Bazaar did not catch much momentum despite his tidy turn, but he had a breakout success with Sacred Games, Netflix's first big bet on India.
2. Alternative options
While the Khans have floundered, other actors have been up to the task (or perhaps, because other actors have been up to it, the Khans have floundered). Vicky Kaushal and Rajkummar Rao continued to consistently keep up with their deserved reputation as actors for the future, and Mr Consistent Ayushmann Khurana ended up as the ultimate winner with the two biggest hits of the year in Andhadhun and Badhaai Ho.
The only thing the success stories have in common is that they have nothing in common: there is no longer a tried and true formula for audiences. People lap up all content in all forms now, and make decisions based on the story rather than the marketing budget.
3. Times they are changing
During their storied careers, each of the 'Big Three' Khans (Aamir, Salman and Shah Rukh) have opted diverse roles, but there is still a pattern to their careers. Salman and Shah Rukh have continued to impress in action-romantic hero roles, while Aamir is experimenter. But this year, all three broke away from their stereotype, whether consciously or subconsciously. This may not have been a good idea.
Salman stepped in for the third Race franchise, replacing Saif in the thriller genre, and Aamir gave up on his fascination with films with a social message to do a simple revenge drama in TOH. Shah Rukh did play the romantic lead in Zero, but the focus on different body types meant he did so in shades of grey.
On a side note, Saif branched out with Netflix's serious and gritty Sacred Games, and he was the only one who ended up with an out-and-out winner, especially with the millennial generation. He took an actual risk, and it paid off.
4. Bottom line: they're ageing
Shah Rukh and Aamir are both 53 years old, while bachelor Salman is a year younger, Saif is the youngest of the Khan lot at 48. At what age does one have to stop being a leading man? One thing's for sure, female actors don't get to remain the romantic lead into their 50s.
Karan Johar, arguably the biggest producer in Bollywood, dismissed the notion that the days of Khans are over in a TV interview last week, but conceded that the type of films they approach will soon need revisiting given their age. He cited the example of Aamir, who played an father who trained his two daughters how to wrestle in Dangal. The trouble is that even the exceptional Aamir slipped back into a self-grandiose role in Thugs of Hindostan, and the others took risks, but randomly and without thinking of quality.
Perhaps, if they reflect on all of this and raise the bar with their content in the coming year, 2018 will go down as the year the Khans changed tack for good.