'I want strength to love'
Salman Khan completes 30 years in Bollywood this week. It's also his birthday. It's also Christmas. On his wish list is only one desire.
It's 5.30 pm on a Saturday. Salman Khan has arrived in a white Range Rover at Bandra's Mehboob Studios. A random mix of journalists, photographers, fans, and his entourage, watches his every move. He steps out of the car, and relaxes for a few minutes. The photographers nudge him for a picture. He poses, first, seriously, then laughing as he moves to Munna Badnaam. The song ends, and he walks towards a tent that has been set up for media interviews. On the way, he chats with director Farah Khan who has stopped by.
Incidentally, the director-producer was rumoured to replace Salman as host of Bigg Boss 13 in the last six weeks of this season. The move stands canned for now. Perhaps the makers realised there is no boss bigger than Salman. "I don't know what role I am playing this season," he says of the hit reality show. "They are bringing up stuff I did, or didn't do, 30 years ago. Basically, it's become a two-day programme on me!"
Salman Khan shares a moment with Dabangg 3 co-stars Sonakshi Sinha and Saiee Manjrekar at the film's promotion. Pic/Sameer Markande
It's only fitting. He completes three decades in the Hindi film industry this week. And the "special" is going to have TRPs hit the roof. What started off as a career for a romantic hero, with mega hits Maine Pyaar Kiya, Saajan and Pyaar Kiya Toh Darna Kya, took a detour when he successfully experimented with comedy in Andaz Andaz Apna, Biwi No 1, and No Entry. But it's the films he has chosen in the last decade—Dabangg, Bajrangi Bhaijaan, Sultan, Bharat and Tiger Zinda Hai—that have turned him into the hero of heroes.
In his private life, he has faced the wrath of the universe, making the round of courts, and facing detractors calling him the brashest of stars who can't act. And then, there are an equal number of stories about his largesse, his unending need to help people. Khan doesn't seem to care about what people think. He wears his "good heart" on his sleeve. When we finally meet, a table divides us. He turns 53 on December 27, but he appears just as fit and handsome as he does on screen. He looks like he'd be happier not doing the interview. And we realise, he actually doesn't need to. But when we get down to talking, he is high on wit, cracking jokes, some at his own expense, and others, at this writer's.
Dabangg 3, which he has co-written, sees him return as happy-go-lucky UP cop Chulbul Pandey. He takes a moment to think about the character's evolution since he debuted in 2010. "Chulbul is now stronger, with [the support of] his family and beliefs, and in the way he conducts himself. He can see the larger picture now. And this time, you also discover that he has a past, which is now back and messing with the present." Salman seems to know why the franchise is working. It's a time when we need someone to assure us that things will be alright. "Everyone wants their local policeman to be like Chulbul. When you see uniformed persons on screen, and if the film is about fighting for the country or a cause, you look up to those characters. Such films always work."
And Salman enjoys playing these roles, including for a personal reason. He takes back bits and pieces of Chulbul with him each time a sequel releases. "I'd like to embrace at least 20 per cent of the traits of every noble character I play," he hopes. Salman began his career as a lover consumed by passion. About the 1989 super-hit Maine Pyaar Kiya, Khan says, it was his father, famed scriptwriter Salim Khan, who suggested he adopt a romantic image. "That is my father's biggest contribution. He had asked me, can you play a cop? A lawyer? A don? The mohalla ka dada? I said, no. Then, he asked, what about the romantic hero? I said, perhaps. When I asked if he could recommend my name, he refused. So, I'm trying to play those characters which I didn't have conviction to play earlier, now. Thankfully, Maine Pyar Kiya was a hit. Right before that, another Bandra boy had made it big. It would have been embarrassing if I hadn't," he laughs about Aamir Khan's debut Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak.
Without a care about the attention he elicits, Salman, the fitness enthusiast, prefers cycling to locations when he can. Pic/Sneha Kharabe
Bhagyashree, his first co-star, remembers the set as being like a college campus, where she, Salman and director Sooraj Barjatya met for the first time and became friends. "He was extremely protective about me. Once, we had to be part of a shoot for a larger article on three couples who had made their debut back then, and the couple before had us posed intimately. I knew I would not be able to do the same. I heard later that Salman was told by the photographer that he knew I would act stuck up and shy, so Salman should kiss me anyway. I believe he yelled at the photographer. I have respect for him."
Later, when she married Himalaya Dasani, Salman was the first to come to the wedding and the last one to leave. "Since my own family hadn't come, he and Sooraj ji represented the bride's side." She thinks it's with the 2015 comedy drama Bajrangi Bhaijaan that Salman developed a real connect with the audience. "It's no longer about being mesmerized by his torso. Now, it's less showbazi, and more about connecting with the viewers."
Every child's friend, the actor has a soft spot for children. Seen here goofing around with a contestant on a dance reality show this year. Pic/Sameer Markande
Earlier, too, Salman has tried his hand at non-dramatic films, like Phir Milenge, where he played an HIV positive character in love with Shilpa Shetty. When we tell him roles like that are a favourite, he smiles. "I am not going to do movies for your kind for a long time."
He recalls going to a theatre when he was young, and leaving in awe of Bruce Lee. "When we'd go to the theatre, we'd take a look at the poster and decide if we were going to watch the film. If it had blood and guns, we wanted to see it. I know the trend is changing, but I don't want heroes to die. The day heroes die, the sort of movies I do, will also die. If you come out of the theatre, and want to be like the actor you left inside, the battle is won. That's all I want my movies to do."
Actor-director Revathi, who acted with Salman in Love in 1991 and directed him in Phir Milenge in 2004, says Salman came on board to do a role several actors had refused. "Chalo, karte hain," he had told her on the phone. "He did it for friendship, and he was the darling of the unit. It was so easy to work with him. He has a big heart, and rarely thinks with his head. I have called him a few times to talk, just talk about personal issues, and he talks as if we speak every day.
Once you are his friend, you are his friend forever." Khan may not be doing the subtle roles anymore, but he continues to do justice to whatever he picks. He laughs when we discuss prep for a role. He doesn't take on parts that require prep, but then shares a detail that could underline a method. "If you can walk the character, you can talk the character. Daisy aunty [Irani] had three students she taught acting to—Sajid Khan, Chunkey Pandey, and me. After us, she shut shop. She said, 'Keep going to places, keep on observing people. That's the only acting tip I will give you. Hear things, and remember them'. That's what I do. I observe."
Ali Abbas Zafar, who directed Salman in his last film, Bharat, says he likes that the actor wants to go to work every day. "His screen connect and charisma is hard to beat. He is also a team player. With Salman, what you see is what you get. There are no layers to him. He won't change for anyone, however long they have known him. The maturity that the audience sees in my work is thanks to his experience as an actor."
In the last few years, Salman has done more than act. He runs a fashion brand, and a sizeable chunk of its profits help run the Being Human Foundation, a non-profit that works in education and healthcare for the underprivileged. But Salman is also a successful producer, with some of Indian television's biggest shows backed by SK TV, including the weekly comedy sketch, The Kapil Sharma Show. But he brushes off any mention of business acumen. "I don't think about business, although I think about money all the time, and would want more of it. All the profits from the business go to charitable trusts. If that's business, then everyone should be a businessman."
It's getting dark outside. Salman is dreading the line of journalists waiting to interview him. Our last question is about whether he has ever wondered what he'll do when he is done with acting. What next? "I am thinking, what now! What will you ask next, and when we will get to your last question." We crack up. There is a epilogue question we have. "What have the last 30 years taught you?" "Only one thing. Every moment must be enjoyed and extended, even those that don't leave you happy. I remember wanting to be an actor just yesterday. That's how fast the last 30 years have gone by."
Salman's Xmas wish list
. I wish for the good health and well being of my family, loved ones and my fans
. I hope to have continued strength to give back the same degree of love my fans have blessed me with for 30 years, and enthusiasm [towards my work].
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