IN­DIA’S MOST EL­I­GI­BLE BACH­E­LOR IS NOW 51

AND HE STILL DOESN’T IN­TEND TO ACT HIS AGE

Hindustan Times - Brunch - - EXCLUSIVE! - Text by Mark Manuel Pho­to­graphs by Haider Khan

THE MOST rol­lick­ing in­ter­views I’ve done with Sal­man Khan are the ones over drinks. Al­ways at Galaxy Apart­ments. Al­ways late at night. On one clas­sic oc­ca­sion, there was a power out­age, so we talked by can­dle­light. While elec­tri­cians strug­gled with the lights, a portly chore­og­ra­pher at­tempted to teach Sal­man the dance steps he was to per­form at an awards show the next night. The ac­tor didn’t do re­hearsals. So the chore­og­ra­pher came home. Sal­man didn’t stir from be­hind the bar. He watched with a frown as the chore­og­ra­pher pranced around in the flick­er­ing shad­ows. “Okay, what’s next?” he asked im­pa­tiently. “Bang

Bang,” the chore­og­ra­pher said fear­fully. “Bang-Bang wohkya­hota hai?” Sal­man de­manded in­cred­u­lously. The chore­og­ra­pher ex­plained. And Sal­man sent him pack­ing. His glass of Bac­ardi and I were wait­ing.

This time, the lights are on at Galaxy Apart­ments and Sal­man’s lovely blueeyed and blonde Ro­ma­nian ac­tress friend Iu­lia Van­tur is present, el­e­gantly sip­ping a glass of wine. The in­ter­view be­gan at Film City on the sets of

Tube­light. It was the last day of shoot­ing in 2016. Di­rec­tor Kabir Khan had recre­ated a charm­ing Ladakh vil­lage: it was old-world and had a win­try air. Sal­man was dressed in a sweater, though the tem­per­a­ture was an un­pleas­ant 30 de­grees Cel­sius. He had torn a lig­a­ment and limped off the set painfully at packup. “Let’s go home and have a drink,” he sug­gests wearily. His hol­i­day had be­gun. First Christ­mas, then his birth­day, and now New Year, all spent with the fam­ily at his Pan­vel farm­house. He re­turns to

Tube­light on January 6.

FIRST AC­TION HERO

On Tues­day, Sal­man qui­etly turned 51. He’s age­ing, but the Bol­ly­wood su­per­star is age­less on screen, and the fans won’t have Sal­man Khan any other way.

“I don’t feel my age,” he tells me. “My mother says I’m stuck at 13! But I’ve started get­ting in­jured a lot more and I’ve started feel­ing the pain a lot more. I’ve had frac­tures, bro­ken bones, strained mus­cles, torn lig­a­ments, every­thing hurts, but I’m still work­ing. I sleep for four hours. Peo­ple who com­plain they can’t sleep don’t know what to do with the time they’re awake. I use that time. If I’m not shoot­ing, I’m read­ing scripts, lis­ten­ing to nar­ra­tions, sit­ting on mu­sic, meet­ing lawyers, at­tend­ing to the Be­ing Hu­man Foun­da­tion, or par­ty­ing! My doc­tor says, ‘Don’t be Rambo!’ But I can’t stop work­ing. I be­lieve you grow old and feel your age when you start get­ting tired, when you’re bored with life, un­en­thu­si­as­tic about your work and when you lose that get-up-and-go im­pul­sive­ness. You need to be happy, ex­cited and in­ter­ested all the time. You need to be on the move. And

don’t leave even one pore in your body open for the old man to get in. If you do, the old man will take over your life!”

This in­ter­view had to be resched­uled thrice. And it ap­peared iffy the fourth time too. But I knew it would hap­pen. Sal­man is like that. “Ek­baar­jo­maine com­mit­ment kar

di...” and all that. On the sets of Tube­light, there were the old and in­firm hope­fully clutch­ing let­ters from doc­tors: his Be­ing Hu­man Foun­da­tion takes care of thou­sands of life-sav­ing surg­eries in the big­gest hos­pi­tals of Mumbai. Civic of­fi­cials wanted his sanc­tion for the con­struc­tion of toi­lets in Aarey Colony where defe­ca­tion is done in the open. He’s the poster boy for their Swachh Bharat Ab­hiyan cam­paign. Sal­man lis­tened to their re­quire­ments, qui­etly do­ing the math in his head, work­ing out how many toi­lets were re­quired for a slum of 3,500 fam­i­lies. “You’ll pay for the toi­lets?” the civic team asked. He agreed with­out hes­i­ta­tion. Strangers came up for jobs. At­trac­tive young girls, all die-hard fans trem­bling with ex­cite­ment, asked for self­ies. An im­pov­er­ished woman waited with a dirty lit­tle girl wear­ing a tat­tered Sul­tan tee. The child held a pas­try in her grubby hands. The woman didn’t want a selfie, she didn’t pos­sess a cell phone, they just wanted to wish Sal­man for his birth­day. His eyes lit up.

Im­pressed and touched by all this though I was, I was glad to get away to Galaxy Apart­ments for that drink. I’ve seen it be­fore. Sal­man do­nates large sums in the blink of an eye with­out ques­tion if it’s for char­ity. He once said that if some­body was dy­ing and money could save that per­son’s life, he would pro­vide the money. I know that’s true. He ac­cepts thanks from

“MONEY, ANY­BODY CAN EARN. BUT A NAME LIKE MINE, TO BE THE UNI­VER­SAL ‘BHAI’ TO EV­ERY­ONE, THAT’S DIF­FI­CULT.”

no­body. He tells peo­ple who ex­press grat­i­tude, “You took what was al­ready yours from me, that’s your naseeb.” He’s no­to­ri­ously large-hearted. But he’s also a sim­ple­ton. And peo­ple scam him all the time. Some park a hun­dred me­tres away from Galaxy Apart­ments, where his fa­ther sits in the garage signing che­ques, they re­move their watches and jew­ellery, and come with hands out­stretched and tears in their eyes. A few abuse him when he sees through their game and turns them away. Oth­ers fall prey to bro­kers who prom­ise them ac­cess to Sal­man’s lim­it­less funds.

GIVE AND TAKE

I think he con­ducts the busi­ness of be­ing Sal­man Khan like a mom-and­pop-store. Putting what he earns into one pocket and pro­vid­ing out of the other. “Do you know what you’re worth? What money you make? How long can you keep do­ing this?” I ask. “When I was nothing, I had nothing,” Sal­man replies. “I don’t think of the fu­ture. My time is now. And I will do what­ever I can do. Money, any­body can earn. But a name like mine, to be the uni­ver­sal ‘Bhai’ to ev­ery­one, that’s dif­fi­cult. I go with what’s hap­pen­ing. And I try to take it to the next level. Do­ing char­ity isn’t about giv­ing money. It’s about hold­ing out a hand, of­fer­ing a smile, char­ity is about kind­ness. Be­ing Hu­man is about be­ing there.”

I re­mind him: “But peo­ple un­char­i­ta­bly say you’re do­ing all this to clean up your im­age.” He shrugs. “It’s my money whether it comes from films, my cloth­ing lines, jew­ellery range, what­ever. And I’d rather it goes into health­care and ed­u­ca­tion than my pocket. I’m pay­ing rent for my time on earth. The uni­verse is like the IT De­part­ment. It can raid you any­time. Be­fore that hap­pens, I’m pay­ing my taxes. Peo­ple will talk. To­mor­row if I lose every­thing, they will also say, ‘God gave him so much, the fool

went and squan­dered it all.’ I tell them, even if all this is a con game and I’m try­ing to clean my im­age, I’m still giv­ing – not tak­ing. Dude, you try and do it. But I wish I’d started ear­lier. Now I’m meet­ing peo­ple who are good and clean, know their job and want to do nice things. I’m ty­ing up with like­minded peo­ple. I re­gret I didn’t meet them ear­lier. But who would trust me when I was younger? It’s hard to make peo­ple have faith in you when you’re 25!”

“What space are you in right now?” I ask. “You’re 51, what’s on your mind?” Sal­man laughs. “Peo­ple see me ro­manc­ing hero­ines, they see me hors­ing around on TV re­al­ity shows even though I might have a court ap­pear­ance the next day, I’m at­tend­ing par­ties, spot­ted en­ter­ing or leav­ing the air­port, cel­e­brat­ing a film’s re­lease, they think I’m chilled out. But all this is my job. And I have to do it no mat­ter how messed up I am in the head. The truth is, I’m in an agi­tated space. A court ap­pear­ance af­fects my whole fam­ily. But it’s like a sword over my head. It keeps me in check. Un­der con­trol. If I didn’t have it, I would have taken off ! The pos­i­tive side is that there’s an aware­ness be­cause of me. That drink­ing and driv­ing is not cool. Peo­ple think, ‘If it could land Sal­man Khan in jail, what are we?’ That doesn’t mean I look for­ward to a court date. But it’s a blast for the me­dia. I be­lieve four or five days go into plan­ning sto­ries. How do you send the TRPs up? By mak­ing cap­sules on all my wrong­do­ings! Any­time there’s an ac­ci­dent in­volv­ing a celebrity, I’m dragged out and show­cased all over again. There are days when I don’t want to leave the house. But I need to go out and work be­cause a lot of peo­ple earn their liv­ing off me. It helps that I en­joy my work.”

OLD IS FOR OTHER PEO­PLE

We talk about films. I want to know how long he’ll con­tinue to play the en­dear­ing su­per­star, the blaz­ing ac­tion hero. Amitabh Bachchan fa­mously re­tired when he turned 50, and then came back with mean­ing­ful char­ac­ter roles. Aamir Khan has just set the bar in Dan­gal for the Bol­ly­wood Khans to play age­ing fa­thers to grown-up girls. Would Sal­man con­sider, say, be­ing the screen fa­ther of Tiger Shroff ? “Tchah!” he says dis­dain­fully. “I played a fa­ther in Jab Pyaar Ki­sise Hota Hai when I was in my 30s. I’ve been there and done that. And in my next film, I’m play­ing the fa­ther to a 13-year-old girl. It’s a film about danc­ing. Like the Hol­ly­wood Step Up fran­chise. I’m go­ing to be a prop­erly trained dancer. You know how painful that is? Sul­tan was also painful. I had to lose 18 ki­los of mus­cle. I’m not into di­ets. I eat gharkakhana. And I don’t eat for taste. As soon as I’ve got my pro­teins and carbs, I leave the ta­ble. So, to lose 18 ki­los of mus­cle was the most dif­fi­cult thing on the earth. But I’ve al­ways be­lieved that ef­fort­less hard work should be seen on-screen. And that’s what I’ve been do­ing from Wanted to

Sul­tan. I don’t see my­self do­ing char­ac­ter roles. So what if I’m 51? Stal­lone is still Rocky and Rambo at 70. Film­mak­ing is the most beau­ti­ful in­dus­try. We sell dreams. Why shouldn’t I live mine?”

I ask: “For an ac­tor who’s a very pri­vate per­son you give a lot of your­self in Bigg Boss. How much of that is your per­son­al­ity? The show is not a hit, yet you do it sea­son af­ter sea­son, why – for the big pay packet?” Sal­man replies: “No, I do it for the con­nect with the aam aadmi. That’s the power of tele­vi­sion. When I did 10

Ka Dum, I was scared, but I de­cided to do it my way. There was no bet­ter way of do­ing it than by telling my story. Sid­dharth Basu held his head and said, ‘My show!’ But the Is­raelis who con­cep­tu­alised 10 Ka Dum said it was the best thing that hap­pened. Same way with Bigg Boss. A per­son’s per­son­al­ity comes out in con­ver­sa­tion. The moralisms are not part of the script, that’s my life, my ad­vice may be crooked, but it works. Later on, I see the show and won­der, ‘Did I re­ally say that?’ Morally, eth­i­cally, prin­ci­pally, I may not be cor­rect, but a lot of peo­ple think like me. The thing is, TV con­nects with the peo­ple. And for them

Bigg Boss is phookat en­ter­tain­ment. They hold the re­mote in their hand. If you can stop them from switch­ing chan­nels, you’ve ar­rived.”

Late night has be­come early morn­ing. The drinks con­tinue to flow like his con­ver­sa­tion, un­plugged. But Sal­man is used to this. Night af­ter night, he stands at his bar drink­ing and smok­ing, and en­ter­tain­ing friends. He sleeps late and gets up early. I won­der how the man in the mir­ror greets him the next day. “He tells me what to do,” Sal­man grins. “Ev­ery­body gets old and dies. Life is about how much you can de­lay this. You can ac­cept what the man in the mir­ror tells you and take a de­ci­sion then and there. I push it for later. That’s be­cause I know I’ve done it be­fore. But then I have to train harder, abuse my body more. What you keep telling your body, the mind lis­tens to. I should know. How do you think I got to be 51?”

Mean­while, the lovely Iu­lia Van­tur who Bol­ly­wood hopes Sal­man Khan will marry in 2017 lis­tens. She has kicked off her shoes and is at home. I don’t ask him about mar­riage. He’s still the most el­i­gi­ble 51-year-old bach­e­lor in the world. The man in the mir­ror has ac­cepted this and so has Iu­lia, I think.

“I’M IN AN AGI­TATED SPACE. A COURT AP­PEAR­ANCE AF­FECTS MY WHOLE FAM­ILY. IT’S LIKE A SWORD OVER MY HEAD. IT KEEPS ME IN CHECK.”

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