THE SULTAN AND HIS CROWN PRINCE
“I Would Be Comfortable Doing A Nude Scene” —RANA DAGGUBATI “Filmmaking Has A Lot To Do With Chemistry” —ARJUN RAMPAL
SALMAN KHAN was shooting for the cover of Stardust, along with the newest Hero on the block, SOORAJ PANCHOLI. And though it looked like it would be a picnic, could one be blamed for elephant sized butterflies in the stomach? Going in with the assumption that Salman had a grouse with film magazines, I couldn’t have been more wrong. To my outright question, ‘What is your main gripe with the media? Is there ever a possibility of clearing the air?’ he said, “I never had a grouse with the media per se. It was just some people I didn’t form long-term bonds with. From my side, there’s never been any barriers with you though.” Darn, I wasted two decades under a misconception then.
It was finally happening. It was to Karjat that we headed one weekend, to the lush green environs of ND (Nitin Desai) Studios, where Salman was shooting for the other Sooraj’s (Barjatya) Prem Ratan Dhan Payo. Midway, the skies darkened and the clouds and rains rendered it dark. But the verdant greens split through the darkness, bringing glorious light again. We reached faster than anticipated, and made our way to Salman’s temporary home since the last couple of years. A large-sized bungalow with innumerable rooms and open doors welcomed us. Laid out outside were a stretch of tables. As we turned the corner towards them, Neil (Nitin Mukesh), clad in startling violet which only he could carry off, got up to embrace one. Hugs exchanged, I looked around. And Salman was sitting right in front, wearing tracks and a tee, fiddling with his phone as he sipped his coffee, placing it every time precisely back on the same circle in the table mat’s design. He grinned and stood up to say hello and we made ourselves comfortable right there. Chais were soon placed in front of us. You can rely on Salman to never forget the small things that go into looking after someone. So there we were, with the Sultan minus his trappings, and ready to lay bare his journey. He did try to wiggle out saying “Oh, you can write an interview with me without ever speaking to me. You know everything- you’re in touch with my father (Salim Khan).” True that, but of late, the upheavals in Salman’s life have made it near impossible for Salim Khan to look at anyone with anything but leery eyes. Salman was kidding, but he earnestly responded to my lament about the same.
Salman himself was still for long enough. His back to the entranceway to his home, the doors and walls and windows and every surface, filled with faces he’d painted over the months. “My nights are free, and quiet”, he said simply. Which gave me to believe that despite visiting girlfriends, he remained essentially alone. The place was flooded with various screens with his handiwork. That’s a lot of loneliness, I thought. “This is a blissful getaway, far from the urgency of the city. I love it here and have really been at peace, shooting here. I have everything I need here,” he closed. His family farmhouse was about 40 minutes away, closer to Panvel, and his family visited whenever they felt like. “I really could stay here forever. Maybe shoot my next film here too. And all my films for the next five years…” When Salman gets an idea, he does get carried away with the flow of it. But despite his stillness, Salman is always the hub of buzzing activity around him. He draws people to him like moths to flame. So there was a plethora of people milling around. His childhood friends who help him keep boredom at bay, his managers, his doting but unobtrusive staff, his designers, his family, his co-stars, innumerable strays he always tends to, and this time round, two humungous turkeys. In the midst of this, did I hope to get Salman time? Soon enough, I did. We wandered off along the meandering trails in the luscious green studios, and when he chose the spot, miraculously, tables were set there, coffee and tea appeared. And most endearingly, as the clouds gathered overhead, and I held them at bay with prayers, we sat down to a simple, early dinner of jowar rotis, sprouts, vegetables, and chicken. We ate as he talked. Congratulations were in order. His last release Bajrangi Bhaijaan was a month past release and still setting the Box Office coffers ringing. So what did it all mean to him? How did he hit upon a story so simple and beautiful? “We lucked out with Bajrangi,” he says. “It was just that. We were approached for a narration and Kabir Khan went to meet the writer – who was Rajamouli’s (of Baahubali fame) father. He heard the one-line and called me excitedly. He said, ‘Just listen to this.’ I head the one-line on the phone and I was in too. It was such a simple and beautiful thought.” And he continued, answering my unasked question, if Rajamouli’s father had written it, why couldn’t his son have made it? “I asked him why they did not want to make it themselves. And they explained that with the story being set in the North, they thought we would do better in the matter of expression, since it came naturally to us. The language, the living, etc. Also, they had seen our films and wanted that somebody should tell the story without it becoming politically flammable, and that we have done in the past. “We just told a simple story led by human emotions. And that’s all there is to it, isn’t it really?” he posed. He’s troubled. It wasn’t all there was to it, one thought. And on gentle nudging, Salman said, his big limpid eyes welling up almost, “The movie has done so well here and in Pakistan too. So why do we have this differentiation based on religion and caste? Why do we have Hindu-Muslim discord? We are a country of so many faiths and languages, and basically, we all thrive on human emotion. So why does it have to be the way it is? They’re trying to find a cure for cancer, for heaven’s sake. Can they cure this? What is the answer? Why can’t we just all go through life without the issue of religion being politicised and capitalised on? Human emotions are put through so much in the process. And entire countries and its people are being wiped out in the name of one religion.” I have nothing but silence to offer him. Ok, so we were getting maudlin here. And Salman was silent for a bit as he contemplated the horizon. I let it rest, and moved gently on to Hero, the film which his company, Salman Khan Films (SKF), is producing; where he is launching Athiya Shetty, daughter of Suneil and Mana Shetty, and Sooraj Pancholi, son of Aditya Pancholi and Zarina Wahab. No actor in the industry has actually done so much to present other star kids. This is a first of sorts. How did he decide to take up the film Hero? Was it he who initiated it, or was it someone who came to him with the idea and he just took it ahead? The kind of efforts Salman has put into the film and in promoting it was more than he does his own releases, what drives him to do it? “Im only putting back what I had got in the early years, what many of us star children had - big launches. My God, they went all out in those days and launched us all in a big way. Take Sunny Deol’s launch, take Kumar Gaurav’s launch or Sunjay Dutt’s launch. They were huge events presented with so much pride. Even I had a Sooraj Barjatya launching me in a big way. So I can afford to do the same for these kids.” Yeah, but why Sooraj and Athiya? Because of his long standing friendship with their fathers? “Not just that. One day Nirmal (Aditya Pancholi) called me and said, ‘ Yaar, my son wants to be an actor. Can you help him and guide him?’ I saw Sooraj, who was at Yash Raj Films’ office. He was already assisting on a film there. I saw him from a distance, interacting with people. And there was something about this boy, his body language, that made heads turn and ask, ‘Who is he?’ He has that star quality. Athiya is the picture of innocence. She had gone abroad to study acting. They have both worked so hard and done such a superb job in the film. I am so happy I made this film with them. They are both going to become big stars.” Did the commerce aspect of this film with rank newcomers not give him sleepless nights? “That is for other people to handle na. I have not spent a sleepless night in a long while”, he grinned. And why Nikhil Advani? “I have seen Nikhil work during Salaam-E-Ishq. He is so clear in his mind what he wants, and he has a tremendous vision. He has a great sense of music too. The film has great songs. And he works very hard. I knew he would make a good film.” Why Hero? What part did Subhash Ghai have in the film? “I loved the love story in the original Hero and what it did for Jackie Shroff. So I went to Subhashji, and he happily helped us with whatever we wanted. Actually, neither the title nor the music was with
him. But we procured the same. And he’s stood with us through the making of the film.” I remember a time when Salman had turned cheeky towards Subhash Ghai at a party and had a few words. But I let it pass because that was another world another time. Salman had so moved on and evolved. So who in the industry today made Salman sit up with their sheer histrionics and acting talent? “All of the youngsters today are so immensely talented and hardworking. They come prepared. Look at my first film. Had I to make an entry in films today, I would not have stood a chance against these kids. Tiger Shroff is so amazingly good. I like Varun’s (Dhawan) work. Sidharth (Malhotra)has what it takes too. Shraddha Kapoor is the most talented girl in the younger lot. And Alia (Bhatt) is outstanding. And Katrina (Kaif). She’s so hard working. She’s a star.” Oooh! Did he still maintain good relations with Katrina? Considering his earlier relationships and the tumultuous way most ended, there was never the space to remain cordial. “Katrina is family. Always.” He closed that door right there. Salman made his debut in 1988, and it is 27 years along. He has taken much from the industry along with immense love. Does he think he can run forever? Is it humanly possible? “My whole life has been in the industry. I learnt along the way and am still learning, unlike today’s kids who know everything and come prepared. And I hope I can continue to do this always. It is only humanly possible.” I can believe that, considering Salman has invested so much, in the industry and outside. The lines merge - there is no separating him from the world he works in. In an industry that is so layered in its functioning, how much of himself did he invest? Did efforts need to go beyond a superficial level? Was he emotionally involved in his roles and films? I expected him to scoff at this rhetorical one. But he was earnest as he said, “My endeavour has always been to rise above the superficial. What do you think?” he shot back “Am I emotionally involved with my roles? Initially I wasn’t. There was too much for me to grasp. But I’ve seen that it is always the human spirit that triumphs. In films and in real life.” So many people’s lives are dependent on Salman. Was that not a huge burden to shoulder? After all, Salman didn’t just handle the commerce, he invested emotionally in people. “I think every actor, every successful actor feels this responsibility. Really, so many lives are dependent on us.” He gracefully deflects the responsibility from being his alone. “Every film we do, everybody involved and their extended families count. So not just thousands, but lakhs of people are dependent on us. From the financers, the producers, distributors, the theatre owners, the ticket vendors, the technicians... right down to the spot boys, the lightmen, the equipment hirers, the caterers, the tax department, the people who buy tickets to watch our films, the
Tiger Shroff is so amazingly good. I like Varun’s work. Sidharth has what it takes too. Shraddha Kapoor is the most talented girl in the younger lot. And Alia is outstanding.”
music industry, the clubs that play the music…so every day, I have to put myself out there in the arena. I cannot afford not to work. It’s crores of rupees loss for the people.” Salman is obviously taking this responsibility very seriously. CNN calls Salman one of the world’s biggest stars. “Really? Do they now? It is the love of the people.” Modest. No smirk. I almost can’t believe it. It is such an easy conversation. And not one I should toy with either. Salman Khan was ranked seventh in Forbes’ global list of highest-paid actors in the world, banking more than Hollywood actors like Johnny Depp, Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio. We know of them. Do they know of us? “Do we really care? Look at the people in this country alone. There is no time to reciprocate their appreciation of us, baahar jaake kya karna hai? We’re the largest film-making country with the largest number of people who watch films.” Okay. So the Hollywood question is redundant obviously. No time for Hollywood here. And what was it that took up most of Salman’s day? Acting? Waiting on sets? What did he fill the interim time with? Painting? Meetings? Did he ever tire of meeting so many people? “How can I tire of meeting people? All my life, I have only wanted to have people around me. That is the basis of all human connection. And in the time I have, there is so much to do. When I’m outside of Mumbai, like here, I get a lot more time to do as I please. It is so calm and green. I paint, I work out. I talk to people. I play with the animals. And I enjoy the solitude.” That solitude looked like it was an unlikely visitor, seeing as how even out here, there were three dozen people buzzing around. We had heard that Salman was investing in a website. And that the media website he was to have a stake in, fizzled out before it launched, and that many were rendered jobless after having done the ground work. So why did he back out? Eyebrows raised, but eyes pinched (I have to keep reminding him to ‘ Aankh moti karo’, and show off the most beautiful peepers on planet earth) “Yes, I am coming up with a website and it is going to be up and running by the new year. Whatever gave you the idea that it fizzled out? I have never backed out of anything that I have taken up. I’ve always seen it through, no matter the consequences.” This we know. Good, bad, or ugly, Salman is man enough to stand up and take it with joy or fortitude, as frequently required in his case. Midway through our conversation, the production people came to call him for a shot. He quickly zipped away on his scooter, waiting in readiness for him. The location was vast and Salman used the scooty, it was the handiest thing around. The decade of 2000 to 2010 was more or less a drought phase for someone who has seen plenty like Salman. How many films can and did he manage to do in a year? And how did he react personally when a film of his didn’t do well? “I do two films a year. That’s about as much as I can manage, for the scale of films that I’m part of. And it will hurt na, when thousands of people have put forward their best to create a story, a film for the audiences. And when the film releases, you wait to hear what people have to say about something that you’ve given one to two years of your life to. And then you realise that your best is not good enough. Because the audiences are expecting something
else altogether. But I’ve been lucky. Very lucky, because whatever I’ve become today, I’ve been largely carried forth by the audiences response and love. And I do my films for them. When they pay Rs. 300 or more to watch a film of mine, they’re entitled to say that they don’t like what they’re watching.” Salman, of all the people, is continually conscious of how much the people of this country root for him, through thick and thin. We are happy within ourselves as an industry. Why do we fail to leave a mark in the international waters, on the scale foreign films do? We make the biggest blockbusters in the world - not counting Steven Spielberg and animation films. So what are we lacking? “Theatres, theatres, and more theatres. That’s all we need. You know, for the number of films we make and the size of our industry, we have a pathetically small number of theatres in this country. Merely some 3000 or so. Someme places, you can travel miles without seeing a theatre. Whereas, in the West and other countries, they have thousands and thousands of theatres. So the outreach of the film is that much greater. Here, due to lack of theatres, many people do not even get that basic chance to go out and watch a film. But like everything else in the industry is improving, I’m sure there will come a time when we will also have huge number of theatres.” As it is, films are barely seeing full houses since multiplexes are an expensive proposition. “But that’s what the government needs to work out na. Innumerable theatres screening films at affordable rates, so that every man, woman and child in this country has access to entertainment. That is the only reason our films don’t make the kind of mark they can and should.” Whilst I’m thinking of John Lennon’ss Imagine, somewhere, something in this logic eludes me. But I still my questioning mind. Did I say international shores? Ah well. Let’s all of us Indians watch all our films beforeore we flaunt them abroad, I guess. Salman Khan is a commercial formulamula filmmaker’s dream. Has he ever evenen considered doing crossover cinema?a? Would he? He might uplift the life of some struggling and talented director. Who would of course then turn completely commercial.mmercial. Salman looks at me with slanted eyes.yes. A hint of ribbing to come. “All the films I do are actually crossover films. Dekha na, abhi bhi,, from India to Pakistan cross over kiya. Isse jyaadaa kya kar sakta hoon? You can’t get more crossover than that.” I persist. His company could producee such films at least, all these filmmakers need is backing. What kind of films is SKF planning to venture?nture? “Oh, we’ll make good cinema.” Totally clichéd.d. But what is
Salman if he doesn’t take you through the gamut, from sublime to silly, classic to cliché, rational to ridiculous, all in the same conversation? And would all who were involved benefit? Salman has been the one who has taken the film business levels to ridiculous targets and heights - the 100 Crore Club President would be him. How would he ensure fairness, that it filter down to all involved in the movies? “By and large today, everything is above board, since everything is put down on paper, unlike the old days. Earlier, you could get gypped in a heartbeat. By people who owe you money but didn’t make it, due to non performance of films etc. Kuchh bhi likha hua nahin hota tha. Now everything is on paper so the lines are clearly visible. Ab chindichori khatam ho gayi hai because everybody is making money legitimately. I am a classic example of how easy it is to gyp industry folk. I’ve had it happen to me so many times.” And what did he do every time it happened.? Did he pursue the money, or write it off as bad debts? His generosity is as famous as his short fuse (which actually seems in hibernation mode or has been buried alive in the past few years). In fact, it last happened to me in the film Veer. And now that matter is in court. But I always meet everybody on the same footing like I always have. Debt, monies owed, all that doesn’t change my relationships with people,” he said graciously. Salman’s inherited the painting genes from his mom Salma, and writing genes from his dad Salim. He has been writing scripts steadily over the years. He explored one of the stories in the aforementioned Veer, directed by Anil Sharma. So where were the rest of those scripts? “Next year, you’ll see one probably,” he promised sweetly. He has to be talking about the sequel to Kick. Word has it that the sequel will be heavier in terms of emotional content. “Isn’t that what wins every single time? I have always leaned towards the emotional content in my choice of films and roles. You feel good about something, you do it well, and the good feeling permeates to the audience and to everybody around. Spreading good energies is important. We are too caught up in so many unpleasantries, that we have to actively stop and think about what we are putting out.” Yes, even in his worst days, Salman has always had unconditional love and support from every quarter, because he was only reaping the rewards of his own emotional investment and commitment. And here we label this man as commitment-phobic. There really is no man who is stauncher in his commitment than Salman Khan. Talking of, why does art have to imitate life always? Was it a stipulation he’d made with his directors, that he would never walk hand in hand into the sunset with the girl? “Arre, what sunset yaar, half the time you cannot see by sunset. And then midway, one of you loses the way and then you look for somebody else. And then there is a sunset every day and a sunrise after that. Sunset, sunrise sunset. And you keep finding new people.” Got it, Salman. Totally trashed my meaningful question, haven’t you? He also squished my question about wanting to find a companion whose world revolved round him and vice-versa, with some complete gobbledygook. So what were the films he was working on currently? “I have five films to look forward to. Prem Ratan Dhan Payo, which we shoot till mid September, and which releases in November, during Diwali. The one I’ll be working on immediately after this is Sultan for Yash Raj Films. That’s going to be a difficult film in many ways. Then there’s Arbaaz’s Dabangg 3, Sohail’s film, and Atul and Baby’s (Alvira) film. But I start work on the rest only after I finish Sultan. So that’ll be some time in the next year.” I thought he was doing Anees Bazmee’s sequel to No Entry. That film has ten girls. I thought the odds of him not bagging one of that bevy was an impossibility. Uh huh. “I’ve not confirmed that film yet. My priority will be these five. Anything beyond is too far away to talk about.” After films (will there ever be a time like that), we’ve heard that Salman wanted to get into active social work. What exactly, considering in any case, he’s involved in a large number of causes? “Oh believe me, I can’t wait to start working on that, something solid and worthy which makes a difference to the causes.” Why Salman, a lot of stuff you do, does touch people’s lives. And this is true of Salman, that the good he does, his right hand doesn’t get to know what his left gave away. “We started ‘Being Human’ initially as a brand for clothes, and after costs were taken care of, the proceeds and profits go to various causes. But it’s grown so much, it’s taken a life of its own. It’s become a movement, a cult, a way of life. Which is so wonderful. And when I retire, I want to take it to a whole new level. I want to work at the grass-root level, and make sure that adequate funds reach the underprivileged. And everybody I know and meet is eager to be part of Being Human. It’s only the beginning as it is now.” Salman has had his statue at Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum for eight years now. In earnest, I ask him how important was stuff like this to someone at one level, detached from such things. One doesn’t ever see him engrossed in these details. He never receives awards - though they have been conferred on him. Did he not have faith that they come from a place of true appreciation? “No. I don’t. They really mean nothing. Awards should be given to those who really work so hard in their films in order to get the awards. They really need them.” Getting the drift, Salman. He rushes to add. “Newcomers should be encouraged with awards if they have performed well. And yes, people should be entertained so I will come and dance at the awards if you pay my fee. I will not be paid otherwise to come to an award function.” Poker face, wicked thought. So who was the one individual who understood Salman perfectly; got where he was coming from, at all times? “I think everyone does, na. Why would they love me otherwise? Haan... woh ek kehne ki baat thi, in the earlier years that I’m so misunderstood. Not so. Everyone gets me.” Okay. Since a while now, we’re not getting the conversation we want to hear. I need to move in the direction of wrapping up the show, but there are a squillion questions left. This one I have to know. In 2011, Salman admitted that he suffered from Trigeminal Neuralgia, a facial nerve disorder, otherwise known as the Suicide Disease. He
Had I to make an entry in films today, I would not have stood a chance against these kids of today.”
apparently had been quietly suffering it for seven years, but the pain had become unbearable and was affecting him. Was this true??? I squeaked. “Yeah, I did. You can’t pinpoint how one gets it. It was incredibly painful and let me tell you, the people who suffer from it go through excruciating times. Thankfully, I had surgery and rid myself of the disease. You know, this disease causes the maximum number of suicides in the world. When the pain becomes so unbearable, people who cannot bear it are driven to suicide, there are so many cases of this.” No hue and cry, no fishing for sympathy. But he’s no stoic. He’s all heart. Braveheart to many. My unasked questions are bunched and bagged. They have to wait for another time. What did he attribute his incredible popularity and continued success to? He seemed to have a different purpose, thundering past in life. But where was he going? What was his quest, his search for? What stopped him from taking that plunge into a relationship headalong – the Jo hoga dekha jayega types - being in the here and now, or planning long-term? Did his intentions surface subconsciously - was he scared to make someone the centre of his universe - other than his really strong family relationships? How much did he lean on Salim Saab still? Had all his anger dissipated? Did he see Him as a biased God? Was the child in him recognized by everyone he met? Was his name really Abdul Rashid Salim Salman? Oh well!. It’s a wrap. And this was one for the road. Had he ever railed at God (unlike the sweet conversations he used to have with his God in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam) about anything? Especially when he saw low periods with health, with his cases, with his relationships? “Just look at my whole life. I would be the most ungrateful bastard if I had to rail at God and be angry with him. I am so blessed. Yeah, sure, little nok jhok I have on a personal level with him. But hey, seriously, I have only immense gratitude for everything in my life.” And did he believe in Destiny and Karma? “What do you think?” he had to have the last word.
Interview put away, we sat down for some real talking and the photo session that Salman was doing with his protégé Sooraj, who could well be a carbon copy of him. These two are definitely Karmically linked. In their natures and in their fates. And their paths are intertwined, emotionally and professionally, as they walk towards their first trip together. From one Hero to the other...
Katrina is family. Always.”