THE SULTAN AND HIS CROWN PRINCE

Stardust (English) - - FRONT PAGE - Words SU­GUNA SUN­DARAM

“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.”

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