talks love, life and legacy

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On screen, he wears a brood­ing in­tense look more of­ten than he does a shirt. His bulging bi­ceps and quirky dance moves have the cash reg­is­ters ring­ing and his fans go­ing wild. And in the ephemeral world of fame, re­ports of his link-ups with some of the most beau­ti­ful women in the world have been the only con­stant.

Sal­man Khan, self-pro­claimed “av­er­age ac­tor’’ and Bol­ly­wood’s favourite bad boy is also re­port­edly the high­est paid, earn­ing more than Rs40 crore (Dh23.5 mil­lion) for a movie, and charg­ing Rs5 crore for host­ing each episode of Bigg Boss 7 – In­dia’s ver­sion of Big Brother, a show that ex­pe­ri­enced an enor­mous leap in pop­u­lar­ity the mo­ment he signed up four sea­sons ago.

Then there are the mil­lions he earns from the in­nu­mer­able en­dorse­ments, in­clud­ing be­ing a brand am­bas­sador for Dubai-based fash­ion house Splash.

At 48, Sal­man is at the top of the en­ter­tain­ment game that is as un­pre­ten­tious as it is un­for­giv­ing in its pur­suit of money and suc­cess. But iron­i­cally, as his fa­ther the fa­mous Bol­ly­wood script writer Salim Khan once said, Sal­man con­tin­ues to suf­fer from ‘divine dis­sat­is­fac­tion’.

Whether it’s Sal­man’s search for a soul­mate who is stun­ning but dresses mod­estly, or him want­ing his films to be the big­gest-gross­ing ever, or at least big­ger than his ri­val Khans – Shah Rukh and Aamir – it’s this peren­nial pur­suit for more that keeps him com­pet­i­tive.

“How­ever big [a star] you are, ev­ery­one wants their film to be a slightly big­ger hit than some­one else’s, and if it doesn’t work, they want it to be a slightly smaller flop than the other per­son’s,” he ad­mits in a one-on-one con­ducted out­side a noisy gallery in his home­town of Mum­bai, while pro­mot­ing his lat­est re­lease Jai Ho.

Di­rected by So­hail Khan, the youngest of his two broth­ers – Sal­man has two sis­ters as well – the film, like most of his oth­ers, fol­lows the David and Go­liath sto­ry­line where one man fights against the odds to beat a cor­rupt and in­com­pe­tent sys­tem.

The film also has a moral – do a good deed and en­cour­age the re­cip­i­ent to pay it for­ward. Al­though a no­ble thought, Jai Ho, un­like most of Khan’s re­cent films, has not done too well at the box of­fice. For­tu­nately for Sal­man, it is con­sid­ered to be a “slightly smaller flop” than many other re­cent re­leases not hav­ing made its en­try into the elite Rs100 crore club.

It is this num­bers game that has turned film-mak­ers into busi­nesses and com­pelled stars to ex­plore their brand eq­uity. And af­ter 25 years since his first lead role, Sal­man knows that his star power lies in his in-your-face phys­i­cal­ity rather than his act­ing tal­ents.

Un­like many other Bol­ly­wood stars who are launched in lav­ish pro­duc­tions by their par­ents – like Hrithik Roshan in Kaho Na Pyaar Hai (Tell Me You Love Me), San­jay Dutt in Rocky or Sunny Deol in Be­taab (Anx­ious) – Sal­man stepped into the in­dus­try at the age of 14 as a back­ground dancer for a mere Rs75, only be­cause school didn’t hold his in­ter­est. Al­though his fa­ther was in the busi­ness of film­mak­ing, he didn’t have the fi­nan­cial stand­ing to launch him big.

It took Sal­man nine years and a se­cond lead role in Biwi Ho To Aisi (An ideal wife) – an av­er­age grosser at the box of­fice – to fi­nally get some

‘The scene where I was dipped in mus­tard oil took 11 days to film… It looks cool but takes time’

recog­ni­tion. But it was only a year later in 1989 when he made his de­but as a main lead in Maine Pyar Kiya (I Am In Love) that he made it big.

A clichéd yet clas­sic love story be­tween a rich, spoilt brat and a girl from a hum­ble back­ground, it went on to be­come one of the big­gest hits in the his­tory of Hindi cinema, and Sal­man’s char­ac­ter Prem be­came ev­ery col­lege­go­ing girl’s dream boy. The film was dubbed in sev­eral lan­guages and earned Sal­man glory not just in In­dia but all over the world. Sal­man went on to win the Film­fare Best Male De­but Award the fol­low­ing year, his only one to date.

But what the film also did was put a mon­key on his back – a mon­key called ex­pec­ta­tion. “In spite of its stu­pen­dous suc­cess, I didn’t have work for six months as my co-star in Maine, Bhagyashree, de­cided to leave the in­dus­try to get mar­ried. And as most pro­duc­ers wanted to cast both of us to­gether to ex­ploit the chem­istry we shared in our de­but film, they did not want to take a risk by cast­ing me with any other fe­male ac­tor. My fa­ther had to speak to some of his friends in the in­dus­try to help me get a role,” he re­calls. For five long years he worked in sev­eral for­get­table films just so he would not slip into obliv­ion.

Then in 1994, Sooraj Bar­jatya, the di­rec­tor of Maine and Sal­man’s friend, reen­tered his life to not just recre­ate the magic of their first film, but also to save a ca­reer that was go­ing nowhere.

The film was Hum Aapke Hain Kaun (Who Am I To You). At three-and-a-half hours and with 14 hit songs, it was a wed­ding ex­trav­a­ganza that was panned by crit­ics for be­ing too long and too kitsch, even for the melo­drama-lov­ing In­dian au­di­ence.

But beat­ing all naysay­ers, the film went on to be the big­gest block­buster at the time. It was the first film to make more than Rs1 bil­lion, not just in the In­dian mar­ket but over­seas as well. “I played Prem again and I re­alised that a movie works only if the love story works in it,” he says.

Twenty years later, Sal­man has def­i­nitely moved on from be­ing lover boy Prem to play­ing com­plex char­ac­ters. Movies like Wanted, Ready,

Bodyguard, Ek Tha Tiger (There Was a Tiger) and Da­bangg (Fear­less) have turned the star into a fran­chise as they have not only col­lec­tively made more than Rs700 crore, but have suc­ceeded in giv­ing pot­boil­ers a re­spect­ful im­age.

It was Da­bangg, a film pro­duced by his younger brother Ar­baaz Khan and di­rected by Abhinav Kashyap, that ir­re­vo­ca­bly es­tab­lished Sal­man’s su­per­star sta­tus. As re­spected film critic Anu­pama Cho­pra once com­mented, “It’s the role of a life­time and Sal­man Khan bites into it like a starv­ing man de­vours a feast. He in­hab­its it fully, strut­ting and swag­ger­ing and even, spoofing him­self.”

Sal­man plays Chul­bul Pandey, a car­i­ca­tured po­lice of­fi­cer who fights, ro­mances and gen­er­ates laughs with equal aplomb. When asked what was the high­light of the film for him, he says, “The scene where I was dipped in mus­tard oil took 11 days to film. It gets in your hair, clothes, ev­ery­where. It looks cool but takes time.” It was worth it be­cause it was one of the most pop­u­lar scenes in the movie, which had his fe­male fans drool­ing by show­cas­ing his mus­cled body.

It is this abil­ity to urge to ap­peal to the crit­i­cal mass that has en­sured Sal­man re­mains dear to mil­lions who be­lieve cinema should never get rid of its larger-than-life, fan­tasy char­ac­ters.

But here’s the hitch. His on-screen su­per­hero per­sona has failed to shield him against off­screen con­tro­versy. Apart from get­ting into a brawl – de­tails of which are still not clear – with other mega-star Shah Rukh Khan years ago that re­sulted in a dis­pute, which has shown signs of thaw­ing only re­cently, Sal­man has two court cases go­ing on against him.

He is al­leged to have killed an en­dan­gered black buck while on a hunt­ing ex­pe­di­tion with his mates in the Nineties in Ra­jasthan; and he is also al­leged to have run over a man in a hit and run in­ci­dent in Mum­bai. But un­like his on-screen char­ac­ters, he is not go­ing

‘I have ac­cepted my fate… If the judge­ment goes against us, I am pre­pared to go to jail’

to fight his fate with fists, but with equa­nim­ity.

“I have kind of ac­cepted my fate, but I will fight it with my lawyers,” he says. “We have the best le­gal team, and in spite of that if the judge­ment goes against us, I am pre­pared to go to jail.

“I am go­ing to ac­cept what­ever hap­pens. I am not go­ing to go ask help from politi­cians or use other means to es­cape the law. I will use the le­gal way to prove that I am not guilty. I will fight like I should.”

And one area where Sal­man is known to fight is to pro­mote new tal­ent – es­pe­cially women. In a world where scripts are gen­er­ally writ­ten for male ac­tors and fe­male ac­tors are mere eye candy, Sal­man is known to have pro­moted sev­eral women by sug­gest­ing them to filmmaker friends.

And he doesn’t deny it. “I pro­mote only those who I think de­serve to be pro­moted,” he says. “I can see that some of the girls have the po­ten­tial and if given en­cour­age­ment, can be suc­cess­ful. I back girls who are tal­ented, hard-work­ing and am­bi­tious.

“There is no harm in sup­port­ing some­one who you know is go­ing to do well.”

While Sal­man is re­fresh­ingly quite can­did about fe­male peers, he con­tin­ues to be tight-lipped about his af­fairs with some of them, al­though his re­la­tion­ships have al­ways been pub­lic knowl­edge.

Whether it was his en­dur­ing ties with Sangeeta Bi­jlani, for­mer Miss In­dia and an ac­tress who didn’t get too far in the in­dus­try, or with model-turned ac­tor Somy Ali, who he dated for a long time but was re­luc­tant to com­mit to, or with the stun­ning Aish­warya Rai now Bachchan – an epic re­la­tion­ship that met a bit­ter end af­ter var­i­ous re­ports of him be­ing ob­ses­sive and over­bear­ing – he has been known as a rather com­mit­ment-pho­bic star.

More re­cently, his on-off as­so­ci­a­tion with fel­low ac­tor Ka­t­rina Kaif has con­sis­tently been the fo­cus of ev­ery tabloid, in spite of his re­luc­tance to comment on them.

“What’s the point. They are all mar­ried?” he once said. When re­minded that Ka­t­rina Kaif still isn’t mar­ried, he im­me­di­ately added, “She’s too young to be mar­ried.”

So what does the fu­ture hold for this rich and hand­some su­per­star, since he does not want a ‘and they lived hap­pily ever af­ter’ tag yet? “I want to make a lot of money as it helps me help out a lot more peo­ple through my NGO Be­ing Hu­man Foun­da­tion. I want my project to be a big­ger hit than all my films. It is my baby and I am very pas­sion­ate about it.

“I know money is the best way to help a lot of peo­ple who ac­tu­ally need it. It is all a mat­ter of how you are us­ing money. It is im­por­tant, but if it is only ly­ing in your safe, then you don’t re­ally value money,” he ex­plains.

Over the years, the Be­ing Hu­man Foun­da­tion has helped farm­ers in drought-hit ar­eas by set­ting up wa­ter tanks that al­low for wa­ter har­vest­ing and has made huge con­tri­bu­tions to­wards col­leges in small towns that are strapped for funds.

His die-hard fans would ap­plaud his char­ity work, but scep­tics would say that Sal­man is in pur­suit of re­demp­tion from the ex­ces­sive life that he has lead un­til now in an ef­fort to build a legacy that will hope­fully be big­ger than the box-of­fice num­bers that his movies have gen­er­ated. It is only that legacy which will tell us whether the star is a man with his heart in the right place or a flawed mor­tal whose mouth is in the wrong place.

But then when he is on that big screen in Ready, looks you in the eye and says, “Zindagi mein teen cheez kabhi

un­der­es­ti­mate nahi karna, I, me and my­self” (There are three things in life that you should not un­der­es­ti­mate, I, me and my­self), you have no op­tion but to be con­vinced of his great­ness.

The film that gave Sal­man a se­cond lease of life in Bol­ly­wood

With Daisy Shah in his lat­est re­lease Jai Ho

With Ka­reena Kapoor in Bodyguard

With Asin in 2011 film Ready

Ek Tha Tiger, in which he starred along­side Ka­t­rina Kaif

Do­ing a song and dance num­ber in Bodyguard

Broth­ers Ar­baaz and So­hail with Sal­man and Su­nil Lulla, pro­ducer of Jai Ho

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