MUMBAI—After 30 years in the field, very few heroes retain charisma, commercial clout, and confidence as leading men. In a field where even titans like Prithviraj Kapoor, Ashok Kumar, Dilip Kumar, Dev Anand, Raj Kapoor and Shammi Kapoor turn character artistes within that period, Salman Khan is not only going strong but leads the roster of leading men today.

At 52, Khan grins and says that “As long as I can do action, I can romance, and as long as I can romance, I can do action! And if I can do both, I can dance!” He rates Anil Kapoor, 61, as someone who has taken over from Amitabh Bachchan in the kind of powerful roles Bachchan would do 15 to 20 years back, and says that Sanjay Dutt at 65-plus is still a hero, so why should Aamir Khan, Shah Rukh Khan, Akshay Kumar, Ajay Devgn and he not be leading men? And then he delivers his clincher: “I wish that in the chronologically recent sequences shown of ‘Sanju,’ Sanjay Dutt had played himself!”

Is it a veiled barb at Ranbir Kapoor? Khan is not telling, but he always maintains his mass connect, and has high words of praise among young heroes only for Varun Dhawan (“He has always got it right! Even ‘October’ did not lose money!”) and Tiger Shroff. “The rest all think that the Hindi film audience extends from Colaba to Andheri (the hi-fi Mumbai precincts)!” he says dismissively.

Over to Salman Khan.

Q: You have stepped into a huge franchise in its third installment. Will it become huger?

A: Really? “Race” is huge? Ramesh Taurani (producer)-ji tells me that “Dhoom” is a big franchise and “Race” is not as big! So let’s make it bigger! Yes, I am in a race now, but with “Hum Aapke Hain Koun!...” (Grins mischievously)

Q: What about the new benchmarks in action?

A: Yes, we have got the action team of Tom Struthers, who worked with me in “Tiger Zinda Hai” and in big Hollywood movies like “Dunkirk.” The team is number one there, but even they said that we have never driven cars at such speed or blown up so many before. Yes, we did not have Dinky (miniature) cars but 16 real ones, and we blew up pretty much all of them!

Q: What makes action in films convincing?

A: Now that is tricky! The trick is not to go overboard when people start laughing at it, but keep it believable and so realistic that audiences will not say they preferred the action of earlier films. And if you are not physically fit, it looks farcical. We have to be careful, as good action costs a hell of a lot of money. Otherwise, it can look tacky.

Q: Apparently, Jacqueline Fernandez and Daisy Shah too have had great action here.

A: They have not just raised the bar, but they are lethal. They really, really trained for the kicking and stretching! And both look like two men fighting. At the same time, their characters have a nice blend of sensuousness and humor.

Q: Would you produce a female protagonist-driven action film?

A: Why not, if the math is right? Such a film should be made on a budget that covers costs from the digital and satellite sales and what comes from the theatres becomes a bonus.

Q: You decided to turn distributor with this film that you are also co-producing. Why is that?

A: Oh, that is simple. We were talking with Eros, and we could not do a deal. My father (writer Salim Khan) has his own distribution setup in C.I. (Central India, a trade territory) and Rajasthan, and I decided to enter the field.

Q: How does Indian cinema increase our business, besides doing correct math and making films beyond Colaba to Andheri, as you call it?

A: We need movie halls, at least thrice in quantity of the 5000-plus theatres we have. Just think what business can come in from 15,000 theatres! China has more than 40,000 theatres!

Q: We heard your film is the first to release in the new arrangement with Pakistan.

A: Is it? If so, I am very happy.

Q: Let’s talk about what you are doing in “Race 3.”

A: My character is interesting – he is sharp, has humor and is ruthless. He has basically suppressed all his emotions, so you do not know what this man is all about until the end of the film. He is not just brawn, as he shows finally, but the mastermind who has planned everything!

Q: Had you watched “Race” and “Race 2?”

A: I did not get the time. But that’s good, I think because I could at least give my own inputs.

Q: What happened to your dance film with Remo D’Souza, which was to take off before “Race 3”?

A (Grins): I made Remo give me tough steps here! If you cannot dance, you will not receive a “Kick,” which is good, but will be “Kick”-ed out of the industry! When I had started dancing for that film, sometimes my knee would “go,” sometimes my shoulder and sometimes my back. But we will make the film, a bit later. I have told him, “Dancing ko time lagega (will need time)!”

Q: We heard you are reverting to the old format of doing two films at a time.

A: Yes, I am shooting “Dabangg 3” and “Bharat” together. After that I will do “Sher Khan” when the script is ready, Remo’s dance film and a film that Sanjay Leela Bhansali will direct and has discussed with me, but not yet narrated.

Q: How do you choose films?

A: By instinct and in an instant. I must instantly like it, just as I have liked all the films I just mentioned. You will never find me telling the director, “I will think about it!” or “I will tell you tomorrow!” That never happens. Even with “Race 3.” I was on, though there were a couple of things I did not like, so they agreed to remove them.

Q: Any specific ambitions?

A: No, I like the work I am doing. I am not into experiments, though I did “Tubelight!” Even in Hollywood, whenever an actor experimented, he largely failed. In the one percent case of success, he soon got confused and then failed. I am lucky to have got such good subjects, and if I don’t get any, I will write one for myself!

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