MUMBAI — He saunters in a mere 45 minutes after the time we are called, and that by Salman Khan’s standards, is pretty quick. But in his new film – also his third production after “Bajrangi Bhaijaan” and “Hero” two years ago – Salman Khan is this slow guy, who is hence termed “Tubelight”— the title of this film. We are at the Taj Land’s End and he is in a bright and quite a voluble mood. And we begin talking about the various aspects of the film and the way he looks at stardom.

Excerpts from an interview:

Q: You have had a great run. What do you expect from “Tubelight?”

A: You can’t say anything about any film before release. Your overseas release and the response on Friday, Saturday and Sunday can be because of you, but after that, the response to the film itself is the main key to success. If film drops on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, you will only get to know then. I never understand people who predict collections on the first three days. That math is beyond me.

Q: Why do you say that?

A: Because there are so many variables! The country’s got to be peaceful, the atmosphere right. You may want to go with ten people but there can be a reason why you do not. You may be depressed as your girlfriend has fought with you (smiles).

Take the case of our film, “Jai Ho,” where we did not allow the ticket rates to go high in the first three days. When the film did not make much money due to that, everyone said it was a flop. People find something good in a film they watch for free on television months later, or they will positively like something when they spend Rs. 950 on one ticket even if the film is crap, but if they have spent small money, they tend to get judgmental!

Q: What is the best publicity for a film?

A: The posters inside a theatre, the trailer, the awareness through the newspapers. Nothing can beat this basic publicity ever. These are the only things that can draw people to theatres. I would reach the theatres 15-20 minutes before to see the posters and trailers, which is the best and cheapest form of publicity.

We never promoted our films like this earlier. At the time of “Maine Pyar Kiya” (1989 — Khan’s first solo film), I only did ONE interview. There were no channels, and films ran for 100 days, 200 days, a couple of years! Now the lifetime business comes from four to six weeks. (Looks intently at us) And it is all because of you guys!

Q: So do you still get nervous on a Friday?

A: I do, for different reasons. You sign a film thinking that it will be a big hit, but it becomes a disaster. You have worked hard on it and it shakes your self-confidence — even in the other film or films you have signed on. You go down, taking everybody along with you, and the disappointments on the part of your fans is the worst. This failure affects you and them, and it is not like in business when loss and profit are a part of the game. After that, you can only try and work harder on the other films you have.

Q: It took you 21 years to get to a phase when you have never given a flop for seven years. Wasn’t it because of what your father (writer Salim Khan) correctly diagnosed as signing films for emotional reasons earlier?

A: Look, I never took anything for granted. I chose the best from whatever I was offered, which was mostly either average or bad! Luckily, I come from a family where most of us — my father, Sohail and I — could write, so we would call the director over and all our energies would go in trying and improving scenes and trying to better what we had!

Today, I am getting complete scripts that are fabulous. And it is getting difficult to choose from among them! This is a phase of not doing much, because the script and the supporting cast do everything. In “Bajrangi Bhaijaan,” all I did was walk, carry the little girl and walk! In “Tubelight,” the emotional quotient is higher, so it was more difficult. “Sultan” was different. Thanks to whatever I had to do for and in the film, I have torn ligaments, and injured parts of my body, like my knee to the extent that I take time to get up.

And now I have taken up “Tiger Zinda Hai” like a fool, wherein I am running, jumping off buildings and kicking off, and sometimes I feel that my knee is coming out of the socket! Then, at 52, I have signed Remo D’Souza’s film about dancing, but now I have realized that this dance is all about acrobatics and gymnastics. Aur maine panga le liya (I have taken on a needless challenge)!

That is the phase right now. Whatever goes up goes down. This phase, too, will go down. Now I have to see how long can one hold on and stay in this position and go higher if possible! However, the younger generation should earn their bread and butter, and all of us will make sure of that! (laughs mischievously)

Q: All of you — Aamir Khan, Shah Rukh Khan, Akshay Kumar and Ajay Devgn — have enjoyed such fabulous stardom that many find your stardoms unparalleled.

A: That’s wrong. I have seen the stardom of Rajesh Khanna when I was just nine or ten. I have seen, a decade after that, what Kumar Gaurav’s reign was. As an actor, Dilip Kumar is unmatched. Amitabh Bachchan, even today, is here, there and everywhere. Our stardom is not even ten percent of theirs, not even ten percent! Theirs has been incredible!

Q: Does your superstardom and all the things you mentioned affect your performance?

A: The worst thing that you can do is get complacent. That’s the worst thing ever! At every step, you have to think, how high have you come, and how did you get here? You have to work like in your first film, and that sincerity is there for every shot of mine. At the time of “Maine Pyar Kiya” 28 years ago, the dress dada (man in charge of costumes), the assistant, the focus puller Ajay Kaul, the make-up fellow Raju — everyone was telling me how bad I was, what I should not be doing and so on. And then when I told Sooraj (Barjatya, the director) this, he looked at me and said, “What are you doing? You should follow me!”

Q: Aamir Khan’s “Dangal” has made over Rs.1000 crore in China.

A: The country has 40,000 movie halls and their population is huge. Most Hollywood films earn much more there than in any other part of the world.

Q: You were simultaneously involved with “Tubelight,” directed by Kabir Khan and “Tiger Zinda Hai,” the sequel to his “Ek Tha Tiger,” which is being directed by your “Sultan” director, Ali Abbas Zafar. Did that give you some odd, unreal mixed feeling?

A: No, no, not at all. 

Stay tuned to this space for part two of our interview with Salman Khan.

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