MUMBAI— He is THE guy whose flops make resoundingly more money than the hits of many other actors. He is Salman Khan, 32 years old in terms of shooting for movies, a model before that, a top hero since almost 30 years (“Maine Pyar Kiya” released 29 years and six months earlier!), one of the top three since almost 25 years, and THE megastar of Hindi cinema for the last nine years. He has also dabbled in singing, lyrics writing, story writing and film production, even launching many artistes, singers, composers, filmmakers and others. He has also been a TV host.
His career, until a few years ago, has been checkered. Flops, controversies, affairs, criminal offenses, court cases and more have inundated him. But he has also been a (Very) Good Samaritan to so many in the film industry and society, done charity like no one else in the industry, begun the Being Human Foundation, and financially settled his brothers and mother with mega-hits. He has now stepped into television as producer and has plans to venture into the Web.
Such a man cannot sustain without a certain kind of mental makeup, breeding and genetic programming, but Salman Khan would rather attribute it to “Yeh sab ooparwale ne mujhe nawaazaa hai (God has bequeathed me with all this)!” At the same time, well aware of his unparalleled stardom, Salman smiles placidly and told India-West, “My stardom? Abhi to shuruaat hai (This is just the beginning)!”
The enigmatic star perused this author’s book on the man he considers his idol, Dharmendra, with great interest. Making a couple of valid points, he took about five minutes before he closed the book, placed it between his lap, and gave a go-ahead to our chat.
Excerpts from an interview:
Q: From the trailer, everything about “Bharat” looks amazing.
A: Yes, all that stuff is there, all the elements – drama, comedy, romance, music and action – everything has been shot so well, but the main reason why I did the film was for its plot. A father makes his nine-year-old boy promise that he will take up the responsibility of looking after his mother and three siblings while he is gone. The son faithfully looks after them, educates, settles, and even marries off his siblings as his father has not returned. The journey runs from the 1940s and goes to 2010 when he is a seventy-two years-old man, angry and even ‘khadoos’ (rude).
Q: You too, have supported your family.
A: I think in my case, it is ulta (the reverse). They have supported me when I needed it! (Guffaws).
Q: Director Ali Abbas Zafar has said that he has changed almost the entire story, keeping only the core idea of the film’s Korean original, “Ode To My Father.” And separate buzz is that this film mirrors your own relationship with your dad Salim Khan.
A: Not at all. In fact, when I narrated the story to Sooraj Barjatya, he had an amazing suggestion for the love story in it. But Ali thought that the love story would then deflect and deviate from the film’s focus on the family.
Q: Your mother recently told a journalist that you looked best in “Bharat” as the 70-year-old.
A: As far as acting goes, it was the most awesome part. But if mom really said that, tell her to look at her husband! He’s 84, and just see how good he looks!
Q: Katrina Kaif says you have been going around saying that she will win a National award for her role.
A: Yes, and I am serious about it! But she thinks I am joking and she also feels that it comes across as a joke in the way I tell her or others. “What if I don’t win?” she asks. I think she deserves it.
Q: Considering that Priyanka Chopra was to do her role, isn’t that especially interesting?
A: Yes. Priyanka was keen to do the role, and my sister Arpita and she are very close friends. Ali promised her the role as he felt that Katrina and I had just done “Tiger Zinda Hai” with him. He also had doubts whether Katrina could come across as so Hindustani. I asked him why he thought so. “Aren’t you her close friend, and has not Katrina done films like ‘Raajneeti?’” I asked him. Not every heroine survives for almost 20 years, but Katrina has. But with Priyanka opting for marriage, she got what she wanted, and I guess Katrina got what SHE wanted! (Smiles)
Q: So many versions have been floating around. What is the real truth behind Priyanka’s exit and your relationship with her?
A: Priyanka came to meet me, having thought of everything from dates to my feelings. She told me that Nick had proposed to her, and she wanted to get married. I said, of course, she should go ahead, and we could move our schedules up and down. She said that she did not have that much time, so I joked, “Are you designing your marriage outfits yourself?” Then I saw Arpita frantically signaling to me, and I cottoned on and asked her, “Oh, so you don’t want to do the film?” She nodded and explained why.
But I think it was a brave, bold and amazing thing to do, and Priyanka has always been very gutsy. Any other actress would have made her boyfriend or husband wait until she completed one or more important films. Priyanka is one of the hardest-working girls I have known, and she has strived so much here as well as overseas. Here she was with the kind of role she may not get again in the next 10 to 15 years, but she still chose marriage. I think that it is wonderful. The question of being upset with her simply does not arise.
Q: So Nick Jonas proposed to Priyanka. Have you proposed to anyone, or been proposed to by a girl, maybe over a candlelight dinner?
A: No! And I don’t like candlelight dinners and never go for them! For one, I like to see what I am eating, and two, such questions may come up during them!
Q: What is your own explanation for your superstardom?
A: It’s God’s will. I do not know what my fans see in me. It’s probably also the kind of films I like to do, which are the kind I enjoyed from childhood. I loved the ‘hero-giri’ as an audience. Today, it is as if I am sitting with the same audience again and seeing ME doing the same kind of things on screen, and their reaction is what mine used to be.
Q: How long do you think it will last?
A: I think that Aamir (Khan), Akki (Akshay Kumar), Ajay (Devgn), Shah Rukh (Khan) and I have been very lucky. No one gets to be in such positions for so long. Yes, I am prepared for the day my films will also open to eight to ten percent collections, like those of many new actors today. But I don’t see that coming so soon! (Smiles)
Q: Akshay Kumar said that he would stop doing action around the age of 56. What about you?
A: I don’t know. A few more years, maybe 30, maybe 35!
Q: Do you think your casual approach, the fact that you do not trumpet yourself, or intellectualize yourself, takes away appreciation from your work. I have never heard you make remarks like you did not sleep two nights to prep for a role, and things like that. And you are a versatile actor, actually.
A: What was that last part? Can you say that again?
Q: You are a versatile actor. You have done as diverse films as…
A: YES, THAT’S RIGHT! (Laughs) Actually, I did not sleep many nights here, as I was working hard! But then, my normal sleep is never more than three hours or so.
Q: So what do you do in the rest of the time?
A: I like to read, write, or watch television. I watch ANYTHING, and I hate someone changing the channel. If they do, I walk out of the room. The most dangerous are these web series, which I see at a stretch, completing seasons at a go! I like to watch English shows and have not yet gone down to Indian ones.
Q: You were also to produce web shows here. Will you act in them too?
A (Shakes his head): We are basically producing them under my SK TV to provide employment to talented people we know – actors, directors, producers – who may not get enough work in films. The idea is not to make money. We are already producing “The Kapil Sharma Show” and some others for television.
Q: At the time of Asha Parekh’s autobiography launch, you had joked about how your honest autobiography could never be written, saying that Dharmendra, who was in the audience, would understand. You and Dharmendra have quite a few parallels. What would you have to say to this?
A (Smiles animatedly): I love him, and he too says, “Salman is like my son!” I don’t know, yaar. It’s so strange that not only him but also Vinod Khanna-saab, Shammi Kapoor-saab, Shatru(ghan Sinha-ji and even Feroz Khan-saab and Prem Chopra-saab always saw something in me that made them feel, “Yeh ladka hamare generation ka hai (this boy belongs to our generation)!”
Q: Coming back to “Bharat,” do you expect critics to rip your work and the film as always?
A: They are all negative people, what else can we expect from them? It does not matter to me – seriously! – but it can affect others. As it is, they do not know what cinema is, and as everyone knows, those who did attempt to make movies among then all flopped badly. Someone else spent the money, and THEY earned. But films are never cheap to make. “Maine Pyar Kiya” was then made in 1 crore and 11 lakh, probably the highest budget then, but today, the smallest film needs Rs. 25 to 30 crore, and there is need to cover that money. So do not be irresponsible or make fun of movies even when you write something bad.
And I have not played all that “safe” either. Everyone says that a bald hero never works, but I was the first to shave off my head for “Tere Naam!”