Man of the masses

the 'khan' man

Man of the masses
That he is a man of the masses and the classes, in short, India’s biggest superstar for almost seven years now, is a given. Salman Khan is also in a zone today where he wants substance in his characters and films. Alongside this level of sustained supremacy can come either complacency or professional insecurity. Salman terms the former as the “worst thing that you can do ever” and is philosophical about his stardom.
“Someone asked me recently whether this kind of popularity affects the actor in me,” he smiles. “At every point, I ask myself, ‘How high have I come? How did I get here?’ I always work like it is my first film and bring in sincerity in every shot. I remember during Maine Pyar Kiya (his 1989 solo debut), everyone from the man in charge of the dresses to the assistant, the focus puller Ajay Kaul and the make-up fellow Raju would comment and advise me on the shots. Soon, I told my director Sooraj Barjatya about it, and he said, ‘What are you doing? You should listen only to me!’”

He’s a hard worker
Why did it take Salman 21 years to reach the current position, despite being one of the top three (Khans) all along? Was not his father, legendary writer Salim Khan’s analysis, that he would sign films for emotional reasons, the cause? “Look, I never took anything for granted,” he replies. “I chose the best from what I got, which mostly was between average and bad! So, all my energy would go in calling the director home, going through the scenes and trying to improve what we could. I say ‘we’ because luckily I come from a family where most of us can write. But now I get complete scripts that are fabulous, and now the difficult thing is to choose from among them. That is the phase right now. Whatever goes up, comes down, and this phase will come down too.”

This is also the phases of not doing much, he says. “The script, the supporting cast — they do everything. For example, what did I have to do in Bajrangi Bhaijaan? I had to walk, carry the little girl and walk. In Tubelight, the emotional quotient is higher, so it is more difficult.”

Whimsically, he adds, “Sultan was different. All the efforts I put in for that role have injured almost all my parts. I have torn ligaments, and I now take time to get up because of one of my knees. But I am fine once I am up and about. Now, like a fool, I have taken up Tiger Zinda Hai. And with all the running, jumping and kicking, I feel that my knee will come out of its socket. I have also signed Remo’s dance film, thinking that it was just about dance. But now I realise that most of the dance is like acrobatics and gymnastics, and I think that at 52, I have taken another unnecessary challenge.”

He goes on, “So now the question is how long can one hold on and stay in my position and go higher? Still, all of us (his generation of superstars) will make sure that the younger generation should earn their bread and butter,” he adds with a laugh.

So, is he nervous now on release Friday? “Yes, I am nervous for different reasons,” he admits with a smile. “You sign a film you think will be a sure-shot hit, and then it becomes a disaster. You lose money, you go down taking everybody with you, and for all your fans, this disappointment is the worst thing. Your self-confidence is shaken, and that includes for the other film or films you are doing. After all, this is not some other business where loss and profit are a part of the game. This is my work and my profession, and I can only try harder to see that something else works.”
Coming to Tubelight, his third film with writer-director Kabir Khan and his third official production as well, he admits that the film’s title is derived from his character being that of a slow-witted person. “I am like that in real life too,” he quips.

But, was it not touted as an Indo-Chinese love story? Suddenly we find that it is a film about two brothers, and the Chinese heroine, Zhu Zhu, is seen just for a split second in the trailer.

“The plot of the film is about the bonding between brothers,” he says. “One goes to war, and the other finally decides to go find him when he goes missing. Plus, he has to also face his own demons and challenges, there is a love story, plus there is one kid.”
Salman terms the child artiste (Matin Ray) as “the most amazing kid I have met in my entire life. He is something else, and I don’t know why he is not brought in for promotions. He is a Chinese boy who speaks Hindi, and he is on a different level altogether. The boy is just about six years old, and now wants to be a chef, because he was complaining to Kabir how he was told that the shoot would be fun, but that they are making him do the same things over and over again, that his feet were burning in the plastic shoes, and that he was not having fun at all!”

Tough & demanding
For Salman himself, the role posed a great challenge. “It was difficult to play a character like this, with his innocence and warmth, and a setting in 1962 when I was not born, and against the backdrop of the Indo-China War. Something in my heart liked this character, as I realised that while growing up, I might have had some of his shades. As kids, you have done things that you don’t know, but Laxman still did some of them. The risk was that I might overdo him, making him look like a fake, a caricature or a joke, as Tubelight is not a comic film. I had to dig so deep down and so far back that it took a toll on me.”
He reveals that people behind the film wanted another big star in the role of the brother that Sohail Khan is now playing, but as it was his own production, he did not give in. “I wanted to keep the film’s quality up, keep it simple and normal. They told me that it was about ‘cracking the numbers’. I do not understand what ‘cracking the numbers’ is — they said that we could sell the film at a higher price, but that was not important. If this film has to break records, it will, anyway.” He adds with a mischievous smile, “People are still recovering from Baahubali 2!”

Salman is candid about his brothers Arbaaz Khan and Sohail Khan not making it big as stars. “Sohail always wanted to write and make films more. Arbaaz was offered the lead by Abbas-Mustan in Khiladi, but turned it down as he was not interested in becoming an actor. He later made his debut in their flop film Daraar and was thrown out of the successful Dhadkan. So, you could say he has superb luck!” he grins.

But he frankly declares that both are very good actors. “As an older brother, I have only used them,” he smiles. “This film would not have been possible without Sohail, and the same goes for our ‘home videos’ (Salman’s term for their home productions that flopped and were watched only by his family!) like Veer without Sohail and Hello Brother without Arbaaz. And if there was no Arbaaz and no Dharmendra-sir, there was no chance of Pyaar Kiya To Darna Kya making it!”

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