From the time he strummed the guitar as a shy lover boy in his debut film as a hero, opposite a new heroine (Maine Pyar Kiya) until today, almost 22 years later, he is playing out his scenes wooing yet another debutante in his latest celluloid caper (Dabanng). In between, his umpteen reel-life romances with a bevy of B-town beauties have sparked the silver screen. And, in real life, his liaisons – rumoured or otherwise – have provided ample grist for the gossip mill and headlines for tabloids. A few of his amours moved on to settle down in matrimony, others vanished when the embers of romance died out, a few he left behind. The heart has its reasons and today, like the lone ranger, he continues to walk alone….
Salman Khan – known for his many shirt-removing moments – has ridden the roller coaster of stardom, nay super stardom, with panache and a sense of self-confidence that no brickbats or bouquets could stir or shake. And this year, more so in the last few months, he has emerged once more in the limelight with his pivotal presence at the Indian International Film Awards in Sri Lanka.
Back from the emerald isle after prolonged shooting stints in its romantic locales, Khan speaks about what is uppermost in his mind: his return to the idiot box as ‘Bigg Boss’. In his previous stint as the fun-loving anchor of Dus Ka Dum he had interacted with his fans, flirted up front with audiences and realised the importance of the reach of the small screen, a domain that had until a few years ago been considered by mainstream actors as a back-up for failing big screen careers. Today, Khan honestly opines, “Television is a great way to reach out to your fans. Viewers spend money to buy a ticket and watch me on the big screen perhaps twice a year, but on TV, I get the chance to entertain them a lot more and for free. Also, here they do not see Salman, the actor or the character I am playing; they get to see and interact with the real me. I chose to host Season 4 of Bigg Boss because I like the concept. Last season, I enjoyed watching Vindu cry and my sister, Arpita, was hooked on it.”
Interestingly, Khan is stepping, metaphorically – and ironically – into Amitabh Bachchan’s shoes, a pair that all couch potatoes will agree are hard to fill. Khan however has no qualms about any comparisons that will be willy-nilly drawn between the two. In fact, he emphasises, “I am not worried at all; I am happy that I am hosting the show. Mr Bachchan is a great personality; I respect and look up to him. He hosted the show in his style; I will host it in my own style. I will take it as a challenge and entertain the audiences and my fans to the fullest; I am sure they will love it. Mr Amitabh Bachchan is too big a personality to be even compared with, but I will do full justice to my role, just as he did.”
A couple of months ago, the absence of the Bachchans (Amitabh Bachchan has always been the pivot of the IIFA film awards event) was noticed but other stellar roles were created and Khan filled his part with ease, ignoring all the political brouhaha that had preceded the event. In fact, he was completely at home whether he was overlooking a charitable initiative that creates houses for the needy, gracing a cricket match, swaggering down the ramp for a fashion show before shaking his leg and wowing the audience at the grand finale of the IIFA event. “I am no warrior, politician or soldier. I am just an actor who wants to entertain. I have fans across religious, cultural and national borders,” he says.
It is perhaps a volteface of sorts for the star who has been in the headlines for his shenanigans, for the wrong reasons, so much so that he seemed to have a continual tryst with controversies. Khan honestly admits to the many errors he has made in his life, stating simply, “Controversy is not my middle name. It is Salim and that is my father. I believe that if you do the wrong thing but your intention was right, you have made a mistake. You apologise and make sure you do not do it again. But if you do a good deed with an ulterior or bad intention it is not right. My doing charity has nothing to do with changing my image or gaining brownie points with the judges or the public. It started off with my grandparents and parents. We did not publicise it then, we do not do so now either. Being a household name, at times I am scared that someone will approach me for help and I may not have the money or be in a position to save a life when needed….”
From actor to painter – Khan took to the canvas to fulfil his new passion, and channelled a new path to helping the needy. “My mother (Salma) was a painter. But she never completely pursued it. I used to paint and sketch as a child. But it never developed further in my childhood,” he remembers. “I started off again when I was renovating my home and I needed some paintings to decorate it. Each was priced up to Rs 9 lakhs. I was like, ‘Whoa, whoa what is this?’ I saw them and didn’t like any. So I thought I would create some paintings on my own for my house.”
His star status, coupled with his newfound talent, is a sure-fire way to make people loosen their purse strings. He points out, “I paint to raise money for charity. As an actor how many paintings could I make? About a 100, 200, 500? Normally, once a painter or an artist is no more, the price of the paintings tends to go up, almost three to four times. So, even when I’m dead and gone my paintings can help raise money for charity!”
As he says very rightly, life is all about evolving as a person and an artist. From the shy lover of Maine Pyar Kiya to the quiet romantic of Hum Saath Saath Hain and the extrovert hero of many a film and the corrupt cop on his honeymoon in Dabanng… Khan has this to say about the heart and its ways: “As far as romance is concerned, for me it’s a way of showing your love in a language the other person understands. When Maine Pyar Kiya came out, I was quite young; the role of a shy lover suited me. But I didn’t want to limit myself to one kind of role and therefore I always explored other possibilities. I have been more than fortunate that I started out with a film that did well. It gave me the freedom to choose the kind of films I wanted to do.”
From comedy (Biwi No 1, Partner) to romance (Saajan, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai) to action (Karan Arjun), he has done it all. Young girls sigh and yell at a glimpse of the star who makes it a point to reach out to as many fans as is possible. Still unofficially unattached, this Khan loves the adulation. “Who doesn’t like it?” he retorts. “Every actor likes to be loved by his fans and being appreciated as a romantic hero. I am glad people like me and why only girls younger than me, there are many who are my age and many older than me who like me and I love them all. Age is a state of mind. Women mature faster than men. Doing different genres has been very difficult because when I was doing comedy, I was always in a bad mood; when I was doing romance I was never in a romantic mood and when I was doing action, I was always hurting and unwell. What you see on screen is not acting, it’s just a lot of effort.”
Ask him if he is deserving of more critical acclaim and he replies, “I don’t say I deserve this or I deserve that. I am no one to debate or decide that. A lot of people keep on getting frustrated because they think a lot of themselves. I am just slightly larger than a common man and that is because of the profession I am in. At the end of the day, Salman Khan is just an ordinary man with an extraordinary zeal for life. He is straightforward, doesn’t like any manipulations and politics; he is a doston ka dost, dushmanon ka dushman….”
He thinks and lives from his heart. And yet he has not really settled or outgrown the image of being an enfant terrible. Khan says, “There is nothing about me that I would like to change. Perhaps I never will. And I’m settled pre-marriage!” When I refer to the many relationships that have coloured his life, he says, “If something does not work out, it is not because you have planned it. A relationship ends; it is not always because one of the persons wanted it to end. You have shared amazing moments. You should have respect for that. ”
Like all who live in the spotlight, the actor too is defined by his role of the moment. How would he define the real Salman Khan? He replies in a philosophical bent, “It is an art to put things in words. For Salman Khan or anybody there is no definition. Life’s journey is from nowhere to nowhere made up of two words – now and here.”
At the time of our exchange, Khan is readying to watch over the contestants closeted in the Bigg Boss house, I wonder aloud if he would like to be inside there, rather than out – considering the levels of entertainment that spiral inside. He ripostes swiftly, “No, thank you. I cannot be locked in a house with cameras all around me. I am happy being outside rather than inside. The contestants will create drama and excitement inside; I will double it on the outside.”