Salman Khan, once the proverbial black sheep, is now king of the film fraternity with a fan following cutting across generations. His new film Ek Tha Tiger is being awaited with bated breath
Controversies and the bad boy image don’t matter. Today, Salman Khan has even become a role model for children. In the course of making a documentary on the influence of Bollywood on underprivileged kids in Mumbai, it was more than apparent to me that Salman Khan is the presiding influence on their lives. They imitate his style of talking, walking and dream about sporting his kind of gym-toned physique. Lines of dialogue from his films Dabangg, Bodyguard and Ready are recited ad verbatim. And via television, children are also aware of every twist and turn in his private life.
“We are praying for his recovery,” a group of dozen schoolchildren said, on learning that, following a facial nerve disorder, doctors have advised him to refrain from performing stunt scenes. “He has to get okay,” a knee-high boy asserted. “No one fights bad people better than Salman bhai.” Obviously that invincible image has been re-strengthened by the smartly-cut trailers and TV promos of the widely-anticipated Ek Tha Tiger.
Besides monopolising the key segment of the under-teenaged section audience, 46-year-old Salman’s career is peaking with his appeal cutting through generations. And to think that just three years ago the actor was facing a slump, because of the consecutive flops of ill-conceived projects like Veer, London Dreams and Main Aur Mrs Khanna. Now that he has chosen to stick to the formula of the super-tough guy battling evil forces, the actor’s equity in the market has zoomed way ahead of both Shah Rukh’s and Aamir Khan’s, who may be superior actors but don’t command Salman’s hysterical fan following.
Once, only the entrances of the homes of Amitabh Bachchan and Shah Rukh Khan would attract hordes of crowds every Sunday evening in the hope of catching a glimpse of the superstars. Now, over weekends, Salman’s apartment at Galaxy Apartments on Bandra’s sea-facing Bandstand is a scene of traffic snarls with hundreds of fans seeking a darshan (sighting) of their idol. If he is in town, he waves out to the crowd and instructs his aides to give food and money to the needy among the throng. The actor’s father, former scriptwriter Salim Khan, has always maintained an open house. Dinner is served to whoever appears to be down-at-heel.
Meanwhile, trouble continues to dog Salman Khan, which he seems to deflect effortlessly. Recently, on the sets of Dabangg 2, stunt men were grievously injured in an accident
while shooting a car action sequence. The actor personally rushed them to a nearby hospital and ensured that they received medical attention. The next morning, newspapers flashed photos of the concerned superstar, jacking up his popularity ratings.
Lately, reports claiming he had physically roughed up Katrina Kaif for her friendship with Ranbir Kapoor may have sparked negative publicity, as had been the case during his liaisons with Somy Ali and Aishwarya Rai. Still, such damaging stories merely end up adding to his image of a man who follows the dictates of his heart and is grossly misunderstood.
Simultaneously, his support for Being Human, a fund-raising organisation, and his occasional forays into painting — his artworks are auctioned for charity — make him a hero who is as benevolent as he is moodily unpredictable. Bollywood insiders state that he always takes the rap in a crisis like he did on being arrested with his co-stars during the filming of Hum Saath Saath Hain, over 12 years ago. The group was booked for hunting game illegally. To date, it is still a mystery whether it was Salman Khan or a co-actor who was guilty of leading the deer hunt.
Indeed, the biography of the actor — born Abdul Rashid Salim Salman Khan — would be packed with incessant drama. Quite a while ago, he assented to an authorised autobiography to be written along with a journalist, but it hasn’t shown up at bookstores yet.
It is believed that he had a troubled childhood, since his father felt that he was much too frivolous and untalented for any aspect of filmmaking. Not surprisingly then, the actor continues to emphasise that he is not yet satisfied with his track record and record-smashing hits. It seems dad Salim Khan still has to shabaash (praise) him unconditionally.
As for the extended family of Salman’s younger brothers — Arbaaz and Sohail, their wives and children — the incredible has happened. The black sheep of the family is now the unchallenged darling of the nation. Touchwood.
(The writer has been reviewing Bollywood for decades, has scripted three films and directed