Being Salman Khan: A Bad Boy Image, Mood Swings & a Heart of Gold
(This article is from The Quint’s archives and was first published on 27 December 2015. It is now being republished to mark Salman Khan’s 52nd birthday.)
The jury’s still out, on his acting calibre that is.
Salman Khan, all of 52 today, is a superstar alright. The world adores him, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find those who break into cartwheels about his acting chops. Perhaps, because he doesn’t even try to be anyone but himself before the camera’s gaze.
Salman Khan plays Salman Khan at ease, particularly when he’s a man (boy?), madly in love, and is christened Prem. That’s the name bestowed on him in as many as 14 films out of the 90-odd titles listed in his filmography.
Right from his teens, the Khan has been pernickety about his physique. You’ll never catch him internalising his roles, the hallmark of actors who dare to be implosive.
Of Bad Boys, Short Heights, and the Khans
One of the earliest gym-goers, Salman, it would appear, looked up to the then-muscle toned Sanjay Dutt as his role model. Like Dutt, he also appears to have developed the knack for running into trouble, off screen.
That stated, for sure, Salman Khan is camera-friendly – or good looking – the traditional requisite for Mumbai’s hyper-commercial entertainers. Aamir and Shah Rukh Khan aren’t in the same league when it comes to chiselled facial features, or that brawn quotient which compels the audience to break into wolf whistles as soon as Salman tears off his shirt dramatically.
Incidentally, all the three reigning Khans are short, almost as a retort to the six-feet-plus swagger of Amitabh Bachchan. Salman Khan’s clout, in terms of his screen presence, clearly point towards the fact that his face, as well as his buffed-out physique, are his fortune.
Moreover, as it happens, Bollywood-goers have disclosed a partiality towards bad boys, evoking an empathy which can be translated as, oh he’s so invincible in his movies, but in reality, he’s as vulnerable as any aam aadmi.
The Mega Star’s Court Visits
Plus there’s that shadow of a doubt; has Salman Khan been guilty of crimes and misdemeanours or is he being made a patsy?
He’s drawn a fair share of outraged public criticism following his acquittal from the 13-year-old hit-and-run case. By contrast, his legion of fans rejoiced on the streets.
Meanwhile, the judgement on the long-standing black buck poaching case in Rajasthan, circa 1998, is pending. The buzz is that he’s actually shielding the real culprits involved in that incident. Can one accept that insinuation for a minute?
Conjectures on this topic would be partisan either way. Only the due process of law can determine what happened on that fateful night when Salman and his star colleagues from Hum Saath Saath Hain ventured out for a hunting sortie. To come to think of it, in retrospect the movie’s title was quite ironical. Saath saath indeed.
Salman Khan: The Actor, the Devil, and the Angel
To return to Salman Khan’s strengths as an actor, apart from his looks, you can count his satin-smooth voice and decent Hindustani diction.
Of his weaknesses, blame them on his cavalier approach largely. Dubbing technicians confide that he walks into the studio, does his day’s job briskly, without ensuring that the dub is in sync with the dialogue. As a dancer, he’s a natural but impatient, at times improvising his own moves, which tended to be grossly embarrassing in the risqué comedies of David Dhawan.
His mood swings are legendary, or at least, they used to be. On visiting the shoot of Jaan-e-man at Film City, I’d been warned by a senior assistant director, “Oh hell, if he’s in a bad frame of mind, heaven help you.”
Not to worry, I was meeting another actor, I’d keep off the barbed wire. To my astonishment, as soon as Salman saw me, he embraced me as he would a long-lost pet Pomeranian, insisted that I share the mangoes which had just been brought to the location from his Panvel farmhouse.
I did, politesse personified. Once I left the spot, my cellphone buzzed, “What did you mix in the mangoes?” the assistant was baffled. “He’s all smiles, no bad mood at all today. The shoot’s going smoothly.”
I’ve seen his angelic side, his mean side. No in-betweens. For example, following a road accident, my left hand was in a plaster cast. On seeing that, he grinned, “Good, good! You should have fractured both your hands.” But then this was before ‘Being Human’. Would he grin at a fractured hand today? I’d like to think not.
Real Life Bad Boy, Reel Life Chul-Bul Pande
Coincidentally or not, Salman Khan’s status escalated once he became the bad boy trying to turn over a forest of new leaves. He has a heart of gold, goes the Bollywood chorus line. The chorus wouldn’t have been there, though, if his career was on the skids.
After the surprise mega-success of Dabangg, Salman was the Derby winner, outracing Shah Rukh Khan and that unbeatable status has stayed right down to this year’s blockbuster Bajrangi Bhaijaan.
Like Rajnikanth, Salman Khan only has to make his entry on screen, the background music booms and the audience goes berserk. The media, overall, believes he’s cool. And believe it or not, scores of underprivileged children I interviewed for a documentary believe he’s a ‘farishta’. They can mimic his Dhinka chika gyrations to the last dhinka.
Flying a kite with Narendra Modi before the general elections – or dad Salim Khan pitching in his lot with the BJP – didn’t ever become much of an issue.
It was remarked upon but didn’t become a fire-and-brimstone debate the way Shah Rukh’s statement on intolerance or Aamir Khan’s contemplation about settling overseas did.
Can the Three Khans be Genuine Friends Ever?
As for the blow hot, blow cold ‘friendship’ between the three Khans, that’s an entirely different script altogether. While shooting Andaz Apna Apna, Aamir didn’t exactly get on like a house on fire with Salman. Then last year, they were inseparable buddies before the paparazzi.
At the moment, the two are at daggers drawn since both are acting in films depicting the life of wrestlers. Not done! Great projects can’t think alike. On the other hand, after an acrimonious showdown, Salman and Shah Rukh are back to grinning from ear to ear, reprising the Veeru-Jai act from Sholay to promote a TV reality show.
So, the answer to that question is NO.
Women in Bhai’s Life
With women, Salman Khan’s had a chequered history. Indeed, Salim Khan has gone to the extent of emphasising that most of his girlfriends have used him to advance their careers.
The tabloids never give up, conjecturing on his impending marriage. Goes the grapevine that he may eventually pop the question to his arm-candy, Iulia Vântur from Romania.
When and if he does, the public curiosity, exacerbated by the media frenzy, undoubtedly would be cataclysmic.
Whatever Salman Khan does – breathes, rides a bike, attends a party, wears a cap, doesn’t wear a cap, sprouts a moustache, shaves off a moustache – is rock hard copy. Just the way it was once for Amitabh Bachchan. Bachchan just had to register a slight fever, and it became national news.
Evidently in the case of Bachchan and from the look of things, Salman Khan, superstardom has a far longer shelf-life than mere stardom.
At 50, Salman Khan possesses it. He’s no formidable actor, but he’s a formidable superstar who, I think, has learnt how to hang on to it tight while it lasts.