Like a Pied Piper, Salim Khan Still Has Takers for His Tales
Known for his political correctness, Salim Khan may soon be a part of the House of Elders, writes Khalid Mohamed.
Once upon the good ‘ole times, he could be as politically incorrect as a hawk among a ledgeful of pigeons.
Not the sort to suffer from delusions of grandeur, he’d laugh, “What’s the big deal about originality? The story of Zanjeer was actually inspired by the Gregory Peck-Anthony Quinn movie Behold a Pale Horse, that drunken scene of Dharmendra in Sholay was inspired by The Secret of Santa Vittoria…” and more such true confessions. The word ‘inspired’ was a euphemism for ‘borrowed’.
Outspoken and oh-so-anti-Establishment, he was a raconteur extraordinaire, holding forth at the crack of sunset before a clutch of cricketers, top cops (retired or almost), film journos (oops, me too) and assorted drifters.
Chez Salim Khan on the first floor of Galaxy Apartments on Bandra’s seafront, it was an open house. Rank strangers could stroll in, too, and partake of Black Label scotch, miscellaneous kebabs followed by degchis of lamb biryani, raita, curries, naans, kheer, jalebis, and the works.
A Maverick Storyteller
If for some reason, he found himself alone around lunch, he’d lean over from that Galaxy balcony to invite a pedestrian or two to join him for a glass of beer, conversation and a lunch spread fit for potentates. The Khan kitchen outclassed a Michelin-rated restaurant’s cuisine du jour.
And all this unspooled at a juncture, when he was cash-strapped, going through a terrible reversal of fortunes. After the split with Javed Akhtar, his story-script-writing career had gone kaput, discourtesy an opportunistic band of actors, producers and directors who moved on to the new pen-pushers on the block.
Javed is the brain, Salim the businessman, it was conjectured. Inaccurately perhaps, because when it came to spinning yarns, those cricketers, cops et al, wouldn’t only lend him their ears. Their jaws would drop to the floor. Or at least mine would. A chorus of wah-wahs would ensue.
That’s the Salim Khan I’d like to treasure today as he crosses over to the easygoing age of 80. Correction: Easygoing may not be the right adjective. Just let’s call it, mellow. In the manner of a seasoned chameleon I suspect he can blend into any age, ideology and season. Crises, downturns, upturns, honours, praise, criticism, he’s been there-endured that.
In fact, he’s at a point when he can look back on his life and times, with a knowing smile. Chill and let chill. Clearly, don’t mess with me and my family, and I won’t mess with you, appears to be this patriarch’s credo, which could add up to a book as voluminous as War and Peace.
Indeed, the Indore-born boy with the complexion of pink roses is still at it, regaling his age-old friends and guests with tangy tales. Inevitably, the guests expect superstar son Salman Khan to stroll by. That’s a bonus.
For a multitude of reasons, I’m not privy to the stories he must be narrating nowadays. I can just hope that his short and some long stories haven’t turned jujube soft. Or to put it more frankly, politically correct. Because correctness is a waistcoat that doesn’t suit him. Only his denim shirts and jeans do.
To be fair, though, he can understand the fundamentals of politics, being one of the few film personalities who wades through the daily newspapers as avidly as an astronomer scanning the sky.
Cut to Salim Khan in the role of an active participant in realpolitik, now that’s a twist in a plot which perhaps even he couldn’t have foretold. Be it vis-a-vis yesterday’s Congress or today’s BJP, at least I could never imagine him hitching on to any political bandwagon.
Likely Entry into Rajya Sabha
Consequently when Salim Khan aligned himself with the BJP during its general election campaign, like many others I could only surmise, “Aah, no one’s safe from the come-hither call of politics.” Good luck to him, may he know what he’s doing.
Oddly enough, when he was en route to New Delhi for the swearing-in ceremony of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, I bumped into him after a thousand moons at the Mumbai airport. As gung-ho as ever, he wisecracked, “Now that I’ve become famous, I don’t see you anymore. Ajeeb ho, bhai..”, trotting off before I could murmur something like a retort. That’s the quintessential Salim Khan, oozing instant charm, his unilateralism brooking no discussion. Not a word.
As in his scripts, every event and motive must have a cause and effect. There’s an underpinning of self-righteousness. If the Padmashri honour was offered to him this year, he rejected it as a case of too little, too late. Correct, after all Akshay Kumar and Saif Ali Khan have been bestowed with the honorific much earlier. That it was being given by the new ruling party, was no consideration.
Currently, talk abounds in New Delhi’s political circles that Salim Khan is more than likely to be nominated as a Rajya Sabha MP when Javed Akhtar’s tenure comes to an end. Incidentally, neither agrees to accept a Lifetime Achievement on the same dais.
Fiercely Protective of Family
On the surface, Salim Khan is a simple man, a straight-talker. Yet there are many personalities within him, caroming between someone who can be totally caring and someone who can be totally hostile -- in the tradition of Salim-Javed’s classic creation, the ‘angry young man.’ He can be a romantic, and can recapitulate the time when he’d sprint for miles after the car carrying the girl he fell madly in love with. That was Sushila Charak, who eventually married him, and became Salma Khan.
As a father, I’d sensed that of his three sons, he had the softest corner for Arbaaz since he was given to catching a cold-and-cough frequently. Salman Khan’s pranks during his teenage years, would send his father into a seismic rage. Now, I can’t say if Arbaaz remains the laadla, but now Dad Khan is as protective about Salman as a lion is to his cub.
There may be a superstar in the house, but the father’s the presiding god-papa of the Khan Galaxy. And he has no compunctions about stating that the girls who have sashayed in and out of Salman’s life used him for a stepping stone for their acting careers. From his perspective, the script’s plain and logical.
An Aura of His Own
If he doesn’t like a particular actor, he’ll say so. If his own short stint as a wannabe actor was disastrous, he’ll say so. If he doesn’t approve of a particular Salman Khan film, he’ll tell him so. And if he doesn’t appreciate allegations of the severe kind, he doesn’t mince his words either.
Most mornings, you can see Salim Khan on his 8 am walk on the Bandra seafront, with an ever-enlarging group of listeners following him as if he was the Pied Piper. Whether he’s expounding on the weather, the movies or affairs of the state, it can’t be determined exactly.
Yet, there’s something boldly dramatic as Salim Khan waves his hands in the air animatedly during the walks. When he talks, you’re compelled to listen just the way I did, in an open-house where the kitchen never closes.
(The writer is a film critic, filmmaker, theatre director and a weekend painter)
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