The Mark Manuel Interview: At 54 and after 30 years of cinema, I’m still working hard on myself, says Salman Khan
Salman Khan is waiting for me at Mehboob Studios. It is late evening on Christmas eve. He’s shooting Radhe, his Eid 2020 release. And giving a group media interview for Dabangg 3 that released last Friday. I am not a part of that group. I have no questions for him on Dabangg 3, Big Boss and politics. He likes talking to me privately. We are friends. And we talk about things other than films. This is usually done over drinks and dinner at his home in Galaxy Apartments down the road. Late at night. On one classic occasion, there was a power outage, we talked by candlelight. While electricians struggled with the lights, a portly choreographer attempted to teach Salman the dance steps he was to perform at an awards show the next night. The actor doesn’t do rehearsals. So the choreographer came home. Salman stood behind the bar watching as the choreographer pranced around in the flickering shadows. “Okay, what’s next?” he kept asking impatiently. “Bang-Bang,” the choreographer said apprehensively. “Bang-Bang, woh kya hota hai?” Salman demanded amazed. The choreographer explained. And Salman sent him packing. His drink and I were waiting.
This time was different. He was sitting by himself. Sipping a cola. His callused hands playing with an empty ashtray. His Blackberry lay silently on the table. He wasn’t smoking. Maybe it was his New Year resolution. He grinned when he saw me. In between shooting, and the group interview, Salman had worked out. He has a mobile gym fitted into a huge air-conditioned shipping container that travels with him. He calls it his Being Strong Gym. It is a fitness enthusiast’s dream. He invited me to see it. A large punching bag swung on a stand outside next to Roman Rings. Inside, his brother Sohail Khan was working out furiously with weights. Today, Salman turns 54. He once told me, “I don’t feel my age. My mother says I’m stuck at 13! But I’ve started getting injured a lot more and I’ve started feeling the pain a lot more. I’ve had fractures, strained muscles, torn ligaments, everything hurts, but I’m still working. I sleep for four hours. My doctor says, ‘Don’t be Rambo!’ But I can’t stop working.” It is true. I have never known him to take a holiday. On his birthday today, he will.
Excerpts from an interview:
It’s your birthday, you turn 54 on December 27th…
Yeah, but this birthday and from now on the celebration will be for my sister Arpita’s (and Aayush’s) kid that’s going to be born (by a C-section) on the same day I think. My birthdays are over.
You’re looking good for your age…
A. Well, I’m trying to keep the interest and enthusiasm alive. I believe you grow old and feel your age when you start getting tired. When you’re bored with life, unenthusiastic about your work, when you lose that get-up-and-go impulsiveness. You need to be happy, excited and interested all the time. You need to be on the move. And don’t leave even one pore in your body open for the the old man to get in. If you do, the old man will take over your life!
PEOPLE SAID, “HIS TIME IS OVER, HIS MOVIES DON’T RUN.” I KEPT QUIET AND KEPT ON WORKING HARD.
You started this Bollywood cop universe with Dabangg in 2010. Now there’s Ajay Devgn with Singham, Ranveer Singh with Simmba, Rani Mukerji with Mardaani and Akshay Kumar’s coming with Sooryavanshi…
On a daily basis we are protected by the police. But some time ago, and it was in the movies too, it was believed that the cops only come at the end, that they are corrupt, stuff like that. It was negative. And not right. So I thought, if a Bollywood cop was there who was the most amazing husband, a family man, who does all the right things in a crooked way, the audience would associate him with their local police station cops…
Salman Khan's Dabangg poster (2010)
That was your plan for Chulbul Pandey?
Yeah, he’s an honest man. Chulbul’s got his own way of tackling things. He’s also corrupt. But the money he makes out of corruption he puts to good use. My grandfather was a cop. He was DIG of Police, Indore. I wanted Chulbul to be this superhero character in uniform that the people associate with the policewallahs they see everyday. That uniform is very attractive. It makes him larger than life.
Now Chulbul Pandey has become a legend and a franchise…
That’s because our movies, especially mine, have to have emotion, comedy, action, dance, romance, everything. It’s difficult to put all this is one movie. But Chulbul is the kind of character that can snap in and out of every situation.
IT’S THE PEOPLE’S LOVE AND RESPECT FOR ME THAT’S CONVERTED INTO STARDOM.
Is he your creation?
First time I heard the Dabangg script, it had no songs, and Chulbul was a dark character – not even grey. So Arbaaz and I changed it. We made him this Robin Hood kind of character. Then we added the songs, brought in the romance, made Chulbul a nice family man. So Dabangg became a nicer film.
Salman Khan's Dabangg 3 poster (2019)
Have you seen all the other cop movies made by Bollywood?
Yeah, I saw Singham, Simmba, Mardaani. I watch movies. Hollywood ones as well. Or whatever I can get my hands on. It’s become difficult to go to the theatre. My presence causes a distraction. That’s why I don’t go to hospitals too. My visit creates chaos. That’s not right. People are ill there.
How do you deal with this stardom? Rishi Kapoor said if you want to know what stardom is, stand outside Galaxy Apartments…
There have been much bigger stars before me. All my contemporaries are also big. And after this will come stars who are ten times bigger. It’s the people’s love and respect for me that’s converted into stardom. Also, my screen image, which is the kind of movies I choose to do, the way I really am…
But you were not always like this…
I was really messed up initially. There was a lot of angst against me. A negative connotation to my personality. That’s because I chose not to do interviews and clear out everything. The interviews used to be about my father, mother, Helen aunty, then about girlfriends. I can speak about my life. I have no right to speak about anybody else’s lives. The media started to say, “Who does he think he is? Bigger stars give us interviews.” But I had nothing to say. About my career, about my life, and the few times I said something I got misquoted. Those times when the press banned me, I was the happiest…
I MEASURE THE SUCCESS OF A FILM BY PERSONAL SATISFACTION
Then what changed?
I don’t know how things changed positively for me. I don’t know who is responsible, how the change came, and when is it going to get messed up again. But that’s not the fear. The fear always is, when I do something right and it’s misunderstood to be something wrong. It’s made out to be a pretense. Like with Being Human. Some people said, “Oh, he’s trying to change his image. His movies are running because of Being Human.” If that’s the formula for success in movies, then everybody should start a foundation like Being Human…
A still from Salman Khan's Being Human shoot
It’s 30 years since you came out with Maine Pyaar Kiya in 1989…
I had no contribution to it. Bhagyashree was more appreciated. I was just a fluke. For six months after that, I had no work. Then my father got me Pathar Ke Phool. Before that, I signed a movie with Deepak Shivdasani that was a Bengali remake with Mithun Chakraborty. I was his 17th brother or something like that. Later, I said no to it. Deepak told me, “You won’t get any work.” I said, “That’s okay, I’ll write, I’ll direct, that’s what I wanted to do anyway.” He asked me if I had any script ready. I had Baaghi. From then all, all my movies were hits until Love which was really good. But people said, “His time is over, his movies don’t run.” I kept quiet and kept on working hard. I made my choices. I signed some movies which perhaps I knew might not do well. What could I do? I wanted to buy a house. I was offered four films and picked two of the best. And with that money, I got the house. But I knew that there was Sooraj Barjatya standing like a pillar behind me. And then came Hum Aapke Hain Kaun that turned things around.
A still of Salman Khan and Bhagyashree from Maine Pyaar Kiya
I’VE LEARNED THAT WHETHER YOU HAVE A HIT OR A FLOP, YOU CONTINUE TO WORK HARD.
What did you learn from your complacence?
I learned that all this could suddenly come to an end. I learned that my fans should see my hard work, the sweat and blood that I put into my movies, they should enjoy my pain. Then only would they invest that love and money into me. It’s a simple logic. But hard work has to be in the right direction. Otherwise it’s pointless. It’s like you want to be an actor and are working hard at cooking! You work hard at your craft, at your acting skills, dancing and action, you work hard at meeting the right people and getting the correct script. I’ve been working like this. Every movie comes with its own destiny. Nobody knows what will work and what won’t. But you keep on working hard and giving it your best and pray that your thinking, the thinking of your fans and the cinegoers is same.
How do you measure success? By personal satisfaction, box office numbers, the fans’ appreciation, or what the critics say?
By personal satisfaction. The feeling that I like this movie. And to get that, I’ve got to give it my best. But sometimes, no matter how good I was or the movie was, my best is not enough. And somebody is giving much more than I am. So I can’t go by my best. I’ve got to go by the accumulated bests of all the other actors who are my contemporaries and put in that much hard work. All of us are doing that, Akki, Shah Rukh, Aamir, Hrithik, Ajay. First the struggle was how to get into this industry when there was Sunny, Jackie, Sanju and Anil. How do we compete with these personalities. I’m talking about myself. And if I thought competing with the seniors was hard, competing with the juniors today… arre baap re baap, yeh Varun Dhawan, yeh Tiger Shroff, kya dance, kya action karte hain! Abhi lage hain uske uppar. They are just increasing my own levels. Usne yeh kick maara hain, chalo yeh kick try karte hain. But it hurts! Yet I’m at it…
File picture of Salman Khan's hit films
It’s the end of the decade. You began it with Dabangg in 2010. What have you learned from success and failure in the last ten years?
I’ve learned that whether you have a hit or a flop, you continue to work hard. And you work on your craft, your screenplay, the story, your dialogues, the songs, the performances of the other artistes, the publicity, and you work hard at getting the proper release date. You never know what the future brings. Sometimes like with Dabangg 3 now, the movie releases during a sad period when people are disturbed, in spite of which it’s still doing numbers. But you have to keep trying and giving your best. I think it’s all about the moment. You give this moment your best, your next moment will be better.
But success is measured in box office collections of 100, 200 and 300 crores…
Some movies do 100 crores, some do 200 crores, others do 300 crores. But thank God in these last ten years, I’ve done pretty okay, my movies have not lost money, I may have lost some profit. But now the benchmark is, if it’s a Salman Khan movie and does not cross 300-350 crores, then it’s a disaster! I also want the movie to be the biggest hit ever and to have big box office collections. That means fans have liked the movie and gone to see it many times. And it means I’m on the right path. The fans I’ve known from Maine Pyaar Kiya are probably grandparents today. And their children and grandchildren are also fans. So I’m blessed in a way. But… yeh sab baatein hain. Basically, God has been kind and generous towards me. That’s it. Nothing’s in my hands. But God’s also put a rope around my neck to see I don’t fly too high.