The most rollicking interviews I’ve done with Salman Khan are the ones over drinks. Always at Galaxy Apartments. Always late at night. On one classic occasion, there was a power outage, so 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 didn’t do rehearsals. So the choreographer came home. Salman didn’t stir from behind the bar. He watched with a frown as the choreographer pranced around in the flickering shadows. “Okay, what’s next?” he asked impatiently. “Bang-Bang,” the choreographer said fearfully. “Bang-Bang woh kya hota hai?” Salman demanded incredulously. The choreographer explained. And Salman sent him packing. His glass of Bacardi and I were waiting.
This time, the lights are on at Galaxy Apartments and Salman’s lovely blue-eyed and blonde Romanian actress friend Iulia Vantur is present, elegantly sipping a glass of wine. The interview began at Film City on the sets of Tubelight. It was the last day of shooting in 2016. Director Kabir Khan had recreated a charming Ladakh village: it was old-world and had a wintry air. Salman was dressed in a sweater, though the temperature was an unpleasant 30 degrees Celsius. He had torn a ligament and limped off the set painfully at pack-up. “Let’s go home and have a drink,” he suggests wearily. His holiday had begun. First Christmas, then his birthday, and now New Year, all spent with the family at his Panvel farmhouse. He returns to Tubelight on January 6.
First action hero
On Tuesday, Salman quietly turned 51. He’s ageing, but the Bollywood superstar is ageless on screen, and the fans won’t have Salman Khan any other way.
“I don’t feel my age,” he tells me. “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, broken bones, strained muscles, torn ligaments, everything hurts, but I’m still working. I sleep for four hours. People who complain they can’t sleep don’t know what to do with the time they’re awake. I use that time. If I’m not shooting, I’m reading scripts, listening to narrations, sitting on music, meeting lawyers, attending to the Being Human Foundation, or partying! My doctor says, ‘Don’t be Rambo!’ But I can’t stop working. I believe you grow old and feel your age when you start getting tired, when you’re bored with life, unenthusiastic about your work and 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 old man to get in. If you do, the old man will take over your life!”
This interview had to be rescheduled thrice. And it appeared iffy the fourth time too. But I knew it would happen. Salman is like that. “Ek baar jo maine commitment kar di …” and all that.
On the sets of Tubelight, there were the old and infirm hopefully clutching letters from doctors: his Being Human Foundation takes care of thousands of life-saving surgeries in the biggest hospitals of Mumbai. Civic officials wanted his sanction for the construction of toilets in Aarey Colony where defecation is done in the open. He’s the poster boy for their Swachh Bharat Abhiyan campaign. Salman listened to their requirements, quietly doing the math in his head, working out how many toilets were required for a slum of 3,500 families. “You’ll pay for the toilets?” the civic team asked. He agreed without hesitation. Strangers came up for jobs. Attractive young girls, all die-hard fans trembling with excitement, asked for selfies. An impoverished woman waited with a dirty little girl wearing a tattered Sultan tee. The child held a pastry in her grubby hands. The woman didn’t want a selfie, she didn’t possess a cell phone, they just wanted to wish Salman for his birthday. His eyes lit up.
Impressed and touched by all this though I was, I was glad to get away to Galaxy Apartments for that drink. I’ve seen it before. Salman donates large sums in the blink of an eye without question if it’s for charity. He once said that if somebody was dying and money could save that person’s life, he would provide the money. I know that’s true. He accepts thanks from nobody. He tells people who express gratitude, “You took what was already yours from me, that’s your naseeb.” He’s notoriously large-hearted. But he’s also a simpleton. And people scam him all the time. Some park a hundred metres away from Galaxy Apartments, where his father sits in the garage signing cheques, they remove their watches and jewellery, and come with hands outstretched and tears in their eyes. A few abuse him when he sees through their game and turns them away. Others fall prey to brokers who promise them access to Salman’s limitless funds.
Give and take
I think he conducts the business of being Salman Khan like a mom-and-pop-store. Putting what he earns into one pocket and providing out of the other. “Do you know what you’re worth? What money you make? How long can you keep doing this?” I ask.
“When I was nothing, I had nothing,” Salman replies. “I don’t think of the future. My time is now. And I will do whatever I can do. Money, anybody can earn. But a name like mine, to be the universal ‘Bhai’ to everyone, that’s difficult. I go with what’s happening. And I try to take it to the next level. Doing charity isn’t about giving money. It’s about holding out a hand, offering a smile, charity is about kindness. Being Human is about being there.”
I remind him: “But people uncharitably say you’re doing all this to clean up your image.” He shrugs. “It’s my money whether it comes from films, my clothing lines, jewellery range, whatever. And I’d rather it goes into healthcare and education than my pocket. I’m paying rent for my time on earth. The universe is like the IT Department. It can raid you anytime. Before that happens, I’m paying my taxes. People will talk. Tomorrow if I lose everything, they will also say, ‘God gave him so much, the fool went and squandered it all.’ I tell them, even if all this is a con game and I’m trying to clean my image, I’m still giving – not taking. Dude, you try and do it. But I wish I’d started earlier. Now I’m meeting people who are good and clean, know their job and want to do nice things. I’m tying up with like-minded people. I regret I didn’t meet them earlier. But who would trust me when I was younger? It’s hard to make people have faith in you when you’re 25!”
“What space are you in right now?” I ask. “You’re 51, what’s on your mind?” Salman laughs. “People see me romancing heroines, they see me horsing around on TV reality shows even though I might have a court appearance the next day, I’m attending parties, spotted entering or leaving the airport, celebrating a film’s release, they think I’m chilled out. But all this is my job. And I have to do it no matter how messed up I am in the head. The truth is, I’m in an agitated space. A court appearance affects my whole family. But it’s like a sword over my head. It keeps me in check. Under control. If I didn’t have it, I would have taken off! The positive side is that there’s an awareness because of me. That drinking and driving is not cool. People think, ‘If it could land Salman Khan in jail, what are we?’ That doesn’t mean I look forward to a court date. But it’s a blast for the media. I believe four or five days go into planning stories. How do you send the TRPs up? By making capsules on all my wrongdoings! Anytime there’s an accident involving a celebrity, I’m dragged out and showcased all over again. There are days when I don’t want to leave the house. But I need to go out and work because a lot of people earn their living off me. It helps that I enjoy my work.”
I am not into diets, I only eat ghar ka khana: Salman Khan
Old is for other people
We talk about films. I want to know how long he’ll continue to play the endearing superstar, the blazing action hero. Amitabh Bachchan famously retired when he turned 50, and then came back with meaningful character roles. Aamir Khan has just set the bar in Dangal for the Bollywood Khans to play ageing fathers to grown-up girls. Would Salman consider, say, being the screen father of Tiger Shroff? “Tchah!” he says disdainfully. “I played a father in Jab Pyaar Kisise Hota Hai when I was in my 30s. I’ve been there and done that. And in my next film, I’m playing the father to a 13-year-old girl. It’s a film about dancing. Like the Hollywood Step Up franchise. I’m going to be a properly trained dancer. You know how painful that is? Sultan was also painful. I had to lose 18 kilos of muscle. I’m not into diets. I eat ghar ka khana. And I don’t eat for taste. As soon as I’ve got my proteins and carbs, I leave the table. So, to lose 18 kilos of muscle was the most difficult thing on the earth. But I’ve always believed that effortless hard work should be seen on-screen. And that’s what I’ve been doing from Wanted to Sultan. I don’t see myself doing character roles. So what if I’m 51? Stallone is still Rocky and Rambo at 70. Filmmaking is the most beautiful industry. We sell dreams. Why shouldn’t I live mine?”
I ask: “For an actor who’s a very private person you give a lot of yourself in Bigg Boss. How much of that is your personality? The show is not a hit, yet you do it season after season, why – for the big pay packet?” Salman replies: “No, I do it for the connect with the aam aadmi. That’s the power of television. When I did 10 Ka Dum, I was scared, but I decided to do it my way. There was no better way of doing it than by telling my story. Siddharth Basu held his head and said, ‘My show!’ But the Israelis who conceptualised 10 Ka Dum said it was the best thing that happened. Same way with Bigg Boss. A person’s personality comes out in conversation. The moralisms are not part of the script, that’s my life, my advice may be crooked, but it works. Later on, I see the show and wonder, ‘Did I really say that?’ Morally, ethically, principally, I may not be correct, but a lot of people think like me. The thing is, TV connects with the people. And for them Bigg Boss is phookat entertainment. They hold the remote in their hand. If you can stop them from switching channels, you’ve arrived.”
Late night has become early morning. The drinks continue to flow like his conversation, unplugged. But Salman is used to this. Night after night, he stands at his bar drinking and smoking, and entertaining friends. He sleeps late and gets up early. I wonder how the man in the mirror greets him the next day. “He tells me what to do,” Salman grins. “Everybody gets old and dies. Life is about how much you can delay this. You can accept what the man in the mirror tells you and take a decision then and there. I push it for later. That’s because I know I’ve done it before. But then I have to train harder, abuse my body more. What you keep telling your body, the mind listens to. I should know. How do you think I got to be 51?”
Meanwhile, the lovely Iulia Vantur who Bollywood hopes Salman Khan will marry in 2017 listens. She has kicked off her shoes and is at home. I don’t ask him about marriage. He’s still the most eligible 51-year-old bachelor in the world. The man in the mirror has accepted this and so has Iulia, I think.
Meet Sultan, the drug supplier
In the world of substance abuse, code words rule. Alia Bhatt is cocaine, Kangana is afeem and Nargis Fakhri is ecstasy
When the underworld in Mumbai, which speaks its own language, refers to ‘Sultan’ on the phone, you can be sure that a drug deal is being struck and the ‘Sultan’ in question isn’t Bollywood superstar Salman Khan, but the supplier or organiser of the drugs. This hot tip comes from police sources in Mumbai’s Crime Branch. Tapped phone conversations earlier had the cops wondering what the men they were after meant when they said that “‘Sultan’ is always late” and “the last time ‘Sultan’ proved a box office hit”. But the cops soon broke the code. Subsequently, they discovered that it wasn’t just Salman Khan who was favoured by the drug dealers of Mumbai, but also Bollywood’s other stars. And the stars’ names were used to identify the following:
* Ranveer Singh: Peddler
* Ranbir Kapoor: Host
* Alia Bhatt: Cocaine
* Kangana Ranaut: Afeem (a poppy derivative)
* Katrina Kaif: Smack
* Priyanka Chopra: LSD
* Anushka Sharma: Hashish
* Nargis Fakhri: Ecstasy
Bookies on Salman’s marriage
Bets are being taken on who will be Mrs Salman Khan in 2017
This classic race may be considered the Bollywood Derby. What do bookies in Mumbai do when cricket, and especially the IPL, is not the flavour of the season? They look at Bollywood. And bets are currently being taken on which actress is likely to become Mrs Salman Khan in 2017. There are five names in the reckoning. Buzz is that the English Amy Jackson, who was a hot favourite some time ago, is suddenly not seen around Salman after the Romanian Iulia Vantur returned to his life. Among the also-rans are the actor’s prodigies: Zarine Khan, Sonakshi Sinha and Elli Avram. Here are the front runners and the odds that bookies are offering on them:
* Iulia Vantur: 25 paise
* Amy Jackson: 40 paise
* Sangeeta Bijlani: 1 rupee
* Katrina Kaif: 2.50 rupees
* Zarine Khan: 4 rupees
This is not the first time bookies have made money off Salman Khan. Earlier, bets were being taken and big money was being placed on what the actor’s sentence would be in his respective court cases.