Is Salman Khan not answerable to posterity? On the star's 56th birthday, assessing his crippling complacency as an actor

Is Salman Khan not answerable to posterity? On the star's 56th birthday, assessing his crippling complacency as an actor

Is Salman Khan not answerable to posterity? On the star's 56th birthday, assessing his crippling complacency as an actor

Salman Khan and I have shared some adventurous times in the past, which I am sure both of us would like to forget. We were both close to Sanjay Leela Bhansali once. Bhansali continues to be my closest  friend in Mumbai. But neither him nor I speak to Salman any longer. Or maybe, it is the other way round. Salman does not speak to us any more.

After all, in Mumbai’s entertainment industry, it is the star who decides whom he speaks to or does not. I have seen a lot of the biggest stars in action. But none can equal the starry behaviour of Salman. At any given time, he  has a coterie of yes-men and hangers-on. This coterie includes wannabe producers, eager-eyed musicians, and  directors who are currently in Bhai’s good books.

One eminent director with whom Salman fell out, told me, “He is surrounded by so-called friends who don’t have the guts to tell him where he is going wrong. Salman now wants to not just act but direct and edit his own films. Either you, go by what he says or you are called ungrateful and shown the door.”

Just how Salman fell out with the director who brought out the best in him is a story that has been told in many a twisted versions of the truth. Here is what really happened. Bhansali signed Salman for a film titled Inshallah. It was an autumn-spring love story about a much older man in love with a sprightly young girl, to be played by Alia Bhatt.

This was going to be Bhansali’s fourth collaboration with Salman, with the hope that the actor would get an opportunity to surface beyond the suffocating trappings of superstardom that have engulfed his career.

Soon into the pre-production, Sanjay discovered  it was  not working out. Salman's “ideas” on how to improve the  product included a dance number by his friend Sushmita Sen, and a cameo by his protégée Daisy Shah. None of these fitted into the director’s vision. The final and decisive blow to Inshallah was when the mega-star “advised” his director to cancel the proposed Eid release in order to allow another of his projects (Radhe, I think) to release on Eid as, in his opinion, it was more in tune with what his fans expected.

This is when Bhansali decided to shut down Inshallah.

I believe Inshallah would have been one of the best films of Salman’s career, alongside Hum…Dil De Chuke Sanam, Tere Naam, and Bajrangi Bhaijaan. These are those rare Salman starrers where the actor actually acted, where he overcame the crippling complacency of an arrogant superstar who thinks his presence on the screen is all that his fans want.

Yes, Salmaniacs only want him on screen. They do not care about what he does with the screen space once he is there. But is Salman Khan not answerable to posterity?

 Does he not want future generations to talk about his performances?  More than a film actor, Salman sees himself as a rockstar. He loves to be on stage while thousands of fans cheer from the audience. During that moment, his most intimate infantile fantasy — of the child who climbs the parapet to get Mom to come running — is fully realised.

At home, he is a wonderful son, not just to his biological mother but also to 'Helen Aunty ,' the woman whom his father married later. The Khans run a very liberal household. Islam, Hinduism, and Christianity have a free passage. It is a large open house where unexpected guests are always expected… and welcome.

Unlike the other two Khan superstars who have not known proper parental guidance (Shah Rukh Khan lost both his parents at a young age, and Aamir Khan could not see eye-to-eye with his father), Salman’s familial background is as normal as it gets.

Contradictorily, the rebellious streak shows up in his behaviour all the time. Whether on screen or off it, Salman opts for the maximum-attention mode of functioning. If he is known to get physically aggressive with his directors (Subhash Ghai, David Dhawan, Satish Kaushik, and Puneet Isaar will ouch… sorry, vouch for this), he is also known to go out of his way to accommodate filmmakers.

SRK was supposed to play Amitabh Bachchan’s son in Ravi Chopra’s Baghban. When he backed out because of his back problem, Salman sportingly stepped in. Bachchan is full of praise for Salman. “Salman is God’s child. Very misunderstood, but has a heart of gold. Like Sanju (Sanjay Dutt), Salman has a penchant for getting into trouble. But he means well, and is extremely kind-hearted,” he once  shared with me.

Revathi, in whose Phir Milenge, Salman played a supporting role to Shilpa Shetty, will also vouch for the kind heart. Salman not only agreed to play a supporting role, but also refused to charge any money from Revathy, who was his co-star in one of his earliest films, Love.

So will the real Salman Khan please stand up? Is he an enfant terrible or a restless child with a heart of gold?  Salman often says and does things which he does not mean. His naked aversion to the press does not add to his popularity. But ask Salman if he cares. He would rather be a rock star than a rocksteady movie star.

Subhash K Jha is a Patna-based journalist. He has been writing about Bollywood for long enough to know the industry inside out.