King of hearts

Ever since he burst on to the big screen in Maine Pyar Kiya in 1989, his first film in a lead role, Salman Khan has never looked back. Blessed with an abundance of talent and irresistible charm, it wasn’t long before the young actor began ruling both the industry and the hearts of the audience. 

Very quickly, Khan became the quintessential ‘lover boy’ of Hindi cinema and, in fact, went on to define the image of a romantic hero.

He also went on to become Bollywood’s most bankable star, an achievement that’s hard to beat. Going by the openings that his movies take, it is safe to say that the actor’s fan following is growing with every passing Friday. Here’s the man who’s celebrating his 50th birthday, in conversation with Vajir Singh.

Vajir Singh (VS): Happy Birthday!
Salman Khan (SK): Thank You! Happy Birthday to you too, saal mein kabhi na kabhi aapka bhi birthday hoga ek baar…

VS: My birthday is on the same day as yours… December 27.
SK: Oh, that’s great… aapko bhi bohot mubarak ho… Aap bhi bade ho gaye…

 VS: Sir, your birthday is no longer just your birthday; the entire world celebrates it. How does that feel?
SK: It feels good. I mean, when you’re getting that much respect, you can’t say it feels terrible. I mean, I am getting so much respect, jinka birthday nahi hai woh bhi celebrate kar rahe hai kyunki unke hero ka birthday hai. There is something in me that they like and that is an incredible feeling… to be liked by so many people.

VS: When you see just how happy your birthday makes other people and how excited they are to celebrate it, that must be an incredible feeling.
SK: To see me grow one year older.

VS: No, sir, to see how much love you are showered with.
SK: Or to see me grow. Logically, a year older but a year younger every year…

VS: Sir, do you have any special plans for your birthday?
SK: No, nothing. I am not doing anything on this birthday, just a normal family get-together, that’s it.

VS: What does it feel like when you look back at your journey in the industry?
SK: I don’t look back. If you look back, you waste time. Always look forward and keep moving.

VS: Can you tell us about the journey between Biwi Ho To Aisi and Prem Ratan Dhan Payo?
SK: Sir, do you have a good 15 to 20 days? It would take 25 to 30 days to describe that journey. That journey started at the age of 15 and a half, when I started working. At the age of 16, I started worrying about whether I would get work or not, whether someone would cast me or not. After that, I became an assistant but I had to stop because I was not getting work as a director. Then I decided to try my hand at acting but I was still worried about getting work and where my life was headed.

But then I got Biwi Ho Toh Aisi and Maine Pyar Kiya, and I remember me asking myself whether I would get more work or not. And then I got work, more work. So that memory, from Biwi Ho Toh Aisi, Maine Pyar Kiya, and before that my first Campa Cola ad, till here has been just one wink. Ek palak jhapki and I am here. It has been a fraction of a second from there to today. It may feel like a very long time but I want to keep working. God has given me so much work and so many fans that if I release three films every year, they would still watch all three, expecting each one to be good. So it has been a great journey, a very fast and big journey.

VS: Today, the audience goes to watch a ‘Salman Khan’s film’ without  knowing anything else about the film. How does that feel?
SK: No, sir, that is not true. If Salman Khan did bad movies, no one would not watch them. It has to be a combination of everything. The movie has to be good, it has to have fun and action, drama, and it has to be unique. You cannot feed them something they have seen before or it will be boring. It has to be larger than life.

VS: What keeps you going across so many films and so many years?
SK: Every film is as important as the previous one. You have to always put in that extra effort, more than you put in when your previous film released. And if this one does well, you know that the next one won’t be a problem. You work harder on the next one, so the one (film) after that is received well. It is an ongoing process, it is a fight, it is a journey. 

It is always an uphill climb, which gets more and more difficult, and only people who are ready for the challenge succeed. It is not only the survival of the fittest, physically; it is also the survival of the fittest, mentally. It is your mental strength that guides you physically.

VS: What do you look at when deciding whether you should do a film or not, both as an actor and now as a producer?
SK: Simple, it should be entertaining. You have to make films which are entertaining, where the backdrop is larger than life. There will be heroes, whether tragic, comedy, romance or action, but it will be based on heroes and will be commercial. Our cinema is the only cinema in the world that gives us the liberty of songs, dance, romance, emotion, action and comedy, all in one film. Plus, it allows you to have another comic track and a sub-plot. 

Not even the most intricate or complicated screenplays anywhere in the world have as many tracks as a simple Hindi film does. We are lucky that we make these kinds of films and our audience has adapted to this format. In a scene, you could be making them laugh and in the very next scene, you can make them cry, and in the following scene you can go back to heroism. Suddenly, you can show that a character is a loser and in the next scene, he could wake up and be the biggest superhero there is even without being a superhero.

VS: Having experienced so much success, how do you retain your motivation and energy?
SK: That will happen as long as we don’t lose enthusiasm. When you don’t lose enthusiasm, the energy levels are there, you are having fun and you are relating to the younger generation and you are relating to the older generation, ke dekho hum kaise hain, yeh kaisa hai. That gives you a high.

VS: Would you consider experimenting by doing a negative role?
SK: Why do negative films or a negative role when there is so much positive stuff to do? Also, we have to remember the impact cinema can have. Kids are born every day and before they even learn their parents’ names, they know which songs are trending, the names of heroes. With caretakers looking after kids, the TV is always on and, depending on who her favourite actor is, she will sing those songs and the kids will pick them up. When the parents return home and the song Dhinka chika is playing on TV, the kid picks it up and the parents are amazed at what’s happening! 

They don’t realise that when they are watching TV, the sound is familiar to the child. That’s the impact television and cinema have on individuals. It could be an older person or a child who is getting it into his consciousness. He will hear it and he will absorb it. The negative person is doing his negative stuff because without a villain, who is larger than life, a hero can never be a hero. Woh apna job kar raha hai toh apan apna job karo.

VS: Do you think our industry is being taken more seriously now?
SK: It’s the same thing. There has always been a dearth of cinemas. Right now, we are short by 25-30,000. Even if two newcomers want to release on the same day, toh prints ki mara mari hogi, screens ki mara mari hogi toh yeh kaunsi industry hui? You need to get the theatres. It is such a powerful medium, such a powerful industry but only because there are no numbers, they don’t take it seriously. Film music plays everywhere, from weddings to nightclubs. Also, all the musicians from these small bands, when they perform at weddings, they perform on our songs. So the revenue generated is very large. 

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