Salman Khan
Sarita A Tanwar (DNA; June 13, 2017)

It’s easy to interview Salman Khan. There are no pre-conditions on time alotted, no landmines you are expected to avoid, and no manager/publicist hanging around, to hastily jump in on cue to say, ‘You can’t ask this.’ When he sits down for an interview, he is ready to talk about everything. Even otherwise, he doesn’t hide any bits of his life. If there is a woman in his life, she is at his home, she is at his film shoots, and even family events. When you interview Salman, you know you will get 100 per cent honest answers to everything you ask. Over to Bhai, as he talks about his upcoming film, the numbers game, brotherhood, piracy and crying buckets while shooting Tubelight.

This is your third film with Kabir Khan. From Bajrangi Bhaijan to Tubelight, what changes have you seen in him as a filmmaker?
There’s been no change from the time when Kabir came to narrate the story of Kabul Express to me, and I told him that I wanted to play the Talibani’s character. He thought I was joking. From Tiger to Bajrangi Bhaijan to Tubelight, he is exactly the way he was.

Has your equation with him changed?
Not at all. It is just the same. I say something, and he says, ‘nahi yaar’. He says something and I say, ‘nahi yaar’, and somewhere we find a middle ground; so the films also get the numbers that we want them to.

This is the first time I’ve ever heard you talk about numbers. I don’t think you even look at your own collections...
I will tell you why numbers have become such a big thing. The most amazing thing about Baahubali’s success is that the Hindi audiences are so accepting. They have made a Telugu film so large, even though they do not know south heroes apart from three or four of them. South audiences know us there; yet, our films do not do that volume of business because their fans have an extraordinary sense of loyalty to their actors. Fan following is very strong — if there is a Kamal Haasan fan, then he will be a Kamal fan forever; Rajinikanth fan will be a Rajinikanth fan for life. We have piracy here; one should try indulging in piracy there, fan clubs wouldn’t allow it. Whether a politician or the underworld does it, they don’t give a damn; they will fight it.

Here, even industry folks watch other actors’ pirated movies at home.
Yes. Hats off to the Hindi audiences. They love movies, and go and watch English, Chinese, and south films. A Salman Khan fan will also watch an Aamir Khan film and a Shah Rukh Khan film. And, if the film is good, they will appreciate it.

You have been in the industry for 25 years now, do you feel settled or does competition keep you on your toes and make you strive harder?
I keep myself on the toes all the time. It is not about competition, it is about you competing with yourself. Even when you talk about collections, it is your collections and has nothing to do with anybody else. I believe one should never put anyone else down but try and raise their own level. Once you do that, others will also raise their own levels. Some people put others down, do negative publicity. I do not feel the need to do that. I have not learnt this from my seniors.

With every film, you are challenging yourself more as an actor. In Bajrangi, you steered completely away from the action image, in Sultan you changed your body structure completely, in Tubelight you play someone who is almost like someoen with special needs. Is this a conscious call?
I think I am lucking out with scripts right now. My next is action film — Tiger Zinda Hai. Then I have a superb script as a dancer (to be directed by Remo Dsouza), in which I have the most incredible character of a father to a nine-year-old. It is a different kind of a film. He doesn’t want to be a dancer, but his daughter is a dancer and she falls ill and she enrols his name into the competition. He had promised his dead wife that whatever the little girl wants, he will fulfill. So, he says, ‘my daughter wants it, I am going to dance properly.’

So is there any prep that you did for Tubelight? I remember you told me this is the toughest role you’ve ever done.
This is my most innocent character. When I did the reading of Tubelight, Mahesh’s (Manjrekar) son Satya came to my mind. There is a certain innocence to him. We have corrupted our body language and this is a very simple character, my hands are like that (gestures) and the walk is different. I felt I would not be able to pull it off. So, I asked Mahesh to send Satya, I made him read the character of Laxman Singh Bisht. He read one page, then asked, ‘Sir what is this?’ I said this is one role that I am doing. He said, “Sir I thought you are making me read because I was going to do it.” I said this is a very sweet simple boy’s character that I am playing and I am not that boy but you are, so I wanted to see you do that. Then there is guy called Parvez, he is my body double. He stands in for the long shots, the crowd scenes etc. He is also a very sweet boy. So these two were my inspiration for Tubelight.

Where did you get your body language?
(Laughs) My body language is basically from Sultan. The walk I did when my back was hurting, my ligament was torn, my shoulder was gone. The constant fatigue…I recalled all that. I caught that language for this role.

When you are doing such a role, when you come back home does it still stay with you?
These kind of films I do, I take all the characters I can take, back home.

Because they are amazing characters. I am talking about the personality and character, not the walk and talk, but the heart. Be it Bajrangi... Wanted, Dabangg and Tubelight. So, this big khichdi of all these characters is happening in me right now. They are all very noble characters. Their lines, the way they deal with situations... In your real life, you can and implement at least 20-25 per cent of that. Also, the older you grow, that maturity level comes in and then you are not that angry, emotional and impulsive anymore. You take time to think and react. Unless it is an emergency, life and death situation, then you jump into it.

Tubelight also brings you together with Sohail once more and also as brothers on screen. Were there emotional moments you went through when you were shooting the film?
Somehow when I heard the script, in my mind, I saw Sohail. And I knew in their minds they wanted a big star. So now there was a predicament ‘How do I take Sohail’s name there because now they are talking about a big star.’ That one bar that we needed to cross, to take the film to the next level. I was like, ‘Oh sh*t.’ For a lot of reasons, I saw Sohail in that role. Initially, during the first narration only I saw him in that part. Instead of him, no matter which actor would have been there in front of me, I would not have been able to do this role.

It must have been very emotional on the set.
Of course. Normally I am like: Ready to take. Cut? Okay, next kya hai? But in this film even in the dubbing stage my tears were just flowing. On the set too. I’d heard the script, I know the scene before and the scene after, but still.. crying wise it became such a... It messes you up because then without even thinking, tears just keep on coming out. And if you are doing an emotional scene all day, it becomes like a huge...It drains you out. Even when you break up with somebody, you cry for maybe 15 minutes, then you are like “next”. Here, eight-10 hours of that long shot, this shot and that shot, trolley shot and then you start crying and retake is called. Then again because of the sync sound, agar ek kauwa kuch bola, cut it, and start again. So this was like the most tiring film that I have done.

Was it like that for Sohail as well?