Loved by all and the darling of the box office, Salman Khan, was never able to strike a balance between pleasing his diehard fans as well as the critics, until lately.
In the last few years, the superstar has put his best foot forward and received not only his usual dose of adulation from his dedicated audience but also managed to impress naysayers with his acting chops, at least, most of them.
Now the actor has taken another big risk by skipping his larger-than-life onscreen persona to play a simpleton in Kabir Khan’s upcoming film Tubelight.
Ahead of the film’s release, Salman Khan, in a freewheeling chat with Vajir Singh and Shweta Kulkarni, reveals how he is pushing the envelope to get better with each film. In characteristic style, he says, “Level bada rahe hai mediocrity ke upar.” Over to the man of the moment…
Another Eid and another big release…
These festive dates are the best dates for movie releases. Since it’s the holiday period, people have received their salaries, families get together at that point of time…
Also, here, if we want some entertainment, we go either to a park or to watch a movie. So I think the culture we have of people going and watching a movie together, with friends or family… I think that’s the best outing there is in our country.
Since 2009, since Wanted, Eid has become synonymous with Salman Khan.
I lucked out with that. There were plenty of movies even before that. Biwi No 1 also released during Ramadan, against the World Cup. It did really well. So, for us, we never got Eid-Eid, most of them were during Ramadan, three-four days before Eid. But after that, ek boost milta hai which is a fun thing.
My first film Maine Pyaar Kiya released in December during Christmas. Now Tiger Zinda Hai will release during Christmas. So, basically, these days, you know like January 26, August 15, during children’s vacations, during exam time, no one releases their films. So basically, when people are relaxed, exams are over, people are in a happy mood, those are the times you release films. Even festive seasons have a nice, happy mood, like Diwali, Holi… people have holidays on these days and they want to go and see a movie during that time.
You just mentioned Biwi No 1, which opened with 100-per cent occupancy. Those were times when movies were judged on their occupancy, whereas today it’s all about the opening… Rs 20 crore, Rs 30 crore… Does it pressurise you, that more than anything else, it’s only about the number of crores a film earns?
You know, pressure comes when you are doing a film that you don’t have full confidence in. So, if you have not signed the film for the right reasons, which means you have not loved the script, but instead signed it under some pressure ke dost bana raha hai, dates are available, you are not getting good offers… then you are under pressure, and when you are giving interviews and stuff like that, aap jhoot bol rahe ho. You are basically conning the audience.
You say, ‘This is the best film that I have ever done’, when you know that yeh picture mein kuch dum hai hi nahi aur aap usko promote kiye jaa rahe ho. I think that has stopped with all of us since quite some time. Earlier, producers and directors did not let us hear the script. We didn’t know what the characters were like in the movie. Agar aapne bola ki ‘sir story suna di jiye,’ toh it was considered rude. It was like, ‘Yeh toh batameez aadmi hai.’
However, now we do only what we like. So when you do interviews and stuff like that now, you are genuinely talking about the movie and your character. How that translates later is decided only by your fans.
Also, today, everyone wants to break records, even we want to do that, everyone wants to do that and it is the best thing for the industry. But when that doesn’t happen, we hope that kum se kum flop na ho and nobody loses their money. A lot goes into making a film, it’s almost a dedh saal ka process, so much creativity is involved, so much hard work, so many people’s careers depend on it, so a movie should not flop.
Earlier, when a movie would flop, jashn hota tha, party hoti thi. Now people have realised that if kisi ki film flop hogayi, toh yeh asar humpar bhi padega. So, today, everyone in the industry wants every film to do well. A regional film like Baahubali (The Conclusion) made about 500 crores here, with the Hindi film-going audience. That means our Hindi audiences are so amazing ki they watch an English film, they watch a Hindi film, and they watch a regional film too because the film is a good film.
So they don’t have this, arey yeh Tamil film hai, Telegu film hai, picture acchi hai? Haan, fir hum jayenge dekhne ke liye. For the business that Baahubali has made, some of the credit goes to Hindi cinema viewers. Obviously, the director SS Rajamouli is fantastic; the writer is fantastic, like he is the most amazing writer that is there. Vijayendra Prasadji even wrote Bajrangi Bhaijaan for us. So you know it’s a whole package of combinations.
The story goes that the writer wanted only you to play Bajrangi…
Yes, yes pehle toh we didn’t know ki kya hai. Then Kabir (Khan) met him in Hyderabad, he then called me from Hyderabad and said, ‘Ya, this is good.’ Otherwise, main toh dodge kar raha tha, but what a man and what an outstanding script he gave us. So I heard it and loved it.
First Ek Tha Tiger, then Bajrangi Bhaijaan. Was it difficult for the Kabir-Salman combination to come together for Tubelight?
We would have never made Tubelight if the script was not better than Bajrangi. It was fantastic on the script level. For the next film, we will have a problem because it has to be better than Tubelight!
Kabir Khan has brought the best shades of you onscreen, he has unleashed you as an actor…
(Laughs) Yes, our journey started with Ek Tha Tiger. It was a very cool stylish film, and then we went on to this emotional film called Bajrangi, a very simple character, and now we have come up with Tubelight, which is a lot simpler than Bajrangi Bhaijaan. It’s a very pure, noble character. He just wants to stop the war so that his brother comes back to him. He wants the Chinese jawans to go back to their families, and our soldiers to get back to their families, bas ki yeh jung khatam hojaye. You know, hum sab mein ek cheez bahut kam hogayi hai, woh hai yaqeen.
We don’t believe in ourselves any more. Everyone says we gave our best but nahi hua. That means you haven’t given your best. Agar aapne best diya hota, toh woh ho jaata. This happens because you don’t have enough confidence in yourself, or someone has discouraged you because of which your morale has broken and you cannot achieve what you actually want to achieve.
You know, we always say, kaash kuch aur maang leta, or arey I was just thinking about you and you called, toh usme toh koi telephone vagre toh hai nahi na, apne socha and it was conveyed to the universe and the universe conspired to get you there. So when somebody needs something and s/he sends it out in the universe, the universe works like a wireless and in the end what you desire, from somewhere or the other, comes to you. It’s all belief.
Coming back to the character, this boy, Laxman, stays in Jagatpur and he is praying and believes that he will stop the war and his brother will come back.
In what ways could you relate to your character, Laxman?
Not any more. I mean, we have grown up and that innocence has gone. We have become smart; we have become clever; there is a certain amount of corruption in our thought. So, even when we want to do something, we can’t do it. We are afraid of what people will think… Yeh toh image change karne ki koshish kar raha hai, or he is trying to show a different side. We are always aware of all this.
When we were young, 12 or 14 years old, thoughts like these never bothered us. Today, people are embarrassed to do good things, which is the worst thing that has happened to all of us; it is really, really sad. Galat karne mein kisi ko koi problem nahi hai, lekin accha karne mein people are conscious. People are hesitant to do good.
Like you said, we have lost our innocence, whereas this character, Laxman, is very pure and very innocent. How did you bring out that innocence in him?
You remember your past, what you were like before you started movies, how you were in school. That was the connect I did. When I heard the script, I was, like, abhi ka Salman Khan toh yeh role play hi nahi kar payega. I had to go back to when I was 12-13 years old. Memories of when you are 12-13 years old are engraved in your brain. That was the journey I had to go through.
So, suddenly, Sohail and I started talking about when we were growing up, our friends, iska naam kya hai, yeh kaha hain, kuch kuch friends toh delete hi hogaye the life se… When we started talking, we discovered that one friend was in New Zealand, someone else was in Australia. There is this childhood friend who grew up with me, and when I was in New Zealand, he came to see me there and it was one of the best feelings ever. I keep in touch with all the school ke dost. So I connected to all those memories. I had to go back to when I was a child to get this character right.
What attracted you to Tubelight?
The script, you know, bada zamana ho gaya hai, ki bhaiyon ke upar kahani nahi aayi, and Tubelight basically is a love story of two brothers. The elder brother is simple and the younger one is like a man, and one of these guys goes to war and the other one is waiting for his brother to come back, not knowing whether he will and what will happen to his life. He is a helpless boy, he can’t do anything, he can’t pick up a gun, he can’t go to war, he is not a tiger that he would just go get his brother back.
He has a different way to bring his brother back, which is the most noble – belief and self-confidence. You don’t have to pick up a gun, you don’t have to take on 50-60 people, but just by your niceness and your heart, you can achieve things. Since Sohail was playing the character, there was no acting involved, it went beautifully.
What was your thought process when Kabir narrated the film to you for the first time?
I actually loved the film. I loved the character. The screenplay goes so beautifully. So when he was narrating the script to me, I was totally involved with it. First, I didn’t see the character because it’s a very difficult character to play. You can go overboard, you can mimic someone, it could look caricaturish… then uss mein woh baat nahi aati.
So you either overdo it or you under play it. You need to strike the right chord. So 15 minutes into the film, when I was hearing it, I started getting the character right. By the time we were done with the narration, I was already there. Then the most difficult thing was to walk like the character and talk like the character. Once I got the walk and the talk, I was ready for it. Ab problem yeh hai ki I am doing Tiger Zinda Hai, and that walk is still stuck with me. So I have to get that swag back.
One thing one has consistently noticed over the years is your chemistry with kids onscreen; your emotions and expressions are so real when you have scenes with children.
I believe jiska time accha chal raha hai, whoever’s comic timing is working well, don’t disturb it. Uske beech ungli mat karo because you will only look like a fool. Similarly, don’t compete with kids because you don’t know what they will do. If you try to compete with a child, you are finished. The same goes for animals. You can compete with your co-stars and everyone else but don’t ever compete with these three things.
Usually, when there is a function or a gathering, ek aadmi ki timing uss waqt solid chal rahi hoti hai, ab uske beech aap ghusoge na toh sab upset hojayenge. They’ll say, ‘Shut up, yaar, what are you doing?’ These are the places where you should never show off and try to say, ‘I can do better than him.’ You should never do that. You look better only if you are not doing anything and are just being yourself. Even acting-wise, if you don’t understand something, a scene which is very difficult, the less you do in that scene, the better it is. That’s the way I work.
Your new style of working is to do only one movie at a time. Do you miss doing three to four shifts, like you used to?
Dekho, kitne bade tubelight hai humlog, when we used to work for 4-5 lakh, at that time, we used to do 15-16 films and now that prices have increased, we should be doing that right now. Instead, we are doing one film at a time. But the concentration on that one film is a lot more. At that time, we didn’t know only what scenes we were doing. Who the co-star was, kiske dates hai… all my life I have heard, ‘Light aarahi hai, light ja rahi hai, light aarahi hai.’
Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, Biwi No 1 and Kuch Kuch Hota Hai were shot at the same time. I used to shoot Hum Dil… from 6 am to 4-5 in the evening; then for Biwi No 1, I used to come to Mehboob Studios and shoot till about 12.30-1 am; and from 1 am to 6 am, I used to shoot for Kuch Kuch Hota Hai.
Then I realised that yeh bahut hogaya. When I used to bend, I used to tear a tissue. But the kind of films I am doing right now are 10 times more painful. I have taken one more panga now. Tiger Zinda Hai, after that, there is the dance film with Remo (D’Souza). I thought it was a dance film, that I would have to do a little more than what we usually do. But when I saw the clips of these kids, and when I watch TV… I am, like, yeh karna padega mereko?!? It’s all different now, acrobatics and what not!
An exciting phase, nevertheless…
Yes, level bada rahe hai mediocrity ke upar. Jitna ho sakta hai. Like, I went for the Sunil Grover show recently and I felt so incompetent. That is altogether another level. He played the doctor first, then he came in as Mr Bachchan… Baap re, baap. Me and Sohail just stared at him. It was actually Mr Bachchan in front of us! And he was not doing mimicry; it was like Mr Bachchan in real life. I told Sohail, look at this level, it’s phenomenal.
When doing a film like this, do you miss doing films like Dabangg or Wanted? The audience is waiting for the Salman Khan who is mastikhor.
Yes, so Tiger Zinda Hai is coming up, the dance film is coming up, and Dabangg 3 is coming up.
Lastly, as an actor, do you have any insecurity at this point in life?
No, it’s just that with every successive film, you try to do a better job. For that, the only insecurity is that I hope the writers write better and better stuff. That’s the only thing.