A symbol of success

THE HINDU Oct 15 1999

With his charming looks and confident approach, Salman Khan has become a force to reckon with in Hindi cinema. GIRIJA RAJENDRAN speaks to the actor

IT WAS Shah Rukh Khan all the way right through the first half of 1999. Now it is Salman Khan setting the pace. So much so that Salman, in the wake of ``Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam'', has emerged as the success story of the year. Right now, the man cannot seem to put a foot wrong. And he has, by way of Diwali bonus, ``Hum Saath-Saath Hain'' on the way - Sooraj Barjatya's and Rajshri's prestigious follow-up to their other two Salman superhits: ``Maine Pyar Kiya'' and ``Hum Aapke Hain Koun''.

It was on the sets of ``Kahin Pyar Na Ho Jaaye'' that I met Salman. I discovered that he was not too much given to speech, especially when it came to talking about himself. Yet he reeled off the names of what he considered his five best films readily enough. ``I can name them straightway,'' said Salman. ``They are `Maine Pyar Kiya', `Hum Aapke Hain Koun', `Karan Arjun', `Biwi No. 1' and `Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam'. Each one of these films, I say, had the ingredients of success in perfect proportion.''

It was on the sets of ``Kahin Pyar Na Ho Jaaye'' that I met Salman. I discovered that he was not too much given to speech, especially when it came to talking about himself. Yet he reeled off the names of what he considered his five best films readily enough. ``I can name them straightway,'' said Salman. ``They are `Maine Pyar Kiya', `Hum Aapke Hain Koun', `Karan Arjun', `Biwi No. 1' and `Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam'. Each one of these films, I say, had the ingredients of success in perfect proportion.''


A glance at the above five films' names gives an idea of how Salman has come to command a special status among the three Khan superstars (the other two being Aamir and Shah Rukh). In the light of such sustained success, I sought to know from Salman about his reluctance to confront the media. ``I have nothing at all to say about all those personal and probing questions with which they unfailingly come up. I am a professional actor and can only talk about my work, it's a fact that I cannot get along with the Press in general,'' admits Salman.

``When you signed up for Rajshri's ``Maine Pyar Kiya'' directed by fresher Sooraj Barjatya, did you foresee the scale of success the movie would prove to be? What made you take up the film in the first place?''

``I usually go by my instinct,'' responded Salman. ``The simple family theme narrated by Sooraj appealed to me very much. I thought it should get across to the general public too. The public just wants to forget all its cares during the three hours it is inside the theatre. I never persuade myself to forget that our films have to be mass entertainers. Another factor that appealed to me about Sooraj was that his plot came from the heart. Rajshri's films are clean and have positive things to say about life and family. I could sense that Sooraj always kept his family together, there is an enviable sense of love and affection among the Rajshri clan. I could not possibly know then that ``Maine Pyar Kiya'' would turn out to be such a huge hit and was pleasantly surprised. But I knew what exactly to expect by the time we came up with ``Hum Aapke Hain Koun''. That is to say, I knew by then that Sooraj and I really vibed well as a team, each knowing precisely what was expected from the other.
So when it came to doing a third film with Rajshri in ``Hum Saath-Saath Hain'', I instinctively sensed that I would be working with a man who would have a good subject, a tight script and a heart-warming manner of putting it across,'' noted Salman about Sooraj who had such a big hand in rediscovering this star at the turnstiles. For all that, Salman is forthcoming on the point that he was plain lucky to get the ``Maine Pyar Kiya'' break, looking to how Sooraj was an unknown quantity when the theme was attempted. Certainly Salman had no way of knowing that the film would prove to be a romantic trendsetter

Keeping in mind how Salman has grown in confidence, I asked: ``While many heroes shy away from starring in heroine-oriented subjects, you seem to have no reservations on this score. Both Sanjay Leela Bhansali's ``Khamoshi - A Musical'' (Manisha Koirala) and ``Biwi No. 1'' (Karisma Kapoor) had the heroines in central roles. Didn't you feel you would be relegated to a less important slot if you worked in this vein of film? As a superstar by the time these two films came, did you not feel more concerned?''

To which Salman came back: ``I never go by the subject being hero or heroine-oriented. If I feel that the film, in its totality, is going to leave an impact at the box-office, then it is worth doing. If the theme genuinely demands that the heroine be more prominent than I am, I have enough sense to see the logic behind the needs of the script. Nor do I have any hassles about doing two-hero subjects, if the script justifies it. All I demand is that both heroes look the parts they essay. That is, if we are playing two friends, like in ``Saajan'' (Sanjay Dutt) and ``Andaz Apna Apna'' (Aamir Khan), or two brothers, as in ``Karan Arjun'' (Shah Rukh Khan), the only thing I want to be sure about is that both of us look convincing on the screen.''
``To this extent, I appreciate it if my co-star and I are able to interact during our scenes. I have no problems working with anyone and I would like to think that the other person, too, likes to work with me. The most important thing is that you should be able to equate with each other professionally. For instance, I knew in advance that Ajay Devgan would walk away with all the sympathy going at the end in ``Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam''. While keeping this factor in mind, I knew that my character, too, was a positive one in its own way. The results are there in front of the viewers on the screen. My simple point is that two actors can be as competitive as they want off the sets, but they simply have to be compatible on screen. That is, they should ring true in whatever be the characters they are essaying - be it friends or brothers. The important thing is that the audience should come to believe in your screen relationship. I consider this as the ultimate success for an actor.''
Salman's reference here was clearly to such highly successful films as ``Saajan'' with Sanjay Dutt, ``Andaz Apna Apna'' with Aamir Khan, ``Karan Arjun'' with Shah Rukh Khan and ``Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam'' with Ajay Devgan. In this light, I asked: ``Both Shah Rukh and Aamir are grouped with you and identified as the three Khans calling the shots in the industry. How does it feel to be referred to like this? Do you like it? Would you say you have had as much variety as the other two Khans?''
``If your reference here,'' notes Salman, ``is to the good work being done by all three of us, then it is fine. I know that both Aamir and Shah Rukh are good actors, so it feels good to be bracketed with them. As for your other question, remember I have had my share of variety by way of characterisations, if you take a look at my career graph spread over 12 years. I have, during this span, done romantic roles, action-hero roles and other variegated parts that came my way and have been accepted in each one of them by my audience. Personally, I feel that my screen image is that of the Boy Next Door, a fellow with whom you can easily relate. In fact, I would want the same style of screen image as Dharmendra at the height of his career - a man of supreme confidence but vulnerable at the same time. I cherish the way Dharmendra was accepted in strong action roles as well as in soft, romantic and sentimental characterisations.''
Salman Khan states with emphasis that he would have liked to work with his father, Salim's script - but only when he was with Javed as a winning team! ``Neither could be effective once they separated,'' points out Salman. ``I find that my father is always there when I need advice. He is so seasoned that it would be foolish, on my part, not to seek his counsel. The fact that I belong to a tightly knit family probably explains my vibing with Sooraj Barjatya and the Rajshri style of working.''

Salman warms instantly to the idea as I mention his actor- brother Arbaaz Khan and director-brother Sohail Khan. ``The first film that Sohail directed, my ``Pyar Kiya To Darna Kya'' was a big hit,'' notes Salman. ``And though our second production, `Hello Brother,' hasn't done as well as `Pyar Kiya To Darna Kya,' I enjoyed making the movie.''

The talk turns to the games that stars play to keep their image intact, hurrying the release of one film while stalling the advent of the other in an effort to burnish their standing. Salman has strong views here. ``I never have stalled the release of any film of mine,'' he says. ``I firmly believe that if a film is good enough for me to star in it, it's good enough to find a release. In any case, if I don't like the way a film of mine is shaping, I would aim to finish the venture and come out of it quickly, rather than drag it and prolong the agony. I just don't believe in manipulating either my moves or my movies. It yields nothing in the long run.''

If he is to be believed, Salman Khan is prepared to step aside when his time comes for somebody else to take his place. ``I know all this is transient,'' says Salman. ``I do take my work seriously, but not my popularity. When I am there on the sets, I am there one hundred per cent, giving the shot nothing short of my best.''

Did the success of any of his many popular movies surprise him?``The stupendous success of `Saajan' certainly surprised me - agreeably, of course. It also gave me a friend for life in Sanjay (Dutt). The two of us are working, right now, in Ketan Desai's `Yeh Hai Jalwa' and we are having a really good time on this venture.''

Life seems so cosy for Salman Khan that I ask about his tough times, when he went through a prolonged bad patch.

``I'm a fighter and don't give up easily. I have always been like that,'' observes Salman. ``But one thing I would like to be rid of is my short temper. There are times when I let my temper get the better of me. I would like to learn to hold myself better.''

Salman Khan has been the picture of humility and goodness while I have been with him, then how does he explain all those wild stories circulating about him? He doesn't. He just steers clear of the media, at a time when the media just cannot ignore him, seeing how he is the most successful, in terms of sheer consistency, among the three Khans right now.