Sohail Khan hits the screen

2002 July Filmfare By Praveena Bharadwaj
One more Khan on the acting block (don't yawn). This time round, it's Sohail, Salman Khan's kid brother, who's launched himself as an actor in his home production Maine Dil Tujhko Diya and directed it, too. I drop in on Sohail at a dubbing studio to discover him grumbling away. "I need some excuse to postpone dubbing, it's so painful. It was so much easier as a director to call the shots. Now I realise why most of the actors don't like dubbing," he laughs. So what made him give his nod to acting, considering he'd refused offers from outside productions earlier?
"It's a long story," he says. "I wanted Bhai (Salman Khan) for it but he refused. His logic was that he wouldn't look convincing as a college student. I approached Abhishek Bachchan and waited a whole year for him but things didn't work out eventually. Then I asked Hrithik Roshan. He committed to the film and then went away for the premiere of Kaho Naa... Pyaar Hai. After he was back, he said he could not give me dates for the next one and a half years. Sooraj Barjatya and Subhash Ghai wanted him to give them bulk dates. I couldn't wait that long."
That's when his father Salim Khan and Salman made the decision for him. "Why look outside for a hero when you are here?" they said to Sohail. He recalls, "I first gave myself a screen-test, showed the rushes to my friends and family and only after they gave me the go-ahead, did I finally take the plunge." It wasn't easy after that, he says, "I was directing a film which I had written. And I was acting in a film which I was directing.
Then, of course, there was the production bit. I was injured seven times while shooting. My make-up would melt while handling my cast and crew. Doing this film was very tough." Now that it's all over, Sohail jests, "I'm the only director who has dared to launch himself. And I think I'm quite pleasant on screen. Not too good, but nothing to be embarrassed about either." Is he ready for the comparisons with big brother Salman? "I'll be stuck either which way," he admits. "If I do romance, I'll be compared with Salman Bhai. If I do action, it will be Arbaaz Bhai. I kept that in mind when I wrote the script. Thank God, my face doesn't resemble either of theirs."
How come he didn't cast Salman in the film, not even in a guest appearance? The director shrugs, "None of my distributors demanded it. I didn't feel the need to add Bhai just to increase the price of my film. Why waste his name and standing for a small role in a romantic plot?"
Though he insists his acting career hinges on the response to Maine Dil Tujhko Diya, due for release this month, the buzz is that he's agreed to do Shah Rukh Khan's home production, directed by Farah Khan, and Abhishek Kapoor aka Gattu's directorial debut Aryan. Surprised, he exclaims, "You know that! Anyway, it will be like a picnic for me. I just have to look good and sit in an air- conditioned van!" Direction remains his passion, he says, even if his Hello Brother bombed. What went wrong there? "The audience was misled by the promos," he claims. "It was a spoof, a black comedy but I advertised it as a fun film. On the first day, when I saw families walking in to watch my film, I realised my mistake. It wasn't a family film."
Talking of families, Sohail's own is a tightly-knit one. And he is quick to rise to big brother Salman's defence. He's the most misunderstood person, quite unlike what he's portrayed to be," declares kid bro. "It's just that Bhai chooses to express whatever he feels--love, anger, happiness, sadness--in public. A lot of celebrities hide their emotions; expressing their emotions is a luxury they can't afford, they feel. But not Bhai. He wants to lead a normal life and that's what makes him different... and as you put it, unpredictable."
He adds gently, "Bhai's in his own world. He's very emotional and sensitive. He doesn't interfere with other people and he expects the same in return. He believes very strongly that nobody should ask him any questions. It hurts when Bhai's weaker moments make big headlines." One little-known aspect of Salman's life is his various acts of charity. Besides being very generous with his donations, the actor visits AIDS and cancer patients every week. Besides, the Khan family has adopted a village near Panvel and do their bit for its welfare, distributing shawls in winter and asbestos sheets in the monsoon, for instance. Sohail refuses to talk about this at first, but relents with my persistence only to say, "Good work should always be done discreetly.What is the point if you have cameras and publicity surrounding your charity work?"
He is more forthcoming on the subject of the Khan brothers' infamous tempers and brawls. Sohail has been associated with two such incidents himself.
"Oh God! The problem is that people recognise me even in the dark," he sighs.
"I've got caught twice but it was my friends who were fighting. I was only trying to mend matters and well, when you're doing that with two angry people, you have to talk tough. Since I was the one who was recognised, I made it to the headlines the next day. The worst part was, I told my wife about it when I got home... and she saw a drastically different version in the papers the next day." He's learnt his lesson now, says Sohail. "I've decided not to interfere in any fight from now on. Even with my friends. I can't afford that luxury now."
July 18 2002