Monday, July 20, 2015

Salman Khan

“If one success or one failure makes you gloat or depresses you, then that’s a problem”

By Ankita R. Kanabar

(From the July 18, 2015 issue of Super Cinema)

It’s only human to have pre-conceived notions about someone before you meet them. And imagine if the person in question is Salman Khan? ‘Of course, he’ll have starry airs, he’s Salman Khan! He might be intimidating, so on and so forth,’ are the kind of thoughts that may occur in your head. And then, he enters. I’m sure people who watch his movies at a single-screen feel like whistling at his entry. Guess what? His walk even for real, while he enters, makes you want to do that. In a simple t-shirt and pair of denims, as he settles down to chat in the conference room of a posh hotel, he seems slightly tired. Tell him that, and he responds, “Tired is an under-statement! I’m training for ‘Sultan’ right now, and it’s just a quarter of the training which has started. Now that quarter is only so exhausting.” That ice-breaking point later, you realise he’s more child-like than anyone you’ve met in a while. At least that’s the vibe you get from him, while he cracks little jokes or shares anecdotes from the past, in-between some serious talk as well. After a point, this feels like you’re having a long conversation with someone you know over lunch. Now, over to the man himself…

Evidently, it takes a lot of hard work to maintain what you’ve done for yourself…
The problem is you’re always competing. When you are new, you compete with your seniors; when your films start doing well you have your contemporaries, so you have to work even harder. Later you realise that, you’ve come into the position of seniors and now it’s ten times more difficult. The eventuality is that you’re going to lose. The only way to probably pull it off is to work hard, let your juniors come to the same bracket and then even they’ll become old. (laughs). Then there’ll be a new lot of kids coming in.

Talking about the film of the moment – ‘Bajrangi Bhaijaan’ – what was it that made you come on board as a producer and actor?
The script – I felt it was one of the better scripts we’ve heard. My father also said that they’ve not seen a film like this in a while. It’s the most incredible film for SKF I think, but the problem is, we’ll always be competing with this film while venturing into other projects. That’s the kind of benchmark ‘Bajrangi Bhaijaan’ has set. It’ll be a difficult task to beat that.

Some of your initial films like ‘Maine Pyaar Kiya’ are considered cult even today, and now scripts are specially being written for you. But were you more creatively satisfied then or now?
The creative satisfaction has always been there. It dies off as soon as you lose enthusiasm, or succumb to failure. That failure could either be when your films don’t work, or you don’t know what to do next. When you see a film doing well and you like that feeling, you should work even more for your next. If it doesn’t do well, do not get paranoid of how the next is going to be. If you have that attitude then you’re sorted. If one success or one failure makes you gloat or depresses you, then there’s a problem. You’ll always be like a gas balloon. Some people have one hit and they’re all over the place. But if there’s no bitterness during a failure or light-headedness during a hit then you’re sorted. There should be no insecurity if you know your job.

Do you find a difference in the kind of content made in the 90s and today?
People now say that content is the king, but content was always the king. In fact, in the earlier films, we had a lot more content. Now suddenly people are scared of emoting. The emotional scenes suddenly have become clichés. I don’t know if we are catering from cuffe parade to Andheri or beyond that. But the real Hindustan is beyond Andheri. You may increase the prices at multiplexes and the collections may be big but there may not be a fan following. The fan following will be in the 50-100 rupee tickets.

Even the parameter to evaluate a film’s success has changed over time – from number of days to number of crores. Despite that, do you think earlier films like ‘Andaz Apna Apna’ have more repeat value?
The repeat value for these films is only on television. When it released, ‘Andaz Apna Apna’ didn’t do well, commercially. There is one kind of cinema that you only want to see when you go to the theatre, which is larger-than-life. People would rather watch the sweet films on television – is my belief, I could be totally wrong. So, even if a film does well, it would never cross a particular mark, even though everything about it is spectacular – from the performances to screenplay, dialogue, comedy, action, music. The most important thing is to analyse if the youth wants to go see a film in the theatre. Most films like this wouldn’t cross the 100-crore mark. At that point, 100-crore would be 100 days. ‘Maine Pyar Kiya’ released in 18 theatres only initially and then they released it in more screens. Today if you release a film in 18 theatres, it would stick to that and then come down, because the business is only of one or two weeks. The biggest films run for a month maybe and so many prints are being released. There is a scope for a lot more, but we are not equipped with those many theatres.

So according to you there’s need for more theatres?
Our country can do with another ten thousand plus theatres, right now. The business is growing but there is still lack of theatres. Two big heroes cannot release their films together on the same day. That’s the reason why Shah Rukh and I plan to come on Eid next year and so there is enough time for them to start building more theatres to accommodate so many films. Once we have more cinema halls, then automatically, two films can start releasing simultaneously. Which is why, I’m going to start building small theatres at certain B and C centres where there’s population and not enough theatres that people can afford. We’ll start with one theatre and then have a franchise.  

Because of your body of work and fan following, the audience has expectations from you to do a particular kind of cinema. Does that form a criterion while choosing a film?
Never! I do anything that I like. The criterion is whether I would want to go see a film in the theatre. I have to like it in the first narration and in my head, go back and say, ‘What a film!’ Only if I hear that in my mind, and by four-five people around me, I do it.

Has there been a film you think fell below the audience’s expectations despite you putting in a lot of effort?
I think ‘Jai Ho’ fell below the expectations of the audience and trade. It was a good film, but we ran away from the number game in this. I thought, if we want to cross the 200-crore mark, then let’s do it with a 250-rupee ticket. Just because the money isn’t going from our pockets, that doesn’t mean we’ll increase the price of the tickets. At that point, we did a business of Rs. 126 crore so in that scenario we definitely did well I believe. Obviously, we’d have made more money if we would have increased the ticket prices to 400 or 600 rupees. If we would have done that, then Sohail as a producer would have earned that much more money, so the loss was ours, nobody else’s. But suddenly, we were blamed for the film not working. So, now we’re coming up with normal ticket prices (laughs).

Have you always been watching a lot of movies? Do you also still learn from them?
Before I became an actor, I used to watch two-three films a day. My education has only been watching movies. Now I don’t get enough time for it, so I learn from people around me. The language or the lines I use in my movies are the lines I’ve heard people say. Whenever I feel something is fitting in a script, I use it.

Over the years, has there been any instance where you’ve gotten affected emotionally, or has a character stayed with you?
‘Bajrangi Bhaijaan’ is the only film where I felt slightly emotional during a few scenes. When I was giving the shots, I knew the whole back-story, or what’s going to happen next, and because of the whole ambience for those 4-5 days, I got emotional. But the moment they would say cut, I would be out of that zone. I don’t take a character’s image back home. I take the nobleness of a character with me. When you’ve taken so much good from a character, you realise that in your day-to-day life, you’re trying to implement a lot of it, so you feel good. But there’s also a flip side. When the niceness of a character stays with you, and you implement that in your real life, you cannot use the same techniques, principles or liberties that the character took on-screen. Because, well it’s real life, with more complications. That becomes frustrating.

So would it be right to say that cinema and the stories you’ve lived, have helped you evolve as a person?
Always! In fact, even before getting into the film industry, I used to get influenced by characters, and real people. I get influenced by real life stories as well – of people who’ve come from nowhere and achieved so much through their hard work. I don’t understand people who say nobody did anything for me. Nobody is going to do anything for anyone; you have to do it for yourself. People have come from the interiors of India and made it so large. How can people come out of those places so many years ago and make it so big. Once you are successful, only then you’ll get things. I’ve realised that, the person who already has everything will only get it all. I remember there was a point when, I used to haggle for 15000 rupees, when I bought a car in the initial days of my career. At that point of time, I needed a car and nobody gave it to me, today I don’t need it and car companies tell me to come, pose with a car and take it. So you have to get yourself to that position. Nobody should ever blame others. If you’re not doing anything for yourself, why should anyone do it for you? People will start backing you up when they see that you’re hard-working.

From haggling for a car to now, you’ve come a long way…how have you stayed away from being complacent at any point?
Success has made more failures than failure itself. It’s easy to act when you’re successful, but after that, you get monotonous, cocky, repetitive, over-confident. That is something one shouldn’t indulge in because it’s seen on-screen and isn’t attractive. When you have a failure you need to realise that you have to pull up your socks. This game has been with me for a long time. I’ve worked hard, seen success, starting taking things lightly and then again there’s a failure. So, I would work hard again and come back. Then I thought, why should I do anything that’ll lead to me going down? Let’s not leave that chance only, because, how many years can one work for? All the roles after 70 years will be around the main character, which will still be the hero, post which I will still work for 60-70 years more (laughs). But, on a serious note, I also think I lucked out. I never thought I would be sitting here someday.

If I mention the name ‘Salman Khan’, every person will have a different opinion of you. In a scenario where there are so many perceptions or interpretations about you, how do you not let that affect what you think about yourself or how you want to be?
There’s nothing much that I can think of myself. Every time I think that this is something I’ll never do, I end up doing it. When someone else is doing something you feel it’s so wrong, but when you do it, you feel there’s no other way, you had to do it. One can never say never. Every time when you look back, you keep on growing. You think that you’re wise and doing the right thing as of now, but one year down the line, you will think, you were a fool last year. Someone reminded me that I wanted to start a charitable trust before ‘Maine Pyar Kiya’. So, that thought was always there. The work of ‘Being Human’ was already done by my family in my growing up years. This year you feel you’ve done good work, and next year, you will think, ‘thoda zyada kar lena chahiye tha.’ It’s an ongoing process, that’s how you grow.

There may or may not be yourself in a character you play, but when you write or paint, does it reflect your personality? Or rather, is it therapeutic?
What I try to do with my painting, is that I try to shun away the hatred. At that point, I feel that nothing is worth fighting for. I derive positivity out of it.

Lastly, you have one of the biggest fan followings one has ever seen…how do you really react to all of it?
The only way to reciprocate to their love is by appreciating them. And how do you appreciate them? By trying your best to ensure that the audience enjoys your film when they go to see it. You cannot let them down when they spend money to watch your film. The common man has only one source of entertainment, even in that, the price at multiplexes is high. To add to it, there’s entertainment tax, which just goes on increasing. When a film is releasing, so many people work on it and earn their livelihood from it. The influence we have on the common man is so high, there’s so much positivity that when an actor stands from a constituency, they don’t ask hi what caste does he belong to. So, we can only be grateful to the audiences, and not let them down. 

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