Recently the newspapers were awash with the news of Salman Khan, the action hero of Bollywood. He celebrated his 51st birthday and it was quite widely reported, much more than of any other star. Though not known for proficiency in his craft he is immensely popular for the limited number of films he features in every year. He is one of the three Khans of the Hindi movie scene but leaves the other two, Shahruk Khan and Amir Khan, miles behind.
Though the latter two are actors of substance but somehow they do not click with the masses in the way Salman does. While Shahruk does romantic movies Amir produces and acts in films that have a social message. Salman’s movies, on the other hand, are different; he is not only an action hero, his dance moves are also raved about by the masses, mostly belonging to underclasses. Curiously, the two more Khans in the industry – Irrfan Khan and Saif Ali Khan – are not considered good enough to come anywhere near the Khan triumvirate who seem to be peerless; so much so that unless a new-comer female actress has done at least one movie with each one of them she would not be reckoned to have come of age in Bollywood.
Salman’s appeal among the under-classes, called “tapories” in Mumbai colloquial, is unquestionable and they are the movie-goers in largest numbers keeping the cash registers of the movie halls ringing. His last movie Sultan – a story of a wrestler – is reported to have broken all box-office records. It did business of a phenomenal Rs. 300 crores (approximately fifty million dollars) when the film cost only Rs. 90 crore (around 1.4 million dollars). His pickings per annum are probably highest among professionals. As recently reported, his annual income in 2016 was Rs. 270 crores (around $42 million), way above all his peers, including the other two Khans of the triumvirate and even that old thespian Amitabh Bacchan with perhaps the longest run in Hindi films.
Such is Salman’s popularity among the masses that regardless of the storyline they go to watch his generally ham-handed action or even dance routines with over-exercised stiff muscles. For them he can do no wrong even if he, in a fit of drunken driving, runs over a few labourers sleeping on the Mumbai pavements. The hit-and-run case against him has run all of 16 years in which he seems to have used all his muscle and money power to prolong prosecution against him for years during which some of the witnesses went hostile and some others disappeared or died and a few vital ones were not even examined. One can espy some hope of its resolution now as the State of Maharashtra has gone in appeal to Supreme Court against his acquittal by the Maharashtra High Court.
Another case against him is pending at the Supreme Court in which the Rajasthan Government has gone in appeal against his acquittal by Rajasthan High court in a case of hunting black bucks near Jodhpur in 1998 in the famed Bishnoi land where the people are fiercely protective of the animal. It is now close to 20 years that the case is pending due to various legal machinations on his behalf which one can only brand as not quite honourable on the part of a famous public figure like him. And yet, years ago when he came out of the Jodhpur jail after serving a few days of his sentence there was a huge crowd outside to receive him. Likewise, when he reached Mumbai after release the road in front of his house was swamped by people wishing to have a look at him. Such is his charisma.
Salman’s father Salim Khan, a script writer for films, who had runaway success with scripts written in association with Javed Akhtar, a poet, intellectual and a socialite of note during 1970s and 1980s. Along with his Hindu wife Salim has been successful in instilling their secular values in their children. Salman has had that breeding in composite culture. In any case, in the Mumbai film industry one’s religion is of no consequence. The industry is, perfectly secular, even irreligious, working in close co-operation with people belonging to various faiths. Salman got a good liberal education to start with, but later dropped out of Mumbai’s St. Xavier College and has had a long career in films since 1989. Again, academic background of an actor is of no consequence in Bollywood as indeed it is so in Hollywood
Riding on mass popularity and having acted in box office hits his personal life, particularly the sordid and disreputable part, naturally got exposed to the people and the media. His relationships with actresses are legendary. From Somy Ali, Sangeeta Bijlani to Aishwarya Rai, all have had relationships with him, With Aishwarya Rai, of course, it was more passionate one which lasted for three to four years before Salman himself reported to have spoilt it. But then he moved on and fell for another young beauty Katrina Kaif who probably was helped by Salman in the tricky ways of Boollywood. The relationship, however, did not last; probably the age difference came in the way. Salman is now reported to be courting a Rumanian model. Apparently, he cannot survive without female companionship. Beefy, with a handsome visage and great financial success in films, ambitious women naturally throw themselves at him. At 51 he, after all, is still the most eligible bachelor in the industry.
Regardless of his turbulent love-life he has been a great success in his profession. His films have earned him money and fame worldwide. The Indian Diaspora in all the continents - whether in the US, Canada or the Caribbean or in the UK or Africa or in Australia and New Zealand – lap up his films irrespective of their being good, bad or indifferent. He, reportedly, has now stopped asking for fees for his films. Instead, he takes a cut from the profits – which he believes are assured.
As somebody has said every life “is a pile of good things and bad things”, Salman too has a pretty bright streak of goodness in him. Despite all his maneuvers, sometimes more unethical than ethical, to get out of the inconvenient situations he is considered by many to be a good and compassionate human being. He contributes to charities and runs a non-governmental organization by the name “Being Human” which sells T shirts and other merchandise proceeds of which are given away for welfare of the under-privileged and the dispossessed. He had once offered to pay around Rs. 4 million (about $ 60000) for prisoners who had no money to foot the legal fees for release from several jails in UP. Launching his own film production unit he decided to donate all the proceeds of the films to “Being Human” which, as usual, was supposed to be distributed among the under-privileged and the needy. “Chillar Party”, a children’s film that was highly successful was produced by him and the proceeds went to “Being Human”.
While his films are big successes owing to his popularity among the under-privileged but he does not just take away their money; he also gives them back by way of his charities selflessly. Quite surprisingly his charitable works are not very well known among the people and that is why the stuck up of the upper crust somehow cannot stand him. To that extent, regardless of his flamboyance, he is apparently somewhat shy of publicity. But the media does always latch on to him in circumstances good or indifferent.