As Salman Khan’s Tubelight shines bright, here’s looking at mystery and myth of Bollywood’s biggest star

Salman Khan’s simpleton characters, whether in Bajrangi Bhaijaan or Tubelight (and Baghban, if you want to go that far back in time) are a variation of Prem. In them, you see the man-child that the 51-year-old superstar actually is.

Written by Shaikh Ayaz | Mumbai | Published:June 24, 2017 8:03 am
salman khan, tubelight, salman khan tubelight, Salman Khan fans, irrespective of the reviews, will march up to the theatres in a ritual of fan-worship to turn Tubelight into yet another money-killing machine .

Obviously pre-empting unflattering critical reviews to the much-awaited new release Tubelight, Salman Khan who shares an adversarial relationship with film critics brashly declared in pre-release interviews that his films are “critic-proof.” That may be so, because the Kabir Khan film, primed for Eid, is taking a familiar route we had all expected. Critics will thumb it down while Khan’s millions of followers, irrespective of the reviews, will march up to the theatres in a ritual of fan-worship to turn Tubelight into yet another money-killing machine for a star whose rising profile is unrivalled in mainstream Bollywood.

For quite some time now, Salman Khan has officially been India’s biggest superstar, save for Rajinikanth and Baahubali – the latter changed the way we see our movies and munch our popcorns at the big screen. Khan has been questioned in interviews if he feels pressurised by the mammoth precedent set by Baahubali and even, Dangal which conquered the unsuspecting Chinese audiences and the superstar responded coolly that he isn’t looking at breaking records.

Words like ‘breaking records’, ‘numbers’ and ‘box-office’ have become just as much of the key phrases when discussing Salman Khan as “Bollywood’s favourite Bhai”, “man-child”, “man with a golden heart”, “Peter Pan who refuses to grow up”, “bad boy of Bollywood” and plenty others. A simple search of ‘Salman Khan nicknames’ on Google yields 20 results in the first box itself while the same in the case of Shah Rukh Khan, Khan’s nearest rival, throws only three.

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How and when did Khan become so big? The short answer is that he was always big. He was big through the 1990s and 2000s. Just that he lacked the box-office muscle of the two other Khans, Aamir and Shah Rukh. Of the two, while Aamir is still going strong, SRK is in need of a reinvention. Now, the long answer. Though Salman Khan has been described by friends and collaborators as always being “serious towards his work” and “disciplined” he was never serious about being a star. Even today, he wears his stardom and celebrity lightly. In an excellent Open magazine profile on the star last year, friend Ashley Rebello described him as: “The difference between Salman and the other stars in India is that while all of them are respected and have huge followings Salman is loved.” There’s no doubting that he is loved but just as equally victimised by the media and public.

To recall: India’s answer to Stallone, Khan started the gym-toned body trend but ironically, he never did become a big action star. Instead, he excelled in romantic comedies. And though his films were moderately successful (besides the occasional record-breakers like Hum Aapke Hain Koun..! and Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam) he was never counted among the top earners at the box-office.

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Prem, the character that Salman Khan epitomised in a series of hits, was loved for its ideal boy qualities but he lacked the cool appeal of Raj (Shah Rukh Khan). Explaining his resurgence post Wanted (2009) and Dabangg (2010), Salim Khan, the star’s scriptwriter father, told Open magazine, “There was a time when he did films for emotional reasons—to bail out friends or support people who’ve been with him in his difficult times. He didn’t take up films for reasons that most actors usually do, like the script, character, director and the studio. He has given breaks to a number of people, be it producers, music directors or lyricists. But when those films started flopping, he realised their survival also depends on his own survival. That’s when he reassessed his career and decided to take things more seriously.”

Soon enough, the David Dhawans, Nadiadwalas and Barjatyas were out. Salman Khan who grew up hearing about script, story and ideal casting from his father who wrote Zanjeer, Deewaar and Sholay eventually came to realise the power of storytelling. By common consensus, Khan began taking his career and celebrity-hood seriously immediately after the success of 2010’s Dabangg in which he played a desi Robin Hood. It somehow corresponded to his off-screen do-gooder, Being Human image. Since then, the star has grown from strength to strength – on one hand, playing a desi Bond in Ek Tha Tiger and on the other, a wrestler in Sultan (the closest he’ll ever come to the Stallone fantasy). Some of his simpleton characters in Bajrangi Bhaijaan and even, Tubelight (and Baghban, if you want to go that far back in time) are a variation on Prem.

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In them, you see the man-child that the 51-year-old Salman Khan actually is. Like Khan, Prem is a family man devoid of any larger-than-life heroism. In all these films, you also see a vulnerable, ordinary man who demonstrates a moral niceness that upper-class Prem would reveal. Kabir Khan, who specialised in documentaries, saw the Prem in Salman Khan that many had forgotten. The maker of Bajrangi Bhaijaan and Tubelight also introduced a vital aspect into Khan’s cinema that must have taken some convincing – realism. No offence to Kabir Khan, but these almost look like Raju Hirani films not made by Raju Hirani. Would it be wrong to say that what Kabir Khan is doing to Salman Khan is exactly what Hirani did to Sanjay Dutt – which is to say, bring out the good in the bad? If Khan has any precursor, it is in Sanjay Dutt. Both bad boys with golden hearts. Both had their careers marred by negative press. Both controversy’s children. Both, when young, showed a capacity to be most ill-quipped to deal with sudden fame and its tantalising temptations. Of course, in both real and reel life, men like Khan and Dutt fascinate because they are unpredictable. They are also more real because they are vulnerable. Watch any of Khan’s interviews and you will realise he’s just as much of a moralist as eccentric. There’s a bit of Prem in him and vice versa.

(Shaikh Ayaz is a writer and journalist based in Mumbai)

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    Rekha Mehra
    Jun 24, 2017 at 4:54 pm
    Salman Khan is biggest superstar of bollywood. He is very good at heart and helps the needy people and that is the best quality which very few people have.
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      sandesh bukate
      Jun 24, 2017 at 1:46 pm
      I found your blog very entertaining and informative on similar note you can also check this : crbtechreviews.tumblr / which is similar to these types of stories. Thank you.
      Reply
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        Chanakya
        Jun 24, 2017 at 11:43 am
        Childish article !!!! There are (were) only 2 superstars in Bollywood. First one was Rajesh Khanna and the seocnd one is Amitabh Bachchan. Superstar means all other stars are far behind him. And it happened only twice - druing the peak period of Rajesh Khanna and Amitabh Bachchan. Previously , Raj Kapoor, Dilip Kumar and Dev Anand were at the same level so no one could be superstar. After Amitabh Bachchan, there are SRK, Akshay Kumar, Salman Khan, Ajay Devgan, Aamir Khan and Hritik Roshan - so no question of being supestar for anyone now.
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          Saleem
          Jun 25, 2017 at 6:16 am
          Childish to compare actors of different times. The bachans, the khannas, the devs, the Kapoors and the Kumars were actors who live in an era where people just had flims and radios for their entertainment. Would they have survived this age?, where entertainment in not limited to movies today we also have sports and the internet entertainingly glamourised. It is good to remember our past and treasure it but is is bad compare the uncomparables. The writer has just narrated the success story of m Khan.
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          chitta
          Jun 24, 2017 at 10:19 am
          Salman Khan is not only the biggest actor of Bollywood but also biggest actor ever born. He is BHAI . Every one should watch this movie. Happy Eid.
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            Satyam
            Jun 24, 2017 at 2:31 pm
            I really liked your joke... Appreciate your sense of humour
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            CNB
            Jun 24, 2017 at 10:10 am
            I think it all changed after "Tere Naam". Because that movie resonated with lovers, bad boys, good boys, script lover, family movie goers, girls etc. That movie kind of relaunched Salman in a big way and people started loving him despite the bad boy image, both in reel and real life.
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              Sarifa Patel
              Jun 24, 2017 at 10:01 am
              100 correct. He is a man with a holden heart and the heart which God sees and has blessed. Man sees the outside and criticize but no amount of c icism can alter the fact that people love him not for whst he does but for who he is. Each person who loves him sees a bit of themselves in him. The innocence, the vulnerability, the fact that he fails like all human beings but still gets up and moves on. Like all of us who knows that success can only come thru failure. Today the mountain top tomorrow the valley And its in the valley we can look up and climb the mountain again. Its love that keeps one going. The love of his family will always be his strenght and success as well as his failures. No matter the outcome he is loved. God bless you always.
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                indian man
                Jun 24, 2017 at 9:53 am
                This article is written by a Muslim. By calling Salman Khan Bollywood biggest star , this writer is proving his ignorance. He is undermining Amitab bacchan , akshay Kumar, Sunny deol because they are non Muslims.
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                  Sandy
                  Jun 24, 2017 at 11:30 am
                  Oh c'mon just urself somewhere else dude. Writer has just write the truth about him he never compared hindu muslim in this article. Only some morrons and bhakts of modi di this ty things.
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                    chitta
                    Jun 24, 2017 at 12:17 pm
                    I think you interested in reading only comments but not article. Salman Khan no doubt a very good actor who gave many good films. I personally like him. But calling Salman Khan as BIGGEST Bollywood Superstar is unjustified and unacceptable . Also Modi ji and Salman Khan belong to different fields. Your hatred ness to Modi proves your intentions.
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                      Satyam
                      Jun 24, 2017 at 2:35 pm
                      But buddy truth is he can never figure even 10 close to stardom of amitabh, dharmendra, dev anand, dilip kumar,shammi kapoor n raj kapoor. Iska number bahut baad mein aata hai. Yes writer is biased. By taking modi name here you gave proved to be biggest morron yourself n bhakt of may be an illeterate mulla of some maszid
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                      Saleem
                      Jun 25, 2017 at 5:41 am
                      Stupid as you can be, what has religion to do with this. People like you can see only darkness even in bright day light. Any ways you are showing your illmentality and biast and unsocial upbringing. You are ill, get will soon.
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