Salman Khan is not the most articulate man around. In fact, during a conversation with him, until he goes off track, takes bizarre turns and draws anecdotes, amusing but unrelated to what you are talking about, you know it’s not him. So, on Saturday evening, as Salman spoke to a group of journalists ahead of the release of Tubelight, while he retained his typical meandering way of talking, he did surprise them with a lesser-seen seriousness and full-fledged responses, a departure from the ambiguity he usually shows.
Here are the excerpts from a half-an-hour interview with the star, where he spoke about the maths of box-office collections which he doesn’t understand, the change in his film choices over the years and why he doesn’t believe that he, Shah Rukh Khan and Aamir Khan are as big as people think them to be.
Q. The trailer of Tubelight and the film’s two songs have generated great response, so, half the battle is already won?
Salman: You never know till the film releases. The overseas collection, the box-office collection decide the fate of the film. Your hardcore fans will go to watch your films on the opening weekend so, your collections would be amazing. But then, usually the film drops on Monday-Tuesday. So, the eventual lifetime business of a film you only get to know on a Monday or a Tuesday. Then you also have to see that the country’s got to be peaceful, should be in celebratory mood. Some controversy shouldn’t happen. There are thousands of things that the film depends on. Protests shouldn’t happen, people should not get scared of going to the theatres. The atmosphere should be peaceful and happy. That eventually will destine the lifetime business of the film.
In fact, I don’t understand how people say that this film will earn this much on first day and second day. I just don’t get that maths at all because if there’s some tragedy with someone, he or she wouldn’t come for the film. There can be many reasons that people wouldn’t turn up for the movie. So, how do you decide the collections in advance. So, when they tell me that opening weekend it will cross Rs 100 crore, I don’t buy it.
When we did Jai Ho, we cut down the prices of the ticket. But we didn’t tell about it to anyone. Even we forgot that. So, the next day when we went for interviews, Sohail and I were shocked, we were like what is happening, we were so sad that we haven’t done the business that we actually do. People called it disaster, a flop. We later recalled that we had slashed the prices. Our thinking was that if you have to beat, beat at the price rate of Rs 250, not at Rs 600-900. Families go for movies, then all that popcorn, Pepsi, then kids would want you to buy them something from the mall. So, it’s a huge expense. So, just for our own ego and satisfaction, increasing the price of tickets is not cool. But having said that, this is also true that when people get something at a cheap rate, they feel the right to run you down, to criticise. But when you watch something for Rs 950, even if the film is bad you will find something to like. That’s how we think.
Watch Tubelight trailer here:
You watch something on TV, for free, and you love it. I have got calls from people saying that we watched this movie on TV and wonder why it didn’t do well. I tell them because you didn’t go to the theatre to watch it. There are options today, people choose one over the other on the basis of the promos. And you can’t afford two movies.
Q: So, do you think that pulling audience to theatres is quite difficult today?
Salman: It’s very difficult. The only thing that I feel can draw audience to the theatres are the film’s posters in the theatres, the trailers in the theatres, promos played on television and information about the release date in papers. The people, who go to theatres are the same number who keep going to theatres all the time. Even today, when I go to a theatre, the first thing that I notice are the posters and I go 15-20 minutes before to see the trailers. So, I know what film is coming when.
I believe that is the best and the cheapest form of publicity ever. We never promoted films earlier. There was one All India Radio channel. So, during Maine Pyar Kiya I did one interview but after that, for the longest time I didn’t do anything. Producers used to put trailers, posters. There was no television at that point of time. People (still) used to go to theatres. Now, there are so many TV channels and radio channels. There were none then. And the films used to run for 100 days. Today, the lifetime business is four-six weeks.
Q: For the longest time, Tubelight was reported as an Indo-Chinese love story and now, during the promotions, all we see is you and Sohail.
Salman: The plot of the film is about brothers, it is about them. How one goes to war and what happens with him, and how the other is left here. Then there’s a love story also, his struggles too, then there’s a kid too. So it’s not just one thin line. Because the plot is about brothers, we are promoting it like that. Now, you will say get that kid too, who by the way is the most amazing kid I have ever met in my entire life. He is on some other level. I was wondering why aren’t they getting him for publicity. I would want to do all my interviews with him. I hope he comes. He is playing a Chinese boy in the film but in real life he is an Indian. So, they (makers) said, ‘We will keep it a surprise,’ and now, I have disclosed it to you guys. So, I don’t understand these things (promotional strategy).
The things that he (Martin Rey Tangu) says, he is not that over smart kid at all. So, one day he tells Kabir and me, ‘You guys said it will be fun working in the film and I will enjoy. But here, you are making me the same thing again. You have made me wear this sweater in this hot weather, these shoes that I am wearing are hurting me. I don’t like this.’ Then we said, ‘Arey, but you will get to be an actor.’ He replied, ‘I don’t want to be an actor, I want to be a chef. You should try my cupcake.’ Just imagine! And he is just five or six-year-old.
Q: Was it tough shooting for Tubelight considering it’s a period film?
Salman: It’s difficult. But more than that what is difficult is to play a character like this because to get that innocence, that walk, speak the lines that one speaks… I might have had some shades of this character while growing up but that’s a long time ago. This is what happened in the narration, I could have easily said, ‘I want to do Dabangg type films. This is a beautiful script but it’s not for me.’ But there was something in my heart that liked this character, then I took it.
But when I took it, I realised that I might overdo this. These characters are very difficult to do because you might start looking like a fraud, a caricature. You might look like a joke. So, if it’s a funny film then it’s okay but if it’s an emotional film, then it’s the most difficult thing to do. Then you need to dig so deep down and so far back that it takes a toll on you. Then you go back to when you were growing up, how you were with your friends and since it’s a period film and the character is quite child-like, you have to look at things you did as a child which of course you don’t do now. And if someone does it on screen, you say how kiddish is that. But this character allowed me to do everything.”
Q: The purity of your character in the film reminds one of that in the Sooraj Barjatya films and Bajrangi Bhaijan from the recent times. Is it difficult to play these roles now?
Salman: Playing them is not difficult. What is difficult is after you play it, how you implement (the qualities of these characters) in your life. That’s the most difficult thing to do and that’s what I am trying to do. I am trying my level best to do that.
Q. Do you still feel pressured ahead of a Friday?
Salman: Yeah, but for different reasons. You do a film, you put in so much of hardwork. That’s okay, but the reason that you have signed the film is because you think it will be a sure-short hit. Now, the film releases and it is a flop, that means your thinking has gone all wrong. And this starts making you think about the other film that you have just signed. So, now if such things happen, not only you lose the money and you go down in your career, but you also take others with you. All the fans that have paid to watch your film come out being disappointed, that disappointment is the worst thing that can ever happen. And of course, collections are important. This is our profession, our career. If you start a business, you don’t want to make losses. It doesn’t work like that. So, this is our business.
Q. With Bajrangi Bhaijan, Sultan and now Tubelight, there is a perception that you have finally become serious about doing roles where you are required to act.
Salman: I have become very serious about choosing my films correctly so, that I don’t have to do that much… There are these phases of not doing much and the script, screenplay doing everything, the supporting cast doing everything (for you). For example, Bajrangi Bhaijan. I didn’t have to do anything. The screenplay was taking me. What did I have to do in the film? Nothing. Just carry the girl and walk. There’s nothing. Just look left, look right. Look simple, that’s it.
Tubelight is more difficult because emotional quotient is much higher. Emotionally, this film was difficult, But apart from that… after Sultan, there was some pain, ligaments torn, knee is still hurting. So, that was the only painful thing. Now, I have signed Tiger Zinda Hai like a fool. I am jumping off buildings. I am going mad, I feel my knee will come out of the socket. After that, I am doing a dancing film, which is even more foolish. I thought it would be a little extra but I didn’t realise dancing today is gymnastic. So, at 52… I am like I am in a fix now.
Q. But was there a phase when you took things for granted and have you changed in a sense that now, you think you need to give back to your audience much more than what you offered them earlier?
Salman: I never took anything for granted. What happened was the kind of films that I got, I just chose the best from them. Then, I used to see that this is an average script and there’s so much wrong with it, now what to do? I wasn’t getting good scripts. So, I used to call the director at home and all my energy used to go in improving the script. Thank God, I come from the family of writers so while improvising we took films to a (better) level.
And now, people come with written scripts which are fabulous and it is difficult to choose from them. It’s the phase right now. Whatever goes up, goes down as well. So, the thing is how long can one hold and stay at his position and go higher which is the most difficult thing that ever has been because you are going to go low. But all of us are going to make sure that the younger generation should earn their bread and butter.
Q. While there are many competent actors today, people believe there can’t be a star bigger than the three Khans.
Salman: It’s not true. Acting wise, I don’t think there’s anyone bigger than Dilip Kumar. After that, Mr Bachchan has had a great run. Till today, he is doing Kaun Banega Crorepati. He is still working, you put on the TV and he is everywhere. He is almost like the face of the country. Stardom wise, if you think we guys have the popularity and all, for six-seven years there was Rajesh Khanna. Nobody’s bigger than him. Second was Kumar Gaurav because I have seen both of them. I was 9-10, when I saw Rajesh Khanna’s stardom and when I was 16-17, I saw Kumar Gaurav’s. It was unbelievable. So, when they talk about us, I tell them I have seen stardom and ours is not even 10 per cent.