The name Khan advertises its Afghan ancestry, but none of Bollywood’s Khans looks Pashtun and all are quite short. A few years ago the newspaper I then worked for measured the popularity of the three Khans. Who had most fans, most charisma?
It learnt this by asking the post office who got most mail. The man who got twice as many letters and parcels as the other two was Salman Khan. This did not surprise us because a demonstration of his popularity is found outside his house in Bandra every day. I often took a walk down that road, called Bandstand. Salman’s flat in Galaxy Apartments is at the beginning of the road as it sweeps left for the ruins of a Portuguese fort. Towards the end of the same road is the façade of Mannat, Shah Rukh Khan’s bungalow. There is almost never a crowd here. Its high walls discourage the onlooker.
Mr Popular: The most interesting and charismatic of the Khans is Salman (Sattish Bate/Hindustan Times)
In contrast, there is always a group and often a crowd on the road opposite Salman’s flat. Their patience is frequently rewarded by the sight of Salman cycling out, or some other Khan family member who strolls out to the terrace-balcony. The Salman crowd is often dotted by young Muslim men in their caps. His charisma is raw, and I am always curious to know something about the real men behind our stars.
Few know where Aamir Khan’s house in Bandra is, and he likes it so. He carries with him few trappings of his stardom.
I once saw him being driven down Pali Hill, sitting in the front of a Maruti 800 with his wife Kiran Rao in the back.
Aamir is the thinking man’s hero in India. Who else to breathe life into Chetan Bhagat’s writing?
In the last 10 years, he has played hero in only six movies. Shah Rukh has had 17 releases in this time and Salman a remarkable 27.
This reflects their positioning as discerning man’s hero, slightly less choosy middle-class hero and indiscriminate mass hero. This positioning has come out of their personalities, and is therefore accurate. Family brands that do cars, pens and biscuits go to Shah Rukh to get themselves endorsed. Dollar banian (vest) and Dixcy Scott banian are Salman’s domain. Coca-Cola got earnest Aamir to approve their bottling plants after reports of contamination with pesticide. He looks the part in doing such things.
But when Aamir tried his hand at real activism by supporting those displaced by dams on the Narmada, it brought trouble. He hadn’t known how strongly Gujaratis felt about this and did not anticipate their boycott of his movie Fanaa. He has since dropped the issue.
Because his serious side lacks depth and commitment, Aamir is boring to write about. There isn’t much to say because the quality expected of a thinker is missing. It’s unfair to expect a Bollywood star to be profound, but that’s the image he has put out.
The most interesting, most charismatic of the Khans is Salman.