Priya Gupta (BOMBAY TIMES; December 15, 2012)
Days ahead of the release of Dabangg 2, Salim Khan, 76, is a happy man and has a tinge of pride when he talks about the strengths and weaknesses of his two sons. In an hour-long interview in his open house on Bandstand where he has lived since 1973, the veteran screenwriter spells out his life’s philosophy and his clear-eyed assessment of his sons. Excerpts:
Salman is a big star and Arbaaz is set for his directorial debut. Let’s talk about both your sons.
In the beginning they were both in a hurry to join films. They were interested in films and used to hide it as they were in the awkward age where even their bodies were not formed completely. I had given them the option to do whatever they wanted to. In any profession a person chooses, the ambition should be to reach the top. A person who climbs the Himalayas does not climb thinking that he should come back half-way. His ambition has to be to reach the peak. I came to become an actor but I had the art of self-assessment and I knew after a few films that I was not cut out for it and that while I had the art of conception, I did not have the art of projection. For instance, Amitabh Bachchan is a weak person physically, but the amount of toughness he projects on screen is unbelievable. Salman and Arbaaz dropped out of college to join films even though I wanted them to finish their education as the success ratio in the industry is low and thus if you fail, education is the only thing you can bank on. I took to writing when I failed as an actor as I was educated. Even to use your talent, you need education. Fortunately, they both got roles within two years of their trying to become actors.
Did you expect Salman to become such a big star?
Like I assessed myself, I assessed my children also. I always thought he was extremely talented in a lot of things. He started swimming and did it so well that he could represent Mumbai. He started cycling and had tremendous command over it. He can grasp fast, but he would always move from one thing to another. When he became an actor, I felt he was not giving it his best. He used to take up films for the wrong reasons. He was not doing films based on the story or the director, but he would do it for any friend or anyone who would come with a sob story just to bail him out. It neither helped him nor the other person. He has done more guest appearances than films and had become a permanent guest star in the film industry. The good part was that he was trying to help but he was not delivering what he had promised to his audience and to himself. He had the body for action, a face for emotion and timing for comedy, but he still needed to select his films correctly. I allowed him to make mistakes and learn from it but I was disappointed with the way he used his talent.
Arbaaz is on the cusp of tasting success as a director. How do you feel as a father?
Success has a varying effect on different people. Some people become better human beings with success, for instance Mahesh Bhatt. After the commercial success in Naam, his bitterness and anger gave way to compassion and goodness. But success has destroyed more people than failure. I have seen Sholay only twice once in 35 mm and once on 70 mm. But Imaan Dharam,which was a flop, I saw eight times to see where I went wrong. So what is to be seen is how Arbaaz will take his success. He must have had frustrations due to the success of his father, brother and wife. But with success, the space in his heart, which had frustration earlier, will now get empty and needs to be filled with goodness, humility and magnanimity. It should not develop into ego. He has the advantage that he has lived in a house where he has experienced both success and failure. Over 20 years, Salman has not changed at all. Some people take their film image too seriously. Salman understands one thing clearly that his persona in films and his own life are two different things. Also, the family has always kept him grounded and never treated him like a star. We bought a lovely house for him on Carter Road. He asked me ‘Will you shift with me?’ I told him I am happy here and it is too late in the day to shift. This is my last house. I like my balcony — all my work was done here, people have become producers here, started films here. A person tries for all material things when he/she starts working, but contentment is the greatest enemy of creativity as the fire gets killed as soon as you are content.
Are you attached to any particular child more?
Everybody is equal till the circumstances are normal but as soon as a child comes under problem, your attention shifts to the weaker one and you also feel helpless for him. My attention went too much on Salman as he came into a lot of problems with all his cases and an accident that could happen to anybody. As a father I am always worried about him and hope that he will come out of it.
We miss Salim-Javed. Do you miss Javed Akhtar?
I would be wrong to say I don’t miss him. We spent 15 years together doing films which brought us recognition and money. I have gradually started understanding and the initial anger of separation has tapered down. I now have no bitterness or anger. His children are successful and he is doing well. Had one of us been in trouble, it may have been different.
Is Salman’s success your vindication?
Salman has brought a lot of happiness for his people including me and I am proud of his success. A few years back, I felt disappointment in him not achieving the place he is now in and deserved. I always felt strongly about his talent and wanted to see him on the top before I die.
If you were given a choice to pick up the greatest actor of all times, who would it be?
Dilip Kumar. He is a class apart. Every other actor can be compared with each other but comparing him with anyone is an insult to his talent and persona. The respect he commanded and the way he conducted himself in his career makes him the greatest actor ever.
Once I met Dilip sahab at a wedding where there were too many people and thus we could not manage to eat. It was late at night and we could not find a place to eat so I invited him to my house. I told him I could guarantee him three things. One, when I ring the bell, Salma would open the door. Two, he would get genuine Black Label. And three, he would get food as if there was a daawat in the house. Fortunately, I was lucky that day on all three counts and my home came to be known as the ‘Mughal Room’.
I was surprised to find the door to your house open and unattended. Your house has none of the fanfare of a starry house?
I have been living in this house since 1973 and the main entrance to my house is left open and will remain so. Sometime back, I was under police protection for two years. The police came and told me you will have to close your door. I told them either you sit outside the door or sit downstairs and protect me or you figure out how to protect me with the open door.
Do you have any unfulfilled wish?
I am a family man and I want my family to always love each other and be together in a crisis even when I am gone.