It’s usually when a celebrity is not as famous as he or she would like to be that they start becoming accessible. Not just to the media — who can provide a modicum of instant gratification with a few well-timed news snippets — but also to almost anyone who will give them some attention. But it is the ones who cannot be met, who never answer phone calls or text messages, who are inevitably tied up in shootsz and travelling that are more interesting, newsworthy and attention-grabbing. In Hindi cinema a.k.a Bollywood, it is all about being an A-list star, a Khan perhaps, or even a Kapoor, a celebrity that everyone wants to watch, to take a selfie with, to know more about. And for one such man, it is just so. It is all about being larger than life, a superstar, an idol for the masses. It’s all about being Salman Khan.
Being Salman is written by journalist-television producer Jasim Khan. It is a biography of the actor who has reigned supreme in Hindi cinema for decades now, a man whose presence in a film practically guarantees obscenely high box-office returns. Salman Khan has been described as ‘god’ by the many who adore him from the distance of a theatre seat and by the millions who line up to watch the first-day, first-show of any movie he headlines.
There have been stories galore written about him, some with a kernel of truth in them, most speculative, and often libellous. But rarely does Salman or any of his vast and supportive family object, taking it all with a heaped helping of salt that they know stardom requires for sanity. There has been much said about his romantic adventures, more about the string of women he has allegedly had relationships with. But at no stage has he ever corroborated or denied any of it. The Salman Khan that everyone knows has had his share of relationship and legal issues. It is said that he got nastily physical with Aishwarya Rai and his problems with the law have been well documented. It’s all about gossip and sensationalism and we all love that.
Sadly, this book goes elsewhere, at least initially. What the author does in this unauthorised biography — except for a few quotes from Salman’s father Salim Khan, who granted the writer an interview a few hours long, as he says in the introduction — is fake the reader out in the first few pages. With a gorgeous Colston Julian photo of the superstar on the cover, one expects a story that is equally stunning. But the beginning is limp and not a big bang. While the introduction speaks of the various ‘big’ (read: newsworthy) splashes in Salman’s life, the first chapter wanders off into the history of his family, a forefather from many generations earlier, community and local politics, the Partition and more. On page 71, Salman finally makes an appearance, with minor stories about his childhood and teenage years filling space until his 1988 film called Biwi Ho To Aisi with Rekha and Farooq Shaikh. And then came Maine Pyar Kiya the next year, which catapulted him to fame. His films gradually became more about his onscreen idiosyncrasies rather than the story. He could do anything as long as he took his shirt off, sang a few songs and threw some punches. More recently, as Salman turned 50, he found himself actually trying to act, with Ek Tha Tiger and Bajrangi Bhaijaan.
Whatever he did in films, his personal life always attracted more attention. Still single, he sees his marriage happening ‘if God wills it’, while the media, his fans and his filmi colleagues wait for that momentous announcement. Jasim Khan lists Salman’s various amours with almost clinical precision, quoting liberally from news reports and adding no masala or voice to the telling. He speaks of the superstar hopping from one lovely lady to the next, with betrayals, infidelity and violent passion — all the stuff of tabloid headlines — with a dry impersonal style that is indeed the tone of the book. It is in a way an impressive document, a biography that is not cloaked in sensationalism, but in that, strangely unsatisfying. After all, for someone like Salman, who has never claimed to be an actor but will always be a star, fireworks and spice are necessary seasoning for the beefcake. But this one is especially bland.
Being Salman; Jasim Khan, Penguin, Rs.599.