It is easier to mock him from the pedestal of logic, but there is more to Salman Khan than unabashed cockiness and loyal fan following, finds Anuj Kumar

As one queues up to have an interaction with Salman Khan in a New Delhi hotel; the atmosphere is heavy with mystery. It is a queue of select few but overshadowed by Salman’s robust retinue. Strange directions are coming from the den. Photography is prohibited; the hosts of a radio show are told that both of them can’t interview him. Their reasonable plea that they are co-hosts of a popular show and that the format demands the presence of both of them doesn’t cut any ice. As one get past characters, somebody whispers in the ear that your time is 10 minutes and it will be measured by a stop watch. A daily job suddenly seems as challenging as facing a tiger. Well, Ek Tha Tiger is indeed on top of the mind.

As one settles on the couch, Salman is busy with some number crunching over phone. “These are the numbers of people who showed up at Being Human’s camp for detecting cataract and glaucoma today in Mumbai. The camp was for the daily wagers in the film industry. We intend to hold such a camp for people in the media as well who don’t get health benefits but we will do it after Ek Tha Tiger gets at least into its third week. Otherwise, the media might see publicity in it,” explains Salman making one realise that he has more serious things to do than this interview.

It is a different side of him then why does he hold such disdain for the media? “There is no sarcasm. I only fear good intentions should not be misrepresented. My father organises these camps with doctors in various places throughout the year. Around 50 patients suffering from eye problems to heart diseases are attended to daily. My role is to meet local NGOs and ask them if they need some funding. And it usually happens when I travel to different cities during a film’s promotion. I don’t like interviews. They don’t matter to me at all. My audience knows the film is releasing on August 15 and they will come to watch it. To me such visits are an excuse to touch base with reality. It tells you not to be proud, there is a lot of suffering around you.”

Remind him that interviews are also about discussing cinematic and acting styles and Salman comes up with a remarkable confession. “It is not such a great film that you make a thesis out of it. It is not made by some Einstein. It is just an entertaining film.” His political incorrectness is legendary. A few minutes back director Kabir Khan told this journalist that Ek Tha Tiger is his most political film if somebody cares to see beyond the entertainment value on the surface. Salman, obviously, doesn’t see any political underpinning. “Kabir might have seen it! To me the conflict is that should a RAW agent love and have family. If you are making a story about the country, the country should be above love but if you are making a love story then love should be above the country,” the actor seems to have seen his own logic in the subject.

But you can’t counter him for his current box office record shows that he knows what his audience want. Still one is tempted to ask him if he sees Bodyguard and Ready as great cinema. “It is great cinema,” he thunders. “If a boy eats food and drinks milk because of Bodyguard I think it is great cinema. If a film brings a smile on the face of the kids and encourages youngsters to go to gym then it is great cinema. It is better than films from where you return depressed. It is better than films made just for the critics to show how great a filmmaker you are. I find it ridiculous. My biggest award is when a mother says that my son doesn’t eat food till he listens to your songs. This award is bigger than any national award.”

Still considering his popularity his films don’t say much. “They do say. My agenda is of black and white, right and wrong. Yeh hero hai aur yeh villain hai. Chulbul Pandey is grey but even in that shade there is white. Because the money that he takes as bribe is used for a good cause. He is a modern honest man. I don’t consider myself as somebody special. I am a common man, who doesn’t believe in making shocking statements. My dialogues have honesty. Lines like mujh par ye ehsaan karna…reminds you that the person who is doing you a favour is actually taking advantage of you. When I say maine ek baar jo commitment kar di, it establishes the value of word in today’s day and age. All my fans get it right, only the media doesn’t get it. Why?” The sarcasm returns in Salman’s voice.

Of late he has turned a lot more protective of his co-stars even in public space. These days he could be seen answering on behalf of his Ek Tha Tiger co-star Katrina Kaif in TV interviews. “If you ask my co-star, whom I like so much, something in Hindi, a language she can speak but is not conversant in, then you should not mind if I answer on her behalf. I know she can defend herself. It is just because of the language. Many times she doesn’t get the right words.” He comments on the dresses as well. “As the hero of the film if I find she is not looking good, I register my opinion. If I don’t like the colour of the outfit, I point out, if I don’t like the fitting I say it and if I find it too revealing I object. I do it with my mother as well. You like it or not it is up to you but when you ask how I am looking then you should have the guts to heed the advice of somebody who cares for you. I believe you should eat food of your choice but should dress up according to the choice of somebody you like,” he says forcefully.

One has gone well past the stipulated time and Tiger doesn’t seem to be minding the presence.

Considering he is sharing space with the likes of Girish Karnad and Roshan Seth, did he work on his acting style? “I think they have taken admission to my school. The student is teaching the principal,” he quips.

Is it arrogance? “No, it is clarity. From Radhey to Chulbul Pandey, I want to see myself as a hero. I don’t want to play a common man, journalist or a school teacher. Right now the genre is action but the heroism could come through romance and drama as well. Sooraj Barjatya has offered me something different.” It seems the fear of failure has vanished from his dictionary. “Not at all. It is just that as long as my choice is matching with the choice of the audience nobody can find fault with what I am doing. One day I will decide to show them something else. If it works fine otherwise I will return to action.”