A recent interview on Huffington Post, reveals a lot about Indian actor Salman Khan. Quite possibly the most that has ever been revealed in mainstream media.
The fan-favourite Bollywood superstar, Salman Khan, has been in the industry for the last 30 years, and is considered one of its most bankable stars, with an ardent fan following. His storied career has seen many ups and downs, not just professionally, but personally as well.
There is likely no other Bollywood star as popular, but also as divisive among audiences, as Salman Khan.
Journalist Ankur Pathak conducts the aforementioned interview, and right away paints the superstar in a negative light, by referring to his past incidents with the media. The interview itself isn't really that accessible to anyone outside of Bollywood enthusiasts, who may not be aware of Salman Khan's past, in order to be able to put the questions and answers into context. (I'll try to remedy that during this article.)
The interview however, does provide a close look into the mindset of the actor, his thoughts on his scandals, his perception of other's views of him and his career in general. To his credit, Pathak pressed the elusive Khan on topics that are usually not brought up by the press, in fear of losing the goodwill that the media shares with industry insiders.
Pathak's interview has had an effect on me personally. After years of being a hardcore Salman Khan fan, while still very aware of his fallacies as a human being, I began asking myself:
Who is the real Salman Khan and why are we so invested in him despite his obvious flaws?
I personally have often struggled with trying to understand why I like Salman Khan movies. And let's get this out of the way right off the bat: I do like Salman Khan. Against my better judgement, and the why is what I'll attempt to unpack here.
Why am I such a huge Salman Khan fan, despite being totally aware of the fact that is kind of an asshole in real life?!
Is it that Salman Khan is such a raw acting powerhouse that we can overlook his criminal and dishonest past? Is he such a fine male specimen that the shirtless-ness distracts us from the constant accusations of domestic abuse and drunken confrontations? Is he truly that charming that we buy into his carefully structured image of an idealistic boy who never quite grew up?
Through the decades, Salman Khan has been called many things, from being an egomaniacal narcissist, a violent man and has even been convicted in the court of public opinion as a murderer. But which of these are the true Salman?
The Salman That Salman & His Super Friends Want Us To Know
For Bollywood audiences that have been watching Salman Khan movies since their childhood, growing up with him in our hearts and homes, he undoubtedly holds a special place. Khan originally started as a cute boy-next-door type in the early phase of his career, with films like 'Maine Pyar Kiya' (1989) and 'Hum Apke Hai Kaun' (1994). His boyish charm, prankster personality and immaturity came off as endearing, making him incredibly like-able.
And this is the image that it seems everyone wants us to remember Salman Khan by; the naive, doe-eyed boy, who falls in love in a heartbeat and all his wrong doings can be dismissed as harmless mischief. However, the no-good that he's been up to, involves illegal hunting, a drunk driving charge, and many allegations of domestic abuse, and general dick-ish behaviour of massive proportions.
"Maybe they think I am just a regular dude who's chill and approachable and has no airs of being a superstar. And I have remained like that right from the start. I lived in Indore in a boarding school until the age of 16. That really grounded me. I hung around on the streets, went to the farms. There's nothing fancy about my life. I like cycling around the city, I hop into an auto-rickshaw now and then. I don't drive a big car -- I hate big cars."
-- Salman Khan on why he's so popular with his fans.
Despite the very adult problems of Salman Khan, the carefully constructed image of him in the media, is that of a simplistic 50 year old boy, who means no harm. An every-man with a youthful outlook on life, who lives at home with his parents and paints in his free time.
Even the 'hop into an auto-rickshaw' comment seems manufactured, given that the day before this interview on Huffington Post, a Hindustan Times article reported Salman doing just that. A mere coincidence? Or a seemingly pre-conceived public relations event set up to create anecdotal evidence of his every-man status, to be referenced effortlessly during interviews?
What further gives credence to this is the fact that at every public scandal, (and boy does he have a lot!) others feel the need to defend and speak on behalf of the actor. It all feels like, and quite possibly is, a calculated decision to have others with better public standing speak on his behalf, in order to depict him as innocent through association alone.
"Whatever Salman has written is ridiculous and meaningless. Salman is ignorant of the issue and people should not take him seriously."
--Salim Khan (father) on Salman Khan's critique of the death penalty given to a crime-lord.
“Nevertheless I apologize on behalf of his family his fans & his friends. Forgiveness is to pardon the unpardonable or it is no virtue at all"
-- Salim Khan (father) on Salman Khan's comment of feeling like a 'raped woman' referencing the physical demands of shooting his movie 'Sultan' (2016).
What Salman bhai - or any actor for that matter - says, is his opinion as a common man, a mere civilian.
-- Sohail Khan (brother) on Salman's insistence on peace between India & Pakistan
The Real Life Romantic (Anti) Hero That Is Salman Khan
As the 20-something year old boy filled out into a hulking and muscular 30-something year old man, he retained the immature demeanour; the child-like need to have fun and an over all vibe that made audiences fall in love with him. He rode this charm train into his 30's and he milked it for everything its worth. This sustained him in movies like 'Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam' (1999) and 'Khamoshi' (1996).
As any parents can attest to, children aren't all fun and games and smiles and flexing pecs that Khan and his PR team would have us believe. They want things. They have a failure to grasp the complexities of relationships. They have a very hard time hearing the word 'no'. And when faced with those harsh realities of life, they act out and throw tantrums.
But when the person throwing a hissy fit is a grown man who can literally Bench Press another human being, those tantrums have repercussions for everyone caught in an emotional radius around him.
"There were times when Salman got physical with me, luckily without leaving any marks. And I would go to work as if nothing had happened."
-- Aishwarya Rai (Times Of India; September 27th, 2002)
[ Sidebar: The day after this tell-all Aishwarya Rai interview, would become the worst day of Salman Khan's life, and a day he has relived for 15 years since. ]
"I stood by him enduring his alcoholic misbehaviour in its worst phases and in turn I was at the receiving end of his abuse (verbal, physical and emotional), infidelity and indignity. That is why like any other self-respecting woman I ended my relationship with him."
-- Aishwarya Rai on her relationship with Salman Khan.
Salman Khan's tumultuous relationship with Aishwarya Rai-Bachchan has been well documented. The superstar actress has herself revealed much of his personality traits and behaviour first hand, preventing any further need for commentary.
What does need to be addressed however, is the string of abusive allegations that haunt the actor in personal relationships both prior to, and since Aishwarya. (Somy Ali, Katrina Kaif) It's a pattern of abusive behaviour that should not be ignored, yet is, by both fans and others in the industry.
This also has the unintended effect of us losing respect for other admired and favourite stars, whom we see blatantly supporting, excusing and even enabling Khan's public image, despite being aware of the truth.
[ Sidebar: The 89th Academy Awards in 2017, saw Oscar Winning actress Brie Larson noticeably refuse to applaud, in protest, for Best Actor winner Casey Affleck, due to the multiple sexual abuse allegations against him. ]
But In Bollywood, Salman Khan is adored, loved and held in his esteem by all his peers.
It hurts when your own are punished, even if they are in the wrong. We love you and are standing by you
— Alia Bhatt (@aliaa08) May 6, 2015
My prayers are with @BeingSalmanKhan and his family who I know love this country and respect its judiciary.
— Varun Dhawan (@Varun_dvn) May 6, 2015
Cant wrap my head around what's happening,scary how fickle life is,hope n pray he emerges stronger like he has in the past @BeingSalmanKhan
— Arjun Kapoor (@arjunk26) May 6, 2015
What's more troubling however, is Khan's own reaction to the violent incidents that he engages in and how it affects those around him.
"I have a relationship with Aishwarya. If you do not fight in a relationship, it means you do not love each other. Why would I squabble with a person who is a stranger to me? Such things happen between us only because we love each other. Now, even the police have barred me from entering that building."
-- Salman Khan (Times Of India; February 12, 2002)
Like a child who blames everyone but himself. It's a pattern of refusing to take responsibility, dismissing accountability and deflecting it onto others, all the while over-simplifying the most malicious actions, in a manner that sounds incredibly familiar.
"Everybody has a past. Does that make you a bad person for life? In my case, there is deliberate malice. When people go after you for something you have not done, it's bad. Next thing you know you are running around courts and people are judging you."
-- Salman Khan (Huffington Post; June 15th, 2017)
Salman Khan clearly believes that his actions have no basis for judgement by others, besides how he deems his reasoning behind those actions. In his mind, he is the victim and he is the saviour. It's an attitude that also feels incredibly similar when looking at the current President of the United States Of America.
What Is The Drunk Driving Charge That Salman Is Hated For?
The infamous crime that has dogged Salman Khan for decades, is very simply this: On September 28th, 2002, Salman Khan's car ran off road into a bakery, killing a homeless man and injuring others. Through subsequent investigations, it was revealed that Khan was driving, while under the influence of alcohol. The actor plead not-guilty, maintaining that it was his driver who was behind the wheel.
The bureaucratic judicial system of India, along with multiple judgements, appeals, bails as well as, but not limited to, the kidnapping of a witness and mysterious arson which destroyed evidence, all contributed to the case to be dragged on for 13 years. Eventually leading to the final decision in Khan's favour, acquitting him of all charges.
However, during this time, the evidence collected all overwhelmingly pointed to Khan being guilty. Enough evidence to have swayed and cemented public conclusions of Khan's guilt.
For a more comprehensive break down, and legal parameters of the incident, The Hindu featured a great article following Khan's acquittal.
Man-Child Or Egotistic Narcissist Living In His Own Bubble
Even though it's incredibly easy to paint Khan in the light of an evil-doer; a terrible person who does terrible things, then cackles at getting away with it all behind closed doors with his semi-talented minion-brothers over a glass of Scotch... there may be more to it.
While at times he comes off as someone that is uncaring and unnecessarily defensive, there are other times that give validity to him being a genuine immature and petulant child. No, seriously. Hear me out.
Salman Khan is now over 50 years old. Yet he is still, to this day, playing characters who have the same youthful exuberance and, what is supposed to look like, boyish charm. He did it for the most of 'Prem Ratan Dhan Payo' (2015) and for the first half of 'Sultan' (2016). His latest film 'Tubelight' (2017) sees him literally playing a role that was done by an 8 year old boy in the movie the film is adapted from.
This is the Salman that his family, well-wishers and even Salman himself, in his own admission behind why he chooses his roles, would have us believe he is at heart. And this could quite possibly be true. Salman Khan could possibly be an emotionally challenged man, in certain aspects. That would certainly make his idealistic views when it comes to how movies can change lives, seem almost appropriate.
"When you see nobility being projected by a hero, you are inspired to emulate it. This is one of the reasons why I haven't ever played a negative character. Say if you have a character who earns a living through corrupt means, man, that puts me off. I will never play a dark character. Underdogs impress me. Those who make it against all odds impress me. I want to tell their stories."
-- Salman Khan (Huffington Post; June 15th, 2017)
While on face value, the intention to change lives, bring families together, inspire and be a good role model seems incredibly good hearted, it's coming from someone who has exhibited completely contradictory behaviour to that in real life. So either his opinions are that of someone who doesn't have the emotional capacity to know any better, or someone who is just being deceptive and manipulative.
Especially when you consider that fact that Khan is an actor. His job is to literally pretend to be other people. And while it's true that films have influence over impressionable minds, it's extremely ego-centric to truly believe that he has a social responsibility to portray good-ness on screen, so people can emulate his film personas... for good.
(Also when you factor in, that that responsibility somehow doesn't apply to being good in real life?) He's somehow given himself this unnecessary responsibility to be in charge of he moral actions of his fan following. Messiah Complex?
He further cements this during the part of the interview where he calls his films 'critic-proof' claiming he makes movies for his fans only. A really nice way of saying that he's constantly pandering to the lowest common denominator, and proud of it.
The Ultimate Reason Why Salman Khan Is So Despised
The Huff Post interview isn't all evidence of Khan's terrible-ness. He makes some very good and valid points about how he's been treated in the public eye.
"But what about the 20 years? What about it? Mere toh wo gaye na? And there's nothing to compensate for that. Nothing at all. And during all this, when I am seen doing a comedy show, or romancing beautiful women, or just laughing, they go like, "Look at this brat. He doesn't care. He is indifferent to what happened." And I am like, dude. It's my bloody job. I have to do it no matter what. I have to do it to sustain myself and pay my lawyers. If I don't do it, where is the money going to come from?"
It's true. How long should someone pay for a mistake made years ago? How often do they need to paint themselves in remorse and guilt before they can be socially exonerated from their crime and be allowed to move on?
Imagine if any one of our mistakes from decades ago continuously hung over our heads, dictating other's impression of us at every turn in life. He makes a valid point indeed. As others have also mentioned.
It's saddening that we judge people only on the basis of one of their mistakes and not what they've… https://t.co/Ug6NpKiaj5
— Karan Singh Grover (@Iamksgofficial) May 6, 2015
But one has to acknowledge the mistake, in order to be forgiven. One has to admit involvement in a wrong-doing, in order to be able to move on from it.
However, Khan continues to make even better points.
"There are so many incidents like mine that happened and nobody ever talks about them."
Again, very true. Bollywood experiences dozens if not hundreds of controversies every year. Entire news outlets have built a business model around the reporting of scandalous news, instead of legitimate film industry topics, since as long as the industry has existed. This type of media has become the cornerstone of Bollywood Journalism.
So why, despite countless terrible things that others have done, does Salman Khan's hit and run case draw to much attention and spotlight, even 15 years later?
Let's answer that!
Take a look at the celebrity status and career of one of Salman Khan's most famous co-stars and former good friend Sanjay Dutt.
Dutt was involved in and was found guilty of being associated with, and having had possessions of arms involved in the 1993 bombing in the city of Mumbai, (then Bombay) India. The event was the basis for a book which was adapted into a film by Anurag Kashyap in 2004 entitled 'Black Friday .'
From 1993 to 2016, Sanjay Dutt has gone to prison multiple times for months at a time, been released on parole, granted bail, and co-operated with the authorities at the time to implicate others involved. These attacks resulted in the deaths of 257 people, injuring 717 others.
In direct contrast, Sanjay Dutt's involvement in this crime can be considered a lot worse, and a more serious of a crime than a drunk hit and run charge that Salman Khan was accused of.
So why is Sanjay Dutt not as hated, despised or crucified by the media and treated unfairly?
The answer is a simple concept that eludes Khan: Dutt confessed.
Dutt acknowledged his involvement in a crime, no matter how unknowing, innocent or indirectly responsible he may have been. Dutt paid his dues to society. Dutt moved on to create a better life for himself and his family.
As evident from this interview, Salman Khan himself feels victimized over his own treatment, instead of any remorse or guilt for being involved in the death of another human being. Drunk or not. Driving or not. He was in a vehicle that took the life of another person. He feels no responsibility or accountability for this.
Forgiveness Is Earned Not Bought
There are many that believe that Salman Khan's current philanthropy, goodwill and giving back to the world stem from a desire to atone, and to make reparations for his past wrong doing. People change. Journalist Pathak even posed this question to Khan at the interview, resulting in Khan getting very defensive and walking away.
"There's an argument that your Being Human charitable trust has been cleverly designed to rehabilitate your image. That, along with your Mr. Good Boy roles, carves a certain perspective that glosses over your moral transgressions."
-- Ankur Pathak; Bollywood Editor, Huffington Post
Many Bollywood insiders, colleagues and friends of Khan also believe the same.
Not commenting on courts verdict- but my heart goes out 2 @BeingSalmanKhan :large hearted & 1 of d finest people I hv met in this industry.
— Riteish Deshmukh (@Riteishd) May 6, 2015
Terrible news. Dnt knw wht to say except tht will stand by @BeingSalmanKhan no matter what. He's a good man and no 1 can tk tht away frm him.
— Sonakshi Sinha (@sonakshisinha) May 6, 2015
He is the man that saved my Mothers life. That I will never forget. #SalmanKhan
— Dia Mirza (@deespeak) May 6, 2015
No one can take away the good Salman Khan's organizations have done today. The actions of one man do not belittle the collective mandate of countless employees that are working towards a charitable purpose. The joy that his true fans receive when he participates in campaign or programs that benefit others in need, cannot be spoiled by his past. Salman Khan definitely uses his fame for good in many ways, despite the ulterior reasoning and motives behind those actions.
And a man can definitely try to atone for their past sins. (Not to get too biblical.) However, Salman can't wash away his prior wrongs, while continuing to ignore the filth he was involved in.
Instead of portraying toxic masculinity on screen in his films, if Salman Khan could only take ownership of his own actions, deal with the consequences and attempt to move forward both personally and professionally, he may command more respect as an actor and more importantly, a human being.
The Bottom Line
The bottom line is this: Salman Khan's movies are beloved not because of any particular story, but the man himself. And while I realize that's taking away from the filmmakers who deserve more credit than the actor, in the Bollywood industry, it's just the harsh reality of how films are promoted and what essentially drives the entire business model. (It's the only way to explain the ridiculous commercial success of 'Kick' (2014).)
And Salman Khan is not the first artist whose personal issues have bled into his work for some sections of the audience. Other artists also involved in personal scandals have very much managed to have their work perceived and judged independent of themselves. (There is a great article about how Woody Allen films are still considered prestigious despite his own personal allegations of sexual misconduct.) However, that's very difficult to do with Khan.
The difference between others and Salman Khan, is that his choice of roles within films is a meticulous effort by a massive braintrust in order to reform his public image, from his personal controversies. He uses his professional life, to manipulate audiences into liking him better as a person, which he then leverages into an even more successful career, given Bollywood star-based system.
So why do we all anxiously await the next Salman Khan movie? Why do his films top the most anticipated Bollywood movies lists of every year? Very simply because his manipulation works. We all buy into it.
His movies provide enough entertainment value, that we're sucked into this Salman Khan bubble that we're all to content to stay inside of, ignoring the true nature of the giggling, one liner spouting, aging muscly bag of testosterone that we root for for the next 2 and a half hours. And despite knowing better, we contribute to his Box Office successes. We continue to make him relevant by being the fodder for his Public Relations machine. It just all works.
Which Is Your Salman Khan?
Salman Khan is a great actor. There is little doubt of that for me, at least personally. However, until that time that he acknowledges his off-screen actions and takes responsibility for them, he will continue to constantly be polarizing Bollywood audiences when it comes to his films and his perception as an actor.
His nostalgic image of the boy who can do no harm, will only be effective until that generation of Bollywood audience ages out, making way for a new crop of socially responsible cinephiles. As for the for the ardent fans of his, I feel it's easier for them to dismiss his crimes as that of an innocent child, living an adult lifestyle, who doesn't know any better.
And no matter which version of Salman Khan you want to believe, no matter which of his real life or reel life performances you prefer, ultimately these are the choices folks.
Salman Khan: A developmentally & emotionally challenged man-child, or a manipulative narcissist who is quite truly a despicable human being.