"He has crossed a line as an actor with his performance in Tere Naam," according to one of the knowledgeable people of whom traditionally there have been several. The word is that he has arrived at the very doorsteps of reputation. The film got, in the words of a trade magazine editor, "the most sensational opening Indian cinema has ever seen". Six days after the release of the film, Mumbai came to a halt because human pyramids that had consumed Kingfisher and bhang decided to break a suspended pot, all for a good cause. Roads were blocked. Commuting time was atrocious. But a long stream of people outside Liberty cinema triumphed over Janmashtami's discomfort.
Many of them went home disappointed without getting to watch Salman Khan's first appearance in 14 months. There were all tiers of Indians in the queue outside the ticket counter which Salman will later describe in an accurate analysis, "my maasi and classy fans". There were huge Gujarati mothers, a man in cheap sunglasses for monsoon's twilight, and a smoking girl with 'Bitch' written on her T-shirt in a lane that could certainly read and write. The large literate population kept gawking at a giant film poster that said, Tere Naam—Unfortunately A True Love Story. Three hours later the film ended with "All characters in the film are fictitious, any resemblance...." Salman would soon explain referring to what has to be a really obscure dictionary. "Unfortunate means 'sad'. True means 'pure'. That's what the poster means."
Set in Agra with the Taj Mahal generously supplied as proof, that too when Mayawati's quarries were still working, the film introduces Salman in the now famous hairstyle. When he first turns his face to the camera in an unmistakable "hello, this is my first scene," Liberty cinema erupted in approval. What follows is a carefully constructed remake of a five-year-old hugely successful Tamil film called Sethu, the story of a violent boy and a soft virginal Brahmin girl, of love and trauma (assuming they are two different things), of commercially risky tragedy and highly encashable unpredictability.
Just like Sethu, the Hindi version too generated an inexplicable madness before the release. Four thousand people waited outside Jaipur Space Multiplex for tickets on the first day. This was for the 9 am show. Originally intended to be shown on a single screen in the multiplex, the management later decided to show the film on two screens and then three screens. Advance booking frenzy in places like Akola and Amravati reached such a frenzy that cops had to be called in. "The reason could be among many other things, like sympathy wave, Salman's new hairstyle which made the film seem different," says trade expert Komal Nahata. Director Satish Kaushik refuses to use the word 'wig'. "He developed his hair," he says. Later Salman too would not use that word. "A lot of the hair was mine," he would say. But before that, the long walk towards him had to end.
He is still looking at the blade. Some details can be reported from this distance. Between his black shorts and black Harley Davidson cap, there is hair sprouting on what first seemed to be a barren chest. He is what Simi Garewal would call "a man man". He looks up with somewhat severe eyes. "No personal questions," he says. "If you want to write personal things, write anything you want brother, just don't say I said it." And then, looking away at the distant hills, he says, "What's it about Tere Naamat I should talk about?"
You have crossed a line as an actor.
You have crossed a line as an actor.
"Who said that?"
"Fools," he says. "Everybody knows I cannot act." Then he keeps quiet. He is merely underplaying. No man, not even a star, can resist the full force of flattery. He has heard from "people" that with Tere Naam he has landed at the very doorsteps of reputation. He likes the compliments. He casually asks for more "reactions" and then dismisses it all with a slow wave of the hand. "I did a lot of howling and crying," he says. "I find it easier than the stuff I used to do before." At this point he begins to cut his nails with the blade.
Why don't you use a nail-cutter like other people?
He starts giggling. "Doesn't work for me," he says. A practised false intensity is slowly developing cracks. He finds it funny that he cuts his nails this way but quickly returns to gravitas. "In my other films I have to do a lot of buffoonery. I find that more difficult because my sense of timing in comedy sucks."
But it's said you were very earnest, very involved in the making of Tere Naam, very dedicated.
"Who said that?"
"He would say that. He made the film. He is the director. He'd say it was the best f****** performance I have ever given." At this point he begins to howl holding a finger. But he hasn't cut it with the blade. He is just pretending. And the men around, the beasts of Salman's burden, all laugh. "There was nothing difficult about Tere Naam. It was just another film." It was around the time when the film was being made that he ran over pedestrians in a Mumbai suburb, killing one.
How did you manage to work in the middle of all this?
Salman now stops chopping his nails. He curls his lips while looking at something far away because there is something about the question he likes. It's somewhat funny when a well-built bare-chested man turns philosophical. "After darkness comes light. The good thing about bad things is that they come to an end." He says as though with a tinge of experience, "You know there are guys, you keep hitting them and they keep getting up. I am something like that".
Is it true you've become a nicer person?
"I am the same. I have not changed. As a person or actor. All the films I am going to do now are regular big commercial stuff."
There goes the peg.