I was a History Honours student in college. Teacher’s pet (though I say so myself). When I went on to study journalism and landed my first job with a notable newspaper in Mumbai, some people believed I’d do some seriously path breaking stuff. Then I started writing about people. Not the needy. Nor the marginalised. Not any of the people I’d interacted with while taking on charity work or studying tribal communities in the heart of Maharashtra. Instead, I was assigned the ‘entertainment beat’ and I was landed with interviewing the likes of Salman Khan. It may sound glamorous, but hearts were broken. And that is where this story begins.
In 2007, the shirtless star was promoting a film titled Marigold. Ali Larter, whom most know now as the actress from Heroes, had been cast opposite Salman. She wasn’t particularly well known at the time and the only fascination with her stemmed from the fact that she was American. Of course, Salman alone was attraction enough and the paper was happy to be offered an interview with him. I was summarily despatched. Despite several protests. “I don’t watch too many Hindi films and I don’t really care about Salman Khan,” I told my editor. “That’s precisely why I want you to go do this interview,” she said.
The Taj Lands End was to be our rendezvous point, though I don’t quite remember if it was called Lands End or The Regent back then. Being a stone’s throw away from Salman’s residence in Bandra, the film’s public relations officer thought it would be convenient. I trekked from halfway across town and made it a point to be early. I am perpetually late for everything, so I cannot overstate the effort I made to get there in advance. Not that it mattered. I spent the first hour being anxious. For the two hours that followed, I read every newspaper and magazine in sight. Hour four was spent haranguing the PR person, who still had no clue when our muscled man would arrive. “Any minute now,” I was told for minutes on end. Five hours down and I had convinced my editor it wasn’t worth the wait. This Mr. Khan was certainly not going to show up for any interviews today.
Just as I was huffing from the lift out to the lobby, I was told Salman had arrived. “Please, please wait,” said the PRO I had been badgering for the better part of the day. “He’s here now. Who will interview him if you leave?” Truth be told, half a dozen other hapless hacks were snapping at my heels for first slot. Just a rookie myself, I was insulated only by the power of my publication. I hesitated, but only to offer the young executive a moment of agony — a little taste of what I’d endured all afternoon. There was never any doubt I’d do the interview. Salman Khan was striding towards me, bodyguards shuffling in succession. I wasn’t a fan, but I felt that flutter. He was shorter than I’d expected, but his swagger was stunning. “Magnetic,” I thought, as I stepped into the elevator with him. “Mad,” I thought, as I stepped out.
It took only a few seconds to head up to the suite where we were to interact. We hadn’t been introduced, because by the time Salman and his entourage had walked into the elevator with me, there wasn’t room enough for the media manager. Salman had no idea that I was to interview him, and he didn’t seem to care. Stuck to each other like sardines, those seconds stretched out interminably.
At first Salman complained to his crew about how he would now have to speak to some journalist from an English publication in the Queen’s language. Then he raised his thumb above his fist, pointed two fingers at his uniformed police escort and said, “Dhishoom! Hands up!” If I was speechless before, this left me winded. Instantly, the cop raised his arms, palms facing outwards. No one laughed.
The elevator doors slid open and we tumbled out into the passageway. I rushed down the corridor, settled into my seat and pulled out my Dictaphone. I didn’t know what to make of what I’d just witnessed. I had a questionnaire; I planned to stick to it. Salman took a few minutes longer, lounging about with his cronies, and when he walked into the room, he greeted me in perfect English — with an accent, no less. I don’t think he registered the fact that we had just shared an elevator.
Ask me now what secrets he shared during that exclusive interaction and I can’t recall a single one. He made sense at the time — and I transcribed over a thousand words — but his words weren’t memorable. As you can tell, meeting him was a whole different story. Off camera, behind the scenes, Salman Khan remains an enduring enigma.
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Article by - Sonali Velinker Kamat