Fans of Salman Khan who remember him in the late 1980s and early 1990s will forever lament the fact that we have been cheated out of the Khan we fell in love with. A far cry from the loveable, rib-tickling Prem in 1989's Maine Pyar Kiya, the guy we see on screen now is all sullen and full of angst. Sure, he still romances the prettiest ladies, but he does it with the dourest of expressions.
And that's why his interactions with the public last week at the press conference in Dubai for his latest film Jai Ho were such a surprise. Here's how it went: Khan answered question after question as the mic passed from reporter to reporter and then came the question that started it all. "My question is on behalf of people who don't go to the same gym as you guys. How can we land a role in one of your films?"
Necks were craned to see who this question came from. It turned out to be a decidedly confident albeit scrawny young man. He was referring to one of Jai Ho’s supporting actors, who landed his role after being spotted by Sohail Khan, the film’s director (and Salman’s brother), at a gym.
Having rendered both Khans speechless momentarily, the young man continued: “Look at how determined I am. I am not even a reporter and here I am at your press conference.” Almost instantly, Salman Khan snapped back: “You should consider yourself very lucky, then. There’s just this red rope between us now.”
“Yes, but I want to be on that side of the rope,” the young man persisted.
“Maybe this is as far as you go, my friend,” Khan said. “Not all of us are meant to be on this side of the rope.”
Kudos to Khan for gently defusing an awkward situation. But that’s not all. The mic ended up in the hands of a woman in her 50s, who started by telling Khan all about her children.
“They are all in university now, but I give them a good talking to if they get out of line. I don’t take any nonsense from them and even shout at them if need be. But look at me right now … just talking to you, my hands are trembling.”
There was silence as she held up her hand as proof, and then continued: “My question to you is that I always wanted to have a picture taken with you, but I am so uncomfortable with the mob that always surrounds you. I hate it when people push and shove.”
Khan, instead of simply ignoring this strange display of affection, chose to address it head-on. “I don’t know if that was a question or a request for a picture,” he said. “But maybe this is God’s way of telling you that if you didn’t shout at your children, you might not get pushed and shoved when you came to take a picture with me.”
One of the organisers announced that this was a press conference and only questions from the media would be entertained. As expected, the rest of the questions were all serious and on-topic, but those two minutes of anarchy gave us a cherished glimpse of the Khan we fell in love with so many years ago.
The writer is an honest-to-goodness desi living in Dubai