Salman bhai, as he’s known fondly among fans, says he’d be ‘thanda’ if he didn’t have fire in his belly. In an interview with Sunday Mid day, he explains why he envies teachers, is disappointed with the government like all tax-paying citizens, and why it’s important to listen to your zameer
Dabangg, Wanted, Ready… you are turning into an expert in making a superhero out of the ordinary man.
That’s easy. I think that’s how a hero should be. I want to be that hero that ordinary people think they can be. They want to relate to that guy… if he can be a hero, so can I.
Twenty years in the industry… did you have an inkling back when you started that this is where you’d get?
No way! I haven’t reached anywhere spectacular, actually. I am this person today because of the way I was brought up, because of the influences around me. Because of every moment I spent observing people around me.
No ambitions while growing up?
No, none. Nothing was planned.
What about your charity work? Was that planned?
No, not even that. Like I said, I just went with the flow. I have seen my parents and my grandparents do it. But it was all disorganised, and they ended up getting conned most of the time. So, I thought why not make it streamlined, more organised so that our intention reaches the right people.
How can you be sure you are not getting conned?
I hope not. We have doctors who tell us if the patient is genuine or not.
Right now, a lot of people, including a few stars, envy your position. Is there anyone you envy?
Yes, I envy a lot of people. I envy people who have the stamina and drive to work till their last breath. Even when they are 80, 90 years old, they continue to work and have no plans to retire. I envy politicians, social workers and teachers who do such good work and are in the profession of helping others.
Aren’t most politicians working for themselves?
A large number of them are. But there are a few who actually do good work. Even if they are few, their efforts need to be applauded. Things are changing. Younger politicians are more socially aware and want to do things for the country. I have a lot of faith in them. The beauty is that finally, people seem to be concerned about each other. I have an issue with people who don’t get angry when things are going wrong. We tend to think ‘as long as it doesn’t affect me, why should I bother. Let me be safe’. Now, that’s changing.
I know corruption is a huge problem in our country. It is eating the soul. But aren’t we all responsible for this? We guys started it and we still continue to practise it. It has become a kind of culture. We know some people don’t get enough money and can easily be tempted, so we all take advantage of that situation. And there is something else that bothers me a lot. Most of us don’t bother if something unfolds right before our eyes.
I think we have to stop getting scared. If someone is demanding a bribe, be fearless enough to stand up and report him to the authorities. But most often, we are concerned about our own safety, time, money etc. Zameer, your conscience, is something that should not be ignored.
How active is your zameer?
I am a normal human being. Everyone has their own faults. I have mine. But I know I am honest. If you are honest, after you make a mistake, you will have the guts to wake up and say sorry. It makes a huge difference. As far as accusations hurled at me are concerned, some of them are true but most of them are thanks to people who want to serve their own interests. People can’t digest the fact that much of what they doesn’t affect me. I will do what I feel is right. They think some day, I will compromise. When I don’t succumb, they get upset.
I am not here to please anybody and I never will. If I like you, I will talk to you. I am not going to be under any pressure, no matter what. Even then, I keep quiet and people take advantage of my silence. If I don’t do a film or I don’t want to go somewhere, I am not going to just because someone’s ego is getting bruised. Do research on me and you will find that just before the release of each of my films, there is some negative story circulated about me.
That’s true. Just before the release of Ready, there was a smoking controversy.
Was there? I was only aware of that property controversy. The whole world smokes. You get cigarettes in every nook and corner, but I get involved in the controversy. Yes, I smoke once in a while and I request photographers not to shoot me when I am doing it. I know it is bad for health and I don’t want youngsters to think it is cool because I am doing it.
Now that you have spent all these years in the industry, are you better equipped to deal with anger?
Anger is still within me. Anger is what keeps you alive. What’s a man without anger, without passion? If I didn’t have it, I would be thanda, na? I might be using it in a more positive manner now, but I am happy that I have that anger inside me; that’s what gives me the push and takes me places.
Being honest is fine. But are you more politically correct now?
No. I don’t understand politics. I only understand right and wrong, yes and no. If you ask me something I don’t understand, and I don’t know what to say, I will say, I don’t know. Is that being politically correct? Or incorrect?
You are on a career high. Does anything bother you at the moment?
Yes. We are facing a unique problem. Whoever from the industry wants to donate to Being Human (his charity), is being asked by the government for a 40 per cent tax cut. And that I think is too much. And that’s sad.
Everyone knows the industry is not reeling under black money like it was. My question is what benefits are we getting for all the tax we pay? The film industry pays taxes in various forms — the multiplexes pay tax, there’s entertainment tax. What are we getting in return? Where is the money going? Nothing is being done for the industry. When a unit member is in trouble, it’s we who help him out. I just wish this tax thing was more lax so that more people would be encouraged to donate, to do charity.
The Character dheela song in Ready is a hit already. It sounds autobiographical, considering that people have been judgmental about you.
Yeah, people did say things ¦ but tell me, when a guy and girl are involved, why is only the guy’s character dheela? The girl’s character is dheela too, na? If the guy is doing it, he is not the only one doing it.