When former Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa was convicted and sentenced in a disproportionate assets case last September, she had one trusted lieutenant whom she could appoint in her place.
In came O Panneerselvam, the new chief minister of Tamil Nadu.
Salman Khan, sentenced to five years in jail in connection with a 2002 hit-and-run case, has no Panneerselvam. And not that he needed one ever.
The one-man army has enthralled generations across three eventful decades, even as the contours of Hindi cinema gradually changed.
Unfortunately for his fans, with Salman behind the bars, there will be no heir to his Bhai-giri legacy.
The 49-year-old actor's fans are sad because they fear that for five long years there won't be any who can be at ease playing Sameer, the sacrificing lover boy, and the badass cop, Chulbul Pandey, with the same spontaneity.
They are jittery because they love both the Kick-craving Devil and the boy-next-door Prem of Hum Aapke Hain Kaun, and want more 'tufani' performances from the man who gave them flesh and blood.
While the law has taken its course, Salman's fans and well wishers are absolutely certain about the course they will follow; it's the road of a thousand tweets with hashtags such as #WeLoveYouSalmanKhan and of hitting the streets to say good luck to their idol.
But, does the cult of Salman exist just because he is a big Bollywood superstar and a golden duck of blockbusters? Or has he transcended that boundary to become an idol of righteousness, sacrifice and everything that is just? Let's allow his onscreen portrayals to do the talking.
Salman is prem (love), personified
The first hit of Salman's career, Maine Pyar Kiya (1989), set the tone for many good things associated with the superstar's image. As Prem, the protagonist, he fought for his lady love against his own family. He sacrificed his palatial house to impress his 'sanskaari' would-be father-in-law and eked out a living the hard way.
His journey - from a cosy corner to the struggles of life - struck a chord with thousands in a cocooned Indian society of the late 80s and the early 90s where love and sex were big taboos - they still are, though the degrees have varied -- and the fruits of economic liberalisation had yet to be tasted.
But Salman gave thousands a name and an idol - that of Prem - to identify with. And oh boy! Isn't his metamorphosis in real life - from the shenanigans of a Bollywood baddie to the philanthropy of Being Human - has a shade or two common with Prem's journey from luxury to understanding the joys and pains of living for others?
He is Mr Sacrifice
Once again christened Prem, Salman appeared in another Sooraj Barjatya blockbuster five years after Maine Pyar Kiya. In the mega hit Hum Aapke Hain Koun, which upheld Indian family values, Salman played a cute little brother in a loving family. And guess what? After his sister-in-law's death, Prem didn't speak a word even after knowing his sweetheart would be married off to his elder brother. True to the Bollywood happy-ending gharana, the disaster was averted at the last moment. Phew! But, how can a country that boasts of the epic of Ram-Laxmana forget the sacrifice a brother was going to make for his elder?
He is pain and a hawa ka jhoka
As Sameer, Salman exhibited the strength of pain in Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam (1999). He cried out loud and made the audience sob when his muse, Nandini (Aishwarya), deserted him forever after coming all the way to Italy - in deference of her nuptial ties with Vanraj (Ajay Devgn). The melancholy resonated in the broken hearts of thousands of aam aadmis with aam love stories, and as a hawa ka jhoka (gush of wind) -- used in a different context altogether in the film -- Sameer presented them with the celebration of pain. And who else could have played Sameer better than a man whose public life had been under public scrutiny following sad endings to quite a few high-profile love affairs?
He is dabangg
In khaki, Chulbul Pandey beats the s*** out of the bad guys in a dusty north Indian village. Salman's action avatar is nothing but entertainment, entertainment and entertainment. The box office collections of Dabangg and its sequel prove how big a leveler Salman is; from urban multiplexes to rural cinema theatres, Chulbul was greeted with whistles of approval after the movies released. In the grim Indian reality of inflation, unemployment, cacophony and dismay, Salman gave his audience just what the doctor ordered: An adrenaline-boosting dose of action - and some more action.
He is different, wants a kick
So what if he was the Devil? He was doing devious things in the 2014 film Kick to boot the real evils out. So what if Devi 'dimag me nahi aata (illogical)', he touches your heart. Right? And yes, like the talented yet impatient young India, Devi was not ready for mundane jobs. He wanted extraaaa and became the Devil. And the result? Bingo. Another full course of entertainment in the palate.
PS: Salman is love, sacrifice, pain, gutsy and different. He is also Lovely (Ek Tha Tiger) and Radhe Mohan (Tere Naam). Like him or not, he is everything that is Indian and upholds Indian ethos. He is all that connect with Indian movie-goers in the carefully cultivated Indian film industry. When Veer Pratap Singh (Veer) roared, the average Indian wanted to roar with him in the darkness of a movie theatre - leaving behind his mundane identity outside, in the harsh real world devoid of fairy tales and righteous heroes. When Akash Verma (Saajan) sacrificed his love for his friend, the average Indian audience wanted to share his pain and reminisced about the pangs of a teenage love that was lost in a triangle. The cult of Salman is too big. It is unlikely that even a big five-year term will dwarf it. For there are better actors and dancers in Bollywood, but is there a bigger mass entertainer, a better escape route? Well, we need a microscope.
(The writer is a movie buff, a Bollywood fan. Views expressed are personal)
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