He might have scripted blockbusters like Zanjeer (1973), Deewar (1975) and Sholay (1975), but Bollywood screenwriter Salim Khan still remains one of the most humble people you’ll ever meet in the industry.
A self-confessed admirer of the Mahabharata, the 78-year-old reveals that he learnt the art of giving that ‘twist to the tale’ from this ancient piece of literature. In this ­candid chat, he tells us why he feels his son, Salman Khan, is like the warrior Karna (from the epic), as he also reveals the secret behind his ­closely-knit family.
What cue have you taken from the Mahabharata?
I’ve read the Mahabharata several times since I was young… not as a religious book, but for knowledge, and I realised that in this epic, a lot of small twists have bigger impacts later — be it Bhishma’s pledge or Yudhisthira announcing the death of Ashwatthama (where he doesn’t mention that it was the Ashwatthama elephant and not Dronacharya’s son, Ashwatthama, who has died). In many of my ­stories, I used similar twists that have larger impacts later, for instance, the coin in Sholay (1975).
What makes you say Salman is like Karna’s character?
Just like Karna, Salman has a complex character. He is fighting from the wrong side… he is silent and has inner conflicts to battle. In fact, ­during the making of Karan Arjun (1995), Salman had a choice to play either Karan or Arjun. He asked me, and I said Karan because Arjun might be a ­principled, disciplined man, but he doesn’t have the shades that Karan does.
Is it true that you are working for free on a TV show?
I am a consulting writer for the TV show Mahabharat. The show’s creator, Siddharth Kumar Tewary, offered me a good price, but I am not taking any money. I’ve earned a lot of money in my life. I am 78 years old and I want to give back to society now. A lot of people from the industry come to me, saying that they are unable to write the climax of their films, so I guide them. Also, since I have won so many awards, whoever’s work I like now, I give them an award of mine. I have given Vikas Bahl one for Chillar Party (2011), then I gave Shoojit Sircar an award for Vicky Donor (2012), then to Farhan Akhtar when he made his (acting) debut with Rock On!! (2008).
You have such a large and lovely joint family. What is the secret behind maintaining this happiness?
Love can only arrive when there is respect. In my family each and every member has a lot of respect for each other, and that’s why there’s so much love between us that keeps us ­bonded. Money is like a utility for us, not the aim of life. When I bought this flat (at Galaxy Apartments in Bandra) in 1973, I decided that this will be my last house. Salman ko toh kaafi mushkil bhi hoti hai itni choti space mein rehna (Salman faces some difficulties also living in such a small space)... and I’ve tried to buy a house for him, but he says he won’t go without me. Saare bachhe mere saath rehna chahte hai (all my children want to stay with me).