This year’s National Awards jury sprung a surprise by giving the nod to Dabangg for Wholesome Entertainment. I wasn’t surprised though. I’ve seen highbrow colleagues freaking out over his corny glares with blingy hearts blinking in them. And yuppies who have grown up on a Hollywood diet, hooking their thumbs in their belts and grooving to Hud hud dabbang, dabbang, dabangg, dabangg....
My boxer friend, Akhil Kumar, picked this charttopper to make his Jhalak Dikhlajaa debut on telly. My hubby didn’t go ballistic when our 12-year-old daughter loaded Munni badnaam hui... on his cell phone, along with pictures of ‘cute’ strays.
I’m delighted that after delivering three of the biggest ever box-office grossers—Maine Pyar Kiya, Hum Aapke Hain Koun! and Wanted— a Salman Khan blockbuster will finally get recognition in the hallowed corridors of Rashtrapati Bhavan. Way to go Sallu!
The National Award doesn’t surprise me but Salman always does. The first time we met he was an aspiring actor with a shy smile and large, expressive eyess. Down the years that smile has sometimes turned into a scowl and the eyes have shot sparks at me. But somehow, I’ve never been intimidated by this Bollywood brat’s bad guy act. Maybe because I know that deep down, where it matters, Salman is a nice guy!
A couple of weeks ago, I left the air-conditioned comfort of my office and drove through the blistering heat to Whistling Woods Academy for a promised interview with Salman. An hour-and-a half ticked by… Salman didn’t put in an appearance. But others members from the fraternity did. As their numbers swelled, I despaired of every getting my one-on-one.
His publicist was reassuring... Salman was in the vicinity and would be there soon. He was just working out in the gym and then in the auditorium with some special kids. Towards the end of the latter session, we were invited to the auditorium for a dekko but strictly no photographs on the cell.
It was a heartwarming sight. Salman was singing and dancing, laughing and joking with the little kids, looking like the fave uncle-next-door in trousers and a summery blue shirt. As he posed for pictures with his knee-high fans, one of them tried to pull off his shirt and another tugged at its collar. The smile didn’t slip, if anything it grew brighter as one of the little boys shrugged out of his own T-shirt and flexed his muscles.
Cries of “Rishi, put that Tere back on” rang out around the room. Rishi turned a deaf ear to them. Finally, one of the teachers threw the garment at him. Salman fielded it smartly and fisted it, nodding approvingly at the bare-chested boy.
The cries got louder as the two engaged in an animated conversation even as the cameras clicked merrily. Finally, Salman relented and handed Rishi his Tee. The lil’ boy pulled it on, and the teachers breathed a sigh of relief.
Minutes later, I was seated across him, ready to pose my first question: What were Rishi and he talking about? Salman cracked a smile, “I’ve known him for a while. He was telling me that his body is better than mine.” As an image of the cuddly boy flashed through my mind, I smiled back.
Two questions later a little girl who wanted to dance to a tune from Ready interrupted our tête-à-tête. Salman promised her a dance when he came over to the school in a couple of days. But the lady was in no hurry to leave.
She took the chair next to him, slipped her little hand into his, and with a solemn stare signaled me to continue with my chat. Her mother wandered off to find their car and chauffer and I carried on with my interview. After I wrapped it up, I invited her to come along with me, we could go find her mommy together. She pretended she didn’t hear me. Salman waved me off with a smile, telling me she was fine with him.
As I wandered towards my journo friends they enquired about his mood. “Mellow,” I shot back. “He’s with a special lady.” As I strolled towards my car, a trio of youngsters who had seen me sitting with him stopped me, wondering if I could get them two minutes with Salman. “Why? You want to cook Maggie for him?” I wisecracked. “No, we just want an autograph,” retorted the students of the acting academy.
The next journo in queue had already taken his seat. I suggested to them that they wait for an opening and approach him directly. “He’s a star!” they demurred. “No, he’s a nice guy,” I shot back and gave them the Ready gesture. Yo!