Whatever his faults, Salman Khan has never lacked charm. As he works the crowd at Mumbai's Taj Lands End, speaking softly and beaming widely, he almost succeeds in making you forget that he is, in fact, promoting his new reality show, 10 Ka Dum on Sony. The earthy charm is a quintessential part of Khan's personality, as deeply ingrained as his occasional violent outbursts.
Khan has never made an attempt to change his ways for the sake of appearances. Through all his turbulent times, he has succeeded in retaining a loyal — and large — fan following. It is an appeal that Sony, on which 10 Ka Dum airs from June 6, obviously hopes to cash in on.
When he talks, he does so with disarming frankness. "On television, I'll do pretty much what I do in films: acting," he smiles. But his frankness is tempered with diplomacy these days, because as soon as I ask him if the show is intended to change his public image he becomes cagey.
"I am a very cautious man now. Whenever I have said something in the past, it was lost in translation. So I want people to ask me straight questions and I answer them straight," he says.
Among the 'straight' answers is the admission that he is perturbed by things written against him. "It never bothered me earlier but it does now. Fans send me aggressive mails asking me things like, 'Why did you do this?', 'What actually happened?,' and that disturbs me," he says.
He is palpably – and to all appearances sincerely – excited about his show and thinks describing him as a quizmaster is a good joke. "Quizmaster?" he asks. "I liked the format. It is simple. It embarrasses neither the contestant nor me. And the show has got the perfect host and quizmaster. No one could have done it better," he chuckles.
Admittedly, the show will add to his workload, but Khan is unfazed. "I like pressure. And I have got such love from the contestants on the show that it doesn't seem like work," he says. His confidence in the show's success is firm. "My fans love me. They have turned so many of my bad films to hits. They will turn this one into a hit, too," he says.
So he has no worries of 10 Ka Dum flopping a la Shah Rukh Khan's Kya Aap Paanchvi Paas Se Tez Hain? Did SRK give him tips on hosting a game show? The question throws Khan for a second. Then he asks, "Why would he give me tips and why would I take them?"
So SRK is no threat as anchor. Is Amitabh Bachchan? "Why should anyone compare me with Mr Bachchan? It's unfair. He did films like Sholay and Deewaar and you ask about competition?"