As much as Salman Khan is known for his stardom and his box-office successes, he’s also known to be a man who provides grand launchpads for his friends (within the film frat and outside of it). For these newcomers, being launched by bhai is a privilege, but it comes with its own set of pressures, too. In a chat with BT, Salman, one of the producers of the upcoming film Notebook, talks about Bollywood’s fresh breed of talent, the challenges they face and how he, as an actor, has reached a stage where he wants to work without a break. Excerpts:
In just a few days, two newcomers Zaheer Iqbal and Pranutan Bahl , backed by you, will make their debut at the movie marquee.
(Cuts in...) Yes, and I will continue to back more kids for as long as I can. Why? Because I was also launched at some point and I think the industry can do with some more fresh talent.
The difference that is evident between you and other producers is that you largely make a sustained effort to make room for children of actors and filmmakers (mostly)... something other producers would not take chances with?I have seen a lot in my own life. So given my experience, I feel that if a boy or girl can make my head turn, he/she should be launched. That’s the first thing I go by, it is then followed by training which takes a lot of time and effort. Sooraj Pancholi had toiled for five years — he assisted on a few films and groomed himself in every department before we cast him in Hero. Similarly, Aayush (Sharma) worked very hard before we decided to launch him. (Smiling) Actually, Aayush ke saath ek aur chakkar hai. There was a romantic film that had come my way. I thought I had gone past that phase in life when I could do something like that on screen, so Sohail told me about a guy he had seen at the gym, who he felt was perfect for it. Two months later, Arpita brought a guy home and introduced him to us, saying she wants to marry him. He was not coming to the gym for some time, now I know why. Eventually, Aayush also assisted on Bajrangi Bhaijaan, Tubelight and Sultan — he travelled with me extensively. People liked his dancing skills in LoveYatri, but when we saw him dancing for the first time, we all were all like ‘Dance classes please…’ He practised dance, action and acting for hours every day. He worked out rigorously and his dedication was evident in the film. Likewise, Zaheer was also an assistant on Jai Ho, where he did everything — from giving claps before the scene to rehearsing with actors and running other errands. He also worked on his body and craft simultaneously.
When did you first spot Zaheer’s talent?His father is a dear friend. I first saw Zaheer at his sister Sanam’s wedding. When Sajid Nadiadwala and I went for the sangeet, his father flagged off the ceremony after we reached the venue. I saw a beautiful dance performance and a video clip, where Zaheer and his cousin put up a play about his sister and brother-in-law. We were watching that, when I just turned towards Sajid and he said, ‘Haan mujhe bhi aisa hi lagta hai’. Almost as if he could read my mind. I thought he was a fine talent and we could give him a chance. I did ask his father if he had purposely insisted on starting the sangeet only after we reach the venue (laughs!) The boy has been with me for five years now and he has blossomed. Sooraj, Aayush and Zaheer chill together at Galaxy. They are always together and stand by each other at all times. They’re happy for one another — no khunnas, no jealousy. I wish it stays that way.
While appreciation for Aayush validates your decision to launch him, people often question your choices in launching your friends’ kids. What’s your take on that?It felt great that Aayush was accepted, although the film didn’t do as well as we would have liked it to. The thing is, these are the boys I see and meet. They work really hard to get a nod from me. They work on presenting themselves well and everything that goes with it, because it matters. And mind you, I have many friends, but that doesn’t mean I am launching everyone’s kids (smiles!). Shera’s (his bodyguard) son Tiger is being groomed right now and he’s already being considered by so many producers and directors. Shera feels I will
be the best judge of a script for his son, so I am now sifting through scripts. I am yet to find something worthy.
There was news about you launching Rinzing Denzongpa (Danny Denzonpgpa's son) and Ashwami Manjrekar (Mahesh Manjrekar’s daughter), but not many knew you were planning to launch Mohnish Behl’s daughter Pranutan with Notebook, too... The thing is, I had seen her audition —I think she had done something with Mukesh Chhabra (casting director). I called Mone (Mohnish Behl) and he confirmed that she had auditioned. We didn’t let her audition for LoveYatri as Warina Hussain had already auditioned for it and was perfect for the part. It wouldn’t have been fair on my part to replace her. When Notebook came on to the table, these guys offered the film to several girls until they saw Pranutan’s auditions. I called Mone and told him that it’s a clean film and a good story. I also told him that Pranutan will have to audition for the part. She won’t get it because she is my friend’s daughter. Mohnish agreed that she should get work on her own steam. On the audition day, I got a call — this time to see if she has liked the script and if she would like to do it. I ensured Mohnish got a narration, too. Pranutan and he liked the story and things got going. So, it’s all on merit, entirely. I can’t have people work in a film just like that, because films cost a lot of money. Just because apna brother-in-law hai toh uske saath kar lenge…aisa nahi hota. Atul Agnihotri is also my brother-in-law, but I can’t make him a hero now. He’s made a fantastic film called Bharat. He’s proven his mettle as a producer in the past. I want him to continue doing that.
Today, do you feel paternal towards the new talent that you launch?Paternal? They call me bhai, so no, they don’t let me feel that way. But I keep telling them that as much as possible, I don’t want to see their faces in my house. I tell them that when I call you to chill at home or for a party, you should be ready with replies like, ‘Bhai I am busy shooting or I have a show or some other work’. I want them to go ahead with that steam in their lives. Of course, like a bhai, I monitor what they’re doing with their overall grooming, but I also make sure they work on their own. Boys like Varun Dhawan and Tiger Shroff are so good with everything that they just set a very high benchmark for the newer actors. When the new boys see their films, they go like, ‘Yaar, aur mehnat lagegi!’ If they’re not as good, or better than Tiger and Varun, how can I launch them? The confidence to surge ahead comes with time, but they also have to work hard to get to the starting point. Maintaining what you achieve is also very tough, which they need to learn.
Sooraj took very long to find his second project, Satellite Shankar. He once told BT that he consults you on every script…Cuts in... That’s true. Just the other day, he came to me with an outstanding subject for his next film. He’s a sweet fellow, who has gone through so much in the initial years of his career. He’s danced like a dream in Time To Dance with Isabelle Kaif (Katrina Kaif’s sister). I’ve also seen Satellite Shankar; he’s good. These kids do make me feel proud. When people on the social media pull them down and apart, I feel like telling them that when one man works in a film, he ensures that so many others in the chain get their daily bread and butter. No one seems to understand that.
That’s been your mantra for years now. You don’t seem to take breaks between films and move on quickly from one film to another...I never take a holiday, except that 10-day break in December. I don’t like taking a single day off, and I don’t. So many people find a chance to earn their living when I work. The other day, I was remembering my days when I had just made my debut in Maine Pyar Kiya (1989). There was a time when I just wanted to work. And now, when I am in that position, I don’t see the need to go off on holidays and say that I need breaks. Bakwaas…aise thode hi hota hai. I like working and that is why I keep working throughout. If that pain we go through doesn’t come across on screen, it’s not worth it. People always appreciate the effort you put in to give them that two hours of pleasure. If you get complacent, like I did once, films don’t do well. After that, I decided to do action films because that’s the cinema I grew up with. God was kind and those films worked. When it’s tough for most films to cross `100 crore, my biggest disaster came at `150 crore at the box-office.
Which newcomer is next on your launch list?While I’m still figuring what happens with Shera ka beta, Tiger, I actually want all these boys to work together in a super dhamaal film, the kind that I have done in my past.