Eid release Tubelight
Eid special: Salman Khan in a still from Tubelight

By Asjad Nazir

THE king of the Bollywood box office, Salman Khan has been ruling over Eid for a number of years with a series of box office blockbusters that have delighted fans around the world. He continues the annual tradition of gifting fans a high profile film for Eid with his latest release Tubelight, which presents him in a never before seen way.

The popular actor plays a simple man in the powerful Kabir Khan-directed drama about hope, which is set in the 1962 Sino-Indian war and also stars popular Chinese actress Zhu Zhu. Not surprisingly the Bollywood adaptation of Hollywood film Little Boy is expected to clock up big numbers and add to the incredible run the superstar has been on. Eastern Eye caught up with Salman to talk about his amazing success, Tubelight, his leading lady, taking risks, heroism, late actress Reema Lagoo and more.

Khan plays a simple but very genuine character in Tubelight

You have achieved an incredible amount in cinema, what keeps the passion so strong?

Every time a fan doesn’t like me or somebody says “his previous film was much better”, that gives me the motivation to fight back and when people are praising my work by saying things like “that was a really nice film”, “you looked really good”, “you acted really well” that, again gives me the same amount of motivation to do much better. I use both, the negatives and the positives to give myself the boost and the drive.

In terms of consistency across the last seven years, you are the king of the Bollywood box office. Does that put pressure on you?

Every film does put pressure on you because it’s not only about you its all these hundreds, thousands and millions of fans who go to watch a movie, fans that save their money and expect that particular film to be better than the previous one. They expect to be entertained, have a great time and come out really happy wanting to see the film again. But financially, there are many people who put lots of money into the film so it’s our responsibility that they should not lose any money; if these people are making me money, our motive, principle and goal would be to try and make them as much money as possible.

You have had a high hit rate in recent years, what has been your formula for success?

I don’t think there’s any formula for success. I just believe that I’ve been lucky and that the timing has been really good. The selection of the scripts I have chosen to work on, the directors and the teams have been brilliant and they’ve done all the hard work. Hence, the movies have done well.

The film is full of joyous, celebratory music

What did you like about Tubelight’s concept?

I like the simplicity, the emotion between brothers, the screenplay, story, the characters of Laxman and Bharat Singh Bisht. And since I’ve worked with the director earlier in two films I know his capability of how much more he can enhance the written script.

Tell us about the story and your character.

It’s a very genuine character. He’s simple, not physically and emotionally strong, but he believes in himself and keeps his belief really focused that his brother is going to come back to him one day.

You haven’t played a character like this before, how did you approach creating it?

These characters are really difficult to play. So when you’re doing your first and second film, you can very easily play these characters because you’re vulnerable, shy of the camera and very unsure of yourself, so there’s a lot of innocence and a lot of vulnerability in you. You’re a novice at that point of time so these characters perhaps, would be a lot simpler to play than now since one has played action hero roles, comedy roles. One has done films like Wanted and Dabangg with the larger than life characters, so from there to go down to a really simple, innocent, slow character is the most difficult thing to do. Because today at this given moment, I don’t think like Laxman Singh Bisht at all, my thinking has totally changed. So if something like this had come during Maine Pyar Kiya it would have just been me, but now, this side of me. I had to really dig very deep to bring this person out of me. This person was buried somewhere, deep down and this script has brought him back up.

Fans are used to seeing the heroic tough Salman, did you think it would be a risk?

No. Heroism doesn’t only mean that you’re physically strong and you’re beating up 10 people. Heroism basically means that what you set out to do, you do. And either you could do it emotionally or with strategy or with sheer strength. But here, he’s done it with his heart and I don’t think there’s any emotion that is tougher than the emotion of the heart.

What was the biggest challenge you faced while working on Tubelight?

My first two days were the toughest because when we start a movie, we either begin with a song or some scene in between, so those two days are the most crucial days of your character or where the movie is going to go. If you go wrong in those two days and you don’t understand that you’ve gone wrong then the whole character goes pear shaped. So, there’s a film that I shot where I went wrong in the first three days and then thought “What am I doing?” so we reshot three days of work we had done earlier and I got the character right. For this film, I had read the script and heard it three times over. I know people like my friends who are very simple and nice people. I’ve kept on looking at them and studying them so I knew the first two days were correct. I didn’t know where I was going so I did one take where I enacted the character louder and another take where it was slightly subdued, so when we saw the rushes we realised which of them were the right character to portray.

What is your favourite moment in Tubelight?

There are lots of moments. The screenplay has so many twists and turns, which I can’t share with you right now because if I share them with you now then I’ve opened the screenplay of the movie. But, apart from the script, I think, brothers working together, working with Kabir for the third time and my mother being the producer of this film after Bajrangi Bhaijaan; all of this makes it our duty to give it our best. For Kabir, Sohail (Khan), my mother and me, at this stage do not want our names to go down, so we try our best and work our hardest to see that people like the movie.

What makes your working relationship with Kabir Khan so strong?

After having worked with Kabir in three films we understand each other well. We share a great comfort level. Our understanding of films is very different. His approach is more realistic as he comes from documentary filmmaking. On the other hand, I am into commercial Bollywood. Perhaps that is why when these two meet, a new style is born.

Chinese co-star Zhu Zhu knew the Hindi lines like she would speak Chinese or English

Tell us about your leading lady Zhu Zhu?

It was actually a learning experience. Since she’s Chinese, I wondered whether she spoke in English but because she’s done Marco Polo and lots of stuff in Hollywood, we didn’t have a problem communicating at all because she spoke in a proper American accent. She’s funny, witty, very professional and extremely hard working. She learnt all her Hindi dialogues before she even came down. With Hindi dialogues, she also understood the meaning of every Hindi word because she got them translated into English. So she understands the English lines as well as the Hindi lines. She used to do the English lines in rehearsal and in takes she used to do the Hindi lines. Like this, she understood the meaning of the lines and was not just saying random stuff. If people told her to give a pause here or get a tear in your eye here, she’d know it and do it perfectly. She knew the Hindi lines like she would speak English or Chinese.

What is your favourite song in the film?

Right now it is Radio and Naach Meri Jaan, which are really nice songs. There are another three songs that are going to come up and they’re also phenomenal. The music of this film is really good, emotional, touching, sweet, full of life and joyous, like celebratory music.

Tubelight revolves around the power of believing, have you ever used that in your own life?

All the time. If I don’t believe in something, I don’t even touch it.

How can people get more involved with your Being Human charity?

Now we’re tying up something with Tubelight. Once we tie it up, we’ll let you know what we’re doing because every time I’ve been asked the question “How do we help?” So you’re already helping by asking. My answer to this is: look left, look right and give it to the most deserving person or towards the person’s education or to a hospital where somebody needs healthcare. Education and healthcare are the two top priorities in the world.

What is your greatest unfulfilled ambition?

I have no idea.

Reema Lagoo tragically passed away recently. We will always associate her with you most. What are your fondest memories of her?

I know. That’s really sad. I’ve done more than six films where she’s played my mother so I had a great time with her. On screen she was a mother, but off screen she was like a friend. She had that motherly quality and it’s so sad that I wasn’t here when she passed away. When VK sir, Vinod Khanna, passed away, I wasn’t here and I’ve not met the family yet, but when I come back now I will do that. Everyone was tweeting and posting stuff on Facebook and I just didn’t have the heart to do that.

How will you be celebrating Eid this year?

With my parents!

Why should we see Tubelight?

If you want to go and have fun with your family, if you want to get reunited, if you want to cry a little bit, laugh a lot, feel really good about yourself, see a really cool movie then I think this is the one that you might want to go watch.

Why do you love cinema?

I’ve been born in this film industry. My father tried to be an actor, he did about twenty-four films and it didn’t work. He became a screenplay writer. My eyes have opened in this industry; there’s nothing better that I could do apart from films and I don’t do that well either so I just can’t imagine how bad I’d be at all the other things.

Please give a message for your fans?

Be good. Stay out of trouble.

Tubelight is in cinemas now