Understanding The Psyche Of Salman Khan
On 31st March 2003, an actor who had just started out as one of the most promising talents to come out on Bollywood silver screen called for a press conference. The intent of the press conference was to urge the press and indirectly the police officials, to protect him from the threats he was receiving from Salman Khan. You see this actor, who had already won a Filmfare Award, for his debut, and was touted to be the next big star, had recently gotten into an unconfirmed relationship with someone Salman was attached to dearly. Salman Khan was at his lowest hour when the woman chose this budding actor over him. This caused a reactionary chain within the superstar, who held no qualms in expressing his anger and frustration over the actor.
You see, the woman he adored and fell in love with, was now dating someone else, just because the superstar was wading through a lean patch of films. Add to that, Salman Khan was embroiled in the now infamous ‘Hit and Run’ case, which threatened to shut him out of the industry forever. He was losing his ground very rapidly. People started dissociating with him, fans shied away from his movies which in turn became lacklustre affairs, to say the least. At this lowest point, Salman suffered a breakup, as a result of a newbie in the industry.
What would you do if you were Salman Khan at that point? Remember this question, because this is the precise base of this analysis. This simple sentence will perhaps decode everything we know about the phenomenal success that the ‘Tiger’ has been meeting, over the past decade or so. Critics and Filmmakers often go on to say that Salman Khan movies don’t deserve the kind of commercial success that they meet with. We in this article try to prove a point that they actually do. Not because as movies they are masterful pieces of art, but because they resonate with the man, carrying them as a burden. A flawed Superstar called Sallu bhai with his well-wishers.
Coming back to the case, So the newcomer called a press conference, and publicly accused Salman Khan of threatening him with hundreds of calls and emails. He went on to say that Salman be jailed based on the evidence, that was already submitted to the Police department. Now, many analysts claim that this brazen act of proverbially ‘poking the sleeping Tiger’ was instigated by the lady love of both the men. (Ah, alas the age-old proclamation of a woman’s involvement in a man’s dismay surfaces again. This we shall analyze in a separate article). Whatever the reason or the cause was, the newcomer had already spoken out against Salman Khan (the recordings of which can still be found on YouTube if one were to look with a curious eye).
The proofs were there, the jury was pending, movies went to drains, what was the ideal prediction for Salman Khan, as for his future in Bollywood? A lifetime ban? An impending ostracization from anything related to movies? A polite handshake off the projects? Well, that’s what the trade pundits predicted as the future of the ethereal ‘Prem’.
But lo and behold! The press conference which was supposed to crucify him became an elixir of life. Inadvertently, people, more so fans, and industry big guns rallied behind Salman Khan, with a deft logic which went to become the superstar’s mantra for monumental success going forward. The logic was – He did what anyone would do!
With his flaws, Salman Khan became a hero. In a strange semblance of irony, by not being a Superstar anymore, Salman became the ultimate superstar, one who could shatter all box office records within a few hours of a new movie’s release. Personally, I think this press conference, was the time everything changed, granting a new lease of life to the fading star, to recoup and reestablish his career. And what a career it continues to be? Agreed, there was an odd misfire here and there, but one would only be a fool, if one doesn’t applaud the incredible business Salman Khan manages to do, time and again.
The Flaws And Sucess Ratio – Salman’s Version Of Humanity
On the onset, let us be utterly clear about something. Flaws do not create success automatically. Neither is this article advocating anyone to be flawed in what they do or in how they live. We are, within this discussion trying to understand as to how sometimes, one of the biggest weakness of a personality, makes the person that much more endearing. It’s a strange conundrum, and yet entirely justifiable.
Renowned screenwriter and film philosopher, John Truby in one of his sessions about character building talks about this ‘flaw packaging’. He says.,
“When you are building a character, you cannot possibly deny them of any weakness. The plotline elements, after all work, when you see the lead character fight with his own conflicts and overcome them. If you have a shining and speckle-free hero, what exactly does he fight for? There has to be a limitation, a reducing factor, within the hero, to make him that much relatable to a common man. Likability, therefore, becomes a comprehensive packaging of both, empathy that the audience has with the character, and the relatability that they feel exists with their hero…”
Now, why am I discussing a screenwriting technique while I am, in fact, analyzing the success of Salman Khan? The essence of the above excerpt is essential in understanding Salman Khan, not just as a superstar, but as a human. ‘Being human’ Salman represents every one of us. With his angry outbursts, emotionally driven decisions, with his sins and scares, with his kindness and generosity, and with his simple heart, Salman Khan is eventually more ‘relatable’ than any other star.
If not for the urban niche audience, who find entertainment in the so-called classy films, then for the minorities and a rural populace which craves for the masala entertainers. You see, they are not truly concerned about any coming of age story, or courtroom drama, or political satires, or family troubles. The audience is very clear about what they want. They want someone to represent them and at the same time add an element of fancy and myth that they could’ve done perhaps if given the resources. Salman Khan fits the bill perfectly.
He has sinned, a number of times. Let there be no doubt about it. In repenting his guilt, although not expressly, he has also taken up generous initiatives which help the poor and the downtrodden. You see, more the guilt, more the generosity. He, therefore becomes a perfect example of a Hero in real life, who has gone down, lost people along the way, been ridiculed by the nation and so on, and yet one who rises above all this to establish his own mark. This is where the questions we need to ask ourselves comes forth.
“What would you do if your girlfriend leaves you for a younger prospect when you start having flops one after the other?”
Drunk call the new guy? Threaten him? Or much rather round him up and beat him up. And we are talking about a woman who is perhaps the most beautiful Indian ever to live. How would you deal with that? Again, I am not justifying Salman Khan’s stance. Nor am I taking sides with the aggrieved. Afterall, everyone has his decision to take. Would it be entirely preposterous to say that we would have reacted in a similar way as Salman did? This simple thought, made people rally behind him. Men, who ‘knew’ how it felt, made Salman their hero.
Salman Khan, instead of losing his fan base, further solidified it with his rash decisions. Now to prove John Truby’s analysis of a great hero definition here, Salman becomes a person outside the films, who has sinned, who has apparent flaws, and for the people who are watching him, is in the process of overcoming them. They now root for Salman Khan every time he comes up with something new. They want him to win. They empathize with his weaknesses and understand his existence. They see themselves in him, albeit with resources that they cannot have, and things they cannot do. A common man’s superhero. As he says – “Dil me aata hoon, Samajh me nahin”.
He adheres to this philosophy by Thomas Aquinas – “People always follow a leader or a messiah, who speaks their language, tastes their food, and cries over all their sins, including his”.
Representational Ideology – Salman Mubarak
What happens when you appeal to everyone? What happens when you prepare a dish and hope everyone likes it? And coming to cinema, what happens when you start making movies which everyone would have to enjoy when it releases? Is it truly possible to do so? Any self-reflecting screenwriter, filmmaker, or anyone with the slightest of logic, will tell you that you can’t satiate every person. It just isn’t possible. And there has never been or will be a script or movie which is universally lauded, irrespective of caste, creed, economic status, creative awareness, taste and ethnicity. It just isn’t possible. Now, why am I speaking of this logic which perhaps everyone knows? Well, it’s simple. Salman Khan the superstar of Indian cinema, is a huge believer in playing to his strengths. He knows which section of the society is his audience. There exists no air or pretence in accepting his limitation or classification.
What does Salman Khan do differently that no other superstars don’t? He represents. Simple as that. Again as a call back to relatability that the audience, his audience, feels towards him, stems from the fact that he actually represents himself. While his flaws made him relatable and mortal, his conscious decisions to appeal to a particular set of an audience makes him highly successful in the business of Bollywood filmmaking.
To further analyze this point, let me point towards something sensitive and yet logical. Salman Khan represents his religion and community, Indian Muslims, in its all glory and fervour. He portrays characters which resonate with the culture and idealism of the religion, constructs his stories around their issues, has no qualms about people calling him Bhai, and well, plans his releases precisely on Eid. Am I saying that he doesn’t represent any other communities? Am I saying that his idealism is not based on secularism? Absolutely and unequivocally, No. In representing a particular community, he is, in fact, representing a nation. He doesn’t shy away from his belonging, and in turn, propagates the idea that we should build a society along a harmonious coexistence. Isn’t that the whole idea of secularism? To love one’s own community and yet extend equal respect and pride in other communities as well. Salman Khan, my dear friends, is the epitome of this idealism.
One would raise a question here. Does Salman Khan build this collective idealism voluntarily? The answer to that, only the superstar knows. What we can say with better conformity is that it is working incredibly well. His own community loves him to the moon and back. And because we as Indians revel in celebrating the success of each other’s communities, celebrate Salman as well. A comprehensive victory for the ‘Tiger’ is established. Where on one side, Actors and Actresses fail to identify with any group of thought, here is a man, not just identifying but exalting its essence. Salman Khan thus again becomes a mortal who everyone can identify with.
Generosity Genesis – The After-Effects Of Sins
A study of Salman Khan wouldn’t be complete without mentioning his now famous streak of generosity and kindness. To most of the newcomers, here is someone who could help them, not because he owes them anything, but because that’s how he is. An unpretentious and emotional person, who heartfully cries, and falls down on the floor laughing, will help you out should you ask him for it and so on.
Most readers would argue at this point, that if Salman Khan is such a kind human, remorseful for what he did, and one who knows and identifies his flaws, wouldn’t he be a greater human ‘being’ if he took responsibility for the mistakes he did? The logic is simple here and relevant to the discussion we had till now. Do we accept our mistakes at all? Ever? We aren’t that idealistic. We don’t do it. Salman Khan doesn’t do it. And hence we connect with him better than anyone else. There’s no pseudo-intelligence, there’s no quicksilver wit, there’s no academic prowess, there’s no international vibe, there’s just a simple man with a simple heart, who is as human as anyone can be.
Now, since we’ve understood what Salman Khan stands for and why people just love him, let’s sum up the Anatomy, in five essential sutras which we think would help any actor/actress/screenwriter/movie maker or anyone related to the show business.
1. Don’t create or play roles which are defined to be neat and idealistic. We don’t live in such a world. If you want people to connect with your roles, always bring a flaw into them. Have people connect and root for your character, who is on a journey to overcome the flaws.
2. Know your limitations. Everyone’s got some. And accordingly, construct your career. Yes, sometimes some limitations can actually hamper your growth trajectory. But, by limitations, we’d suggest you define what you can and cannot do. And more importantly, which category of people you are appealing to. Once you know that, you know where to draw a line.
3. Never be pretentious. Never be preachy. Don’t take yourself too seriously, because the world isn’t. We all are flawed humans, so don’t project an image that you don’t belong here. Thumb rule of a showman is always this – Audience knows better. They are smarter than you are. Never talk down to them. Be one amongst them.
4. If your work is not being appreciated by the audience, that is not their problem. That is your problem. You have failed, either in defining the correct audience, or your plotline, or your character. Accept that you have failed. With such acceptance comes the feeling of doing better.
5. Always identify with your audience. That is the first rule of any superstar. There has never been a superstar, who cannot connect with his/her audience. It just isn’t possible. There have been terrific actors who win innumerable awards, but being a superstar is something else entirely. An award-winning actor might not necessarily be a star. When you want to define a business, rake in billions of dollars worldwide, provide work for thousands of technicians, being a superstar becomes a responsibility, one which an actor is often obviated with. To carry such a responsibility, one needs to identify it and always be gratuitous about it. The moment you say that you are a superstar because of your talents alone, you are heading to doom.
Thus, ‘being human’ is essential to being a superstar. In totality, and forever. That my friend is my anatomy of being a superstar, of being Salman Khan. A flawed superstar whose films will always be blockbusters, regardless of which he shall always be looked down upon. Ironically even that will make him the closest star we know because we empathise with someone who is always bullied around by hypocrites.
“In flaws remains the beauty” – Leonardo Da Vinci.