Though he hates it, Salman Khan never ceases to be in the news. He is a simmering bundle of contradictions. There's the Salman who kept me awake till 3 in the morning, with his rather strange antics when I met him for the first time. Then, there's the other Salman who went down from my hotel room at that unearthly hour to counsel Abhishek Bachchan on matters of the heart. At the end of the conversation, he took off his Rolex wristwatch and gave it to Abhishek as a friendship band.
Extremely generous, Salman turns livid when provoked and pushed into a corner. He once narrated an incident to me - this was when we were on speaking terms - where at a crowded restaurant some guys began heckling him by calling him unflattering names. Salman tried to ignore them as long as he could. Then he blew up.
That's exactly what Salman is expected to do. Most of the time he doesn't disappoint his fans. I remember, once I was at a restaurant with Salman (the same one where he had been heckled), when suddenly he began banging on the toilet door. Everyone in the restaurant just stopped eating/drinking/dancing and stared to see the inevitable fight.
Fortunately, Zayed Khan emerged from behind the door. When he saw who was creating the a ruckus he embraced Salman like a long-lost buddy.
Salman is essentially a child who needs to be noticed constantly. All the time, he unconsciously ends up doing things that attract attention. Most of the time, he doesn't realize where his attention-seeking takes him. It could be to Aishwarya Rai 's doorstep, where at the time of their friendship, he pounded his hands to a bloody pulp on her door when she refused to let him in.
Or, it could be from the back seat of Kareena Kapoor's car to the front seat. There he was in the backseat with my friends Sanjay Leela Bhansali and Kareena, while I seethed in the front seat next to the driver, driven to despair by his antics. I was trying to ignore him. Salman couldn't take that. To my horror, he jumped from the back to the front seat straight into my lap as a bad cover version of Neele neele ambar pe played on the car's stereo deck. Just because Salman loved the song, we had to hear it over and over again.
Salman has to get what he wants, go where he wants, even if a 'No Entry' board stares him frostily in his chiselled face. He'll ignore every warning sign and head first for the place he's most unwanted.
More than a film actor, Salman sees himself as a rock star. He loves to be on stage while thousands of fans cheer from the audience. During that moment his most intimate, infantile fantasy - of the child who climbs the parapet to get Mom to come running - is fully realized.
At home, he's a wonderful son, not just to his biological mother but also to 'Helen Aunty', the woman whom his father married. The Khans run a very liberal household. Islam, Hinduism and Christianity have a free passage. It's a large open house where unexpected guests are always expected… and welcome.
Unlike the two other Khan superstars, who haven't known proper parental guidance (Shah Rukh lost both his parents at a young age, and Aamir couldn't see eye-to-eye with his father), Salman's familial background is as normal as it gets. Contradictorily, the rebellious streak shows up in his behaviour all the time.
Whether on screen or off it, Salman opts for the maximum-attention mode of functioning. If he's known to get physically aggressive with his directors (David Dhawan, Satish Kaushik and Puneet Isaar will, ouch… sorry, vouch for this), he's also known to go out of his way to accommodate filmmakers.
Shah Rukh Khan was supposed to play Mr Bachchan's son in Ravi Chopra's Baghban. When he backed out because of his back problem, Salman sportingly stepped in.
Mr Bachchan is full of praise for Salman. "Salman is God's child. Very misunderstood, but has a heart of gold. Like Sanju (Sanjay Dutt), Salman has a penchant for getting into trouble. But he means well, and is extremely kind-hearted."
Revathi, in whose Phir Milenge Salman played a supporting role to Shilpa Shetty, will also vouch for the kind heart. Salman not only agreed to play a supporting role, but also refused to charge any money from Revathi, who was his co-star in one of his earliest films, Love.
So, will the real Salman Khan please stand up? Is he an enfant terrible, or a restless child with a heart of gold? Salman often says and does things which he doesn't mean. His naked aversion to the press doesn't add to his popularity.
But, ask Salman if he cares. He would rather be a rock star than a rock-steady movie star with 'proper' press and values to match.
"The press didn't make my career. So how can they unmake me?" reasons the focused, totally clued-in, cool and newly power-packed Salman Khan. He's totally into his career right now.
But the question is, can he stay out of crises?
(Subhash K Jha is a film critic and movie expert)
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL.)