Part 3! And I might, finally, be ready to move on to Salman’s own life instead of just establishing his background and childhood. But probably not.
Non-Usual Disclaimer READ IT: Salman has done a lot of bad things, but he has also done good things. And just as the good he has done has not erased the bad he has done, so has the bad not erased the good. I will try to treat his life as a whole, good and bad, with compassion and understanding as I would for any other human.
In 1990, Salim Khan was walking along a footpath and he saw a homeless woman laying down with her baby crying next to her. He stopped and comforted the baby, and tried to help the mother only to discover she was dead. So Salim took the baby home and made her his daughter. Who does that? No really, who DOES that????
Salim’s movies were full of noble people who took in homeless folks, fed the hungry, considered the whole world as family. And it wasn’t just fiction for him, that was how he lived his life. His sons tell a story from when they were young, a young man showed up at their house for dinner so they fed him. And then he had nowhere to stay, so they found a corner in one of their bedrooms for him to sleep. He stayed for over a year. Some time after he left, they realized none of them actually knew him. They all assumed he was a friend of someone else. Not that it mattered, if you appear at the Khan family home, they will feed you, they will shelter you, they will care for you until you can care for yourself.
When Shahrukh Khan first arrived in Bombay, he had a wife and a couple movie contracts, and nothing else. They were living in a borrowed apartment with no furniture, and no friends either. Somehow, Shahrukh met Salman. For a year, he and Gauri spent all their free time at the Khan household, playing board games, eating meals, finding a place that was warm and welcoming and gave them a home when they had none. And then they built up their new home and moved on, but Shahrukh still returns every year for Eid for their special biryani to take home to his family.
I have a book on Salman by an author, Jasim Khan. He wasn’t able to get an interview with Salman, but he made an appointment to meet with his father Salim. It was supposed to be a short interview, Salim was in a hurry to get it over with. But then he learned that Jasim had not had lunch yet. So he served him food, and ate with him until he was full, and a quick interview turned into hours. Because no one can leave the Khan household without eating, and no one can eat alone.
When Salman is shooting, he gives food to the entire cast and crew. Even while shooting something as small as his song appearance in Zero, he took responsibility to ensure that no one went hungry. Any other actor, if the thought had occurred to them, it would mean he pulls out his credit card and foots the bill for take out. For Salman, it means he sends his driver back home to have his mother cook up food for 80. And then serves it himself. For Salman, you must feed those who work for you. And you must feed them with food cooked by your family in the home kitchen. There is no other way to live. That’s what people mean when they talk about his family and their home as the “Khan-daan”, that kind of constant hospitality and giving to others.
I used to think of Salman as generous. But he isn’t, not really. No more than I am hygienic for brushing my teeth every morning, or lazy for using a dishwasher instead of washing by hand. I do what is normal to me because of how I was raised, he does what is normal for him. I suppose he could have rebelled, questioned why his family lived in a small apartment, spent no money on luxuries, had few servants, and instead devoted most of their income to caring for others. But he didn’t rebel, he accepted. This is how their family was, they had enough and so they should share it with others. No excuses, no exceptions.
People say that he cares. But I don’t care. If I can be of some use to somebody, I don’t care about it. It’s no effort. I don’t care. What’s there to care? Isn’t this like a done thing? Everyday thing?
Salman took small pay for his first big break film, Maine Pyar Kiya. But the next film he signed, his rate increased 7 times. For the next 30 years, Salman’s rates have been astronomically high and he has worked constantly. He does not take more than 4 days off in a row. His family (his brothers and sisters and their spouses and children) go on vacations, and he comes for a few days and then leaves again. The needs of his family, and the charity his family provides, is a never ending ever gaping maw of need. When Arpita married in 2014, he rented an entire palace for her marriage at a reported cost of $720,000, and bought her a flat worth 2 million. Meanwhile, Salman himself lives in a one bedroom apartment that could fit within Arpita’s living room, one floor up from the apartment where his parents, two brothers, sister-in-law, and niece and nephew live.
The sad thing is, Salman never got a chance to discover who he would have been if he wasn’t the oldest son, the head of the household, the one who must somehow find the money to support them all. There are stories that, at one time, he wanted to try writing. He has written a few scripts, not very good ones, but no worse than scripts that are purchased every day. And maybe if he was able to sit down and focus instead of trying to write them in between all his other jobs, they would have been a lot better. He also likes to paint. He was able to paint some posters for his movies, and other paintings were auctioned off to raise money.
Salman doesn’t even get to be the actor he could be. While his equals, the other two Khans, have been in 82 and 48 films respectively (yes, I am counting Aamir in Yaadon Ki Baarat as a little boy in this total), Salman has been in 109. When he tries, there are few actors that can equal him for charisma, emotion, and entertainment. But the problem is, he isn’t often allowed to try. If you look at his first two movies, especially his second film Baaghi for which he wrote part of the script, you find a stunningly promising, attractive, energetic, and focused actor. And then that actor was slowly suffocated under the obligations that weighed down the man.
Salman’s acting career helped with his responsibilities at home, but just added on new responsibilities at work. It wasn’t just feeding the cast and crew every day, there were producers, actors, crew members who all had demands on him. Salman appears in many films for money. And he appears in many films for favors owed. When Karan wanted him in KKHH, he was nervous and scared, asked it as a favor, and Salman said “of course, you are my brother”. On the first day of shooting, Salman was slow to leave his trailer and reluctant to wear the chosen costume. Karan went to talk to him and ended up bursting into tears. Salman hugged him apologized, and swore he would do whatever Karan needed for the rest of the shoot. And he did. It was nice for Karan, but it meant that some other producer and director was losing Salman’s dates and energy and focus for those same times, maybe a producer who might have paid him better or helped his career more.
Salman pulled strings and used up favors to get jobs for Govinda, Bobby Deol, Daisy Shah, Sanjay Dutt, and many many others. He did a cameo appearance for Preity Zinta’s first film as a producer. He did a voice role for Varun Dhawan’s first movie directed by his father (because he had watched him grow up on set). Along with his title of “Bhai”, he is also known as the “King of Cameos”. He will show up if you need him for your film, everyone from Sanjay Leela Bhansali to Hema Malini has called on him and found him ready to answer. While Aamir and Shahrukh are sitting at home studying scripts, Salman is trundling from set to set to set trying to fulfill commitments and still make money.
Salman himself in interviews acknowledges that most of the time he doesn’t even read the script. He shows up, asks for the situation and his lines, goes on camera and delivers the shot. That’s it. It sounds lazy but, from another direction, it is in fact because he is working so very very hard. Salman always shows up late on set, sometimes days late. He is slow to leave his trailer. He barely seems awake through some of his performances. But he never misses a day at the gym, or takes a day off work. He performs live for money and, even more often, for charity. Is it possible he seems barely awake because he is in fact severely sleep deprived?
So long as I am talking about the pace and price of Salman’s life, it is also a good time to discuss his medical issues. In 2001, Salman first talked about having a nerve disorder. In later interviews, he claimed it was later, in 2007, that he realized what the problem was, Trigeminal Neuralgia. But he didn’t bother going to a doctor, he knew what it was, he would get it treated when he had time.
TN is a nerve disorder that, at random intervals, causes your facial nerves to react as though you had just been punched in the face. Some research shows that Trigeminal pain can be worse than the pain of amputation or childbirth. Incidents can happen every few days, weeks, or hours. When the disease was first discovered and diagnosed, it was given the name “the suicide disease” because one in 4 sufferers killed themselves to escape.
Salman’s Trigeminal neuralgia is probably triggered by the aneurysm at the base of his skull. He suffered for 10 years at least (2001 to 2011) before finally taking time out from work to get surgery in America. They were unable to safely remove the aneurysm, although the surgery did appear to have lessened his TN symptoms somewhat, he could still die essentially at any moment if his aneurysm bursts. Salman since at least 2011 does not drink, does not smoke, does not indulge in any way. And we know that, because he is not dead.
Speaking of drinking, Salman drank a lot for a long time. When he was young, he was known as a bit of a health nut, always in the gym and eating healthy and so on. He got famous and got cool friends and started staying out late and drinking and smoking and so on. That’s on him, he made those choices. But I also don’t think we can ignore the fact of his TN and that many TN sufferers self-medicate with alcohol. It’s effective, some of the legitimate treatments include using alcohol as a mix with other medications.
Here’s another interesting factor of the TN. Some sufferers of nerve disorders find clothing itself can trigger attacks. It’s less common for TN sufferers, but it’s still something to think about when Salman talks about only being comfortable when he is wearing as little clothing as possible. Kind of a curious thought experiment, to consider that the whole “shirtless” trend could have been started out of medical necessity.
Drinking can also cause nerve damage. But in this case, it seems to be unrelated. Drinking damages the nerves of the arms and legs, not the face. And it does not cause brain aneurysms, which Salman certainly has and which lead to his TN. Those are caused by nothing, they just happen.
For anyone else, having TN would be the headline of your life, the most important part of your life (until you end it). But Salman is a Khan, he is the head of his family, he can’t afford to be sick. He only rarely discusses his disease, he tends to minimize it (claiming it started in 2007 instead of 2001, that his treatment is fine and he is handling it when in fact there is no real cure, almost never mentioning the aneurysm, and so on). And so this is his statement on TN:
That’s one disease that basically has the highest rates of suicides. Over education, over everything. There is so much of pain…I suffered that…So at that point of time, I realized that I need to work really hard. No matter how much pain you are going through, it made me realise that you can’t put any subtitles – your ligament is torn, you have the flu or that your knee is hurting – in any of your scenes. Your fans don’t care about it and that you really need to give your best on screen. Once it’s printed, it’s lifelong.
And this is his statement on his aneurysm and where it came from:
Many people live with it. Aneurysms of about 8.5(mm)—a friend of mine also has one of 8.5; he is getting it operated. But in my case, it’s in an inoperable area—it’s in my brain. It’s complicated. It’s fine. It’s not changed me. Just I get scared when I get angry.
Do you still get angry?
Yes. (laughs) Do you not see that? Anger doesn’t mean like picking up a bottle and smashing somebody over the head with it. That anger is equated with a big-shot temper or having BP issues or whatever that you lose it so fast. Anger is something that you feel “this is not right”. You want to do something about it and you are trying your best and you just can’t do anything about it. That. That is the main anger. You want to turn it right.