One afternoon in 1989, I stepped out in Patna after watching Maine Pyar Kiya. Aamir Khan's film Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak had released the year before. Watching that movie was an impromptu decision as well. In two years, I found two heroes - Aamir Khan and you. Your films became a part of my life. In 1991, when Saajan released, I had moved to Delhi. At that time, you appeared like a novice. You hesitated to speak, but when you were unable to talk, your body spoke with an articulate language. An intense look trumped the inability to speak and would take cinema-goers along. You looked honest, and spoke with calmness.
In 1994, your film Hum Aapke Hain Kaun released and I liked it a lot. It was similar to Maine Pyaar Kiya. Baghban was also from this genre of family-oriented Hindi cinema. But later, I read criticism of Baghban and these other films, and felt they entertain, but don't leave a lasting impact, and we as cinema-goers sometimes naively are so moved by emotion that we lose objectivity. But that ability to connect at such an emotional and immediate level meant you started becoming my hero. After Govinda, if any other actor had a mass following, it was you.
I've seen many of your films. I like the on-screen Salman. He's a little naughty but marches to his own drum, be it Karan Arjun or Andaaz Apna Apna- sometimes a rebel, sometimes a clown, sometimes a rookie, sometimes a con. In Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, when Aishwarya hit you with a lemon, you dramatised the moment as if you had been hit with a stone. It stuck out. Your films didn't make an impact on me, but you always did.
Gradually, I started watching your films to decipher the reasons for the 100-crore business they were doing. To match this success, everyone has started doing average films. When Aamir Khan made Ghajini to match Wanted, I couldn't bear it. When Shah Rukh Khan made Chennai Express and Happy New Year, it seemed like everyone was trying to be "Box Office Hero Salman Khan". By the time Dabangg hit the screens, you had become so popular that a theatre-owner said that people start enquiring about Salman Bhai's movies weeks before their release dates. You are the No 1 hero of the front stalls. You are the hero who reaches the mind through the heart.
Salman Bhai, today you have been convicted. We are punished for every big and small mistake that we make. Sometimes from within, sometimes from outside. I want the iconic actor Salman to make amends like a true hero. Spare a thought for the family and the person who was crushed under your expensive car. Punishment is not what the court gives. The court does so to maintain law and order in society. The real punishment is what one goes through himself.
You have the option to appeal in a higher court, and you must make use of it, but do it only if you think you are innocent. Arguments in court don't mitigate your mistake. Listen to your inner voice. If you come back with an honest heart, you'll find me waiting for the new Salman at the ticket counter, just as I stood in queue in 1989.
(Ravish Kumar is Senior Executive Editor, NDTV India)
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