Sometimes just one man can change the lives of so many men (and even women). Someone like the living legend Dilip Kumar. I know how a handsome young driller working in a stone quarry somewhere in a place called Phagwara in Punjab walked miles to see a Dilip Kumar film and saw it several times, was inspired and one day just gave up his job, took the first train to Bombay in the hope of becoming another Dilip Kumar. He couldnt become Dilip Kumar, but he certainly became Dharmendra, a star who has been ruling for the last fifty years. I know of another young man called Hari Kishen Goswami, the son of a high school teacher whose only passion in life was to be like Dilip Kumar, he came to Mumbai, changed his name to Manoj Kumar, struggled like very few men have till he made it as an actor and was teamed with the legend in a film called Aadmi and later directed him in Kranti. I know about a certain Subhash Ghai, the son of a grocer in New Delhi who was crazy about Dilip Kumar and joined the FTII to be trained as an actor, couldnt make it big even though he tried but went on to become the greatest showman (only after Raj Kapoor) and directed his idol, Dilip Kumar in two films, Vidhaata and Karma and still hopes to make a film with him. And I know Salim Khan who was a die hard fan of Dilip Kumar who could do anything to see a Dilip Kumar film till he could no longer stop his urge to see his God in person. He started as a small-time hero and was known as Prince Salim (a name he gave himself) and played the hero in films which had no class. He changed direction and played character roles to keep going. He saw no future for himself and joined the Story Department of a well known film maker, G.P.Sippy. He was one of the many writers who was later joined by a frustrated young writer and poet called Javed Akhtar. They faced the same kind of the problems, lived on foot-paths and caves and godowns of studios because they both didnt want to go came back or depend on their families for help. They shared all their ideas while they were free and over glasses of the local hooch or what was called auntys liquor, that is all they could afford. It was during one of their drinking sessions that Salim Khan came up with the idea of their coming together as a team and the result was a team of writers who called themselves Salim-Javed. They went around selling their ideas and finally succeeded in selling the idea of making the one time classic, Ram Aur Shyam in which Salim Khans hero Dilip Kumar played a double role. They changed the idea of the hero playing two roles to a heroine playing the same roles. Hema Malini was the choice to the play both the roles in the film called Seeta Aur Geeta directed by Ramesh Sippy. The film turned out to be a super hit and the team of Salim-Javed was wanted by every big director making films at that time. The two men who had come up the hard way were in no hurry to make it big and finally when they really made it they made history. They were the writers of big films like Zanjeer which shot an unknown actor called Amitabh Bachchan to instant stardom, Sholay which created history and films like Deewaar, Kala Patthar and Trishul, all directed by Yash Chopra and other films. It was Salim Khans idea to make the writers of Hindi films who were till then treated like clerks and munshis and paid less than even the assistants were paid to get their deserved place and Salim Khan succeeded and what a way he succeeded. Salim-Javed was the highest paid and most respected writers of the industry ever. They were paid in lakhs. They travelled in the most expensive cars and had huge apartments and bungalows and were the envy of some of the biggest and most popular stars. It was Salim again who helped in giving the writers of Hindi films a place which those who were really worth their rightful place and due. It was a fact accepted by Javed and gradually by the whole industry.
The team which started with Seeta Aur Geeta kept growing from success to more success for more than fifteen years. A time came when they had to write what they themselves considered their most ambitious film, Shakti. It was more important for Salim Khan because the film had the man who drove him to where he had reached, Dilip Kumar and the man who they both (Salim-Javed) turned into a super star, Amitabh Bachchan cast as father and son. It was during the writing of Shakti that very reliable sources said that the two great men who had created history had major differences of opinion. Their clashes of ego and other clashes finally lead to something that took the entire industry by shock. The men who had made history, made history again when they decided to split as a team and go their own ways…
Javed Akhtar started as a poet and was the writer of successful films like Mr. India, Mashaal and Meri Jung and the song writer of almost all the major films made by the best known directors. Salim Khan could not make it the same way and was not as successful. The only time he struck it big was when he wrote Naam for the jubilee star”, Rajendra Kumar with his own son Kumar Gaurav and Sanjay Dutt. The film directed by Mahesh Bhatt was both a critically acclaimed film and also a film which did very well at the box- office. He also wrote the script for a film called Angaarey which was a major disaster, and Falak the other film he wrote was a bigger disaster than the first. His work after the great split raised many questions. People started believing in what was only talked about when the team was at its peak. They said Javed was the real writer and Salim the spokesman and the businessman of the team. It was talk like this that hurt the sensitive Salim Khan and he took the painful decision never to write a script again. He has stuck to his decision and now lives a retired life watching the grand success of his eldest son, Salman and his other sons, Sohail, Arbaaz and his son-in-law the one -time actor turned director, Atul Agnihotri. Other wise, he is spending his time at his farm house in Panvel and used to spend the best of his time with his idol, Dilip Kumar the man without whom he said the script of his life would never be the same . He feels miserable now that he cannot even meet his idol because he cannot bear to see the condition in which he is and the fact that his idol cannot even recognise him“kills me”he says.He also writes articles for a Hindi daily and is the consultant to makers who feel they need his advice and above all he is in charge of the Salman Khan Welfare Trust and the“Being Human”mission.
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He called himself Prince Salim because some of his friends told him he looked like a Prince. His handsome looks, his fair complexion and blue-grey eyes marked him out not only from all the other strugglers and some even felt he was better hero material than the ruling stars of the time like Dharmendra, Jeetendra and Rajesh Khanna. He always wore the best of the clothes which he had bought as security when he had enough money which he brought with him when he came to Bombay. He followed the advice of his admirers who asked him to wear good clothes and shoes, comb his hair well and walk with confidence. They said it would help him to get entry into any studio and make the watch men salute him. He did what he was told and gained entry everywhere, even into Dilip Kumars bungalow in Pali Hill (now demolished) and even shook hands with the legend who he always called the Khudah of Adaakari(God of acting). He can never forget the feel of the warmth of Yusuf Sahabs hand. At some of the Eid celebrations at the legends bungalow he stayed on for the sumptuous lunch served for one and all. This became a ritual for him when he was an unknown struggler and is a ritual even now
He was known as a hero of C grade films and soon did not find work even in those films. The last time he was seen as an actor was in bit role in Teesri Manzil directed by Vijay Anand but he never gave up his style of dressing and his sense of sheer confidence.
He used to scribble ideas that came to his mind when he was a struggler and kept them safe. He brought them into the open only when he met Javed Akhtar at Sippy Films where both of them started their careers at a salary of Rupees 150 only.
Their drinking habits which started with cheap liquor served at dark and dingy places and later at all the best hotels in Juhu often landed them in trouble. They were beaten up several times for their foul language and misbehavior. Salim was the man who started demanding ten lakhs for a script written by them. He was also responsible for getting the writer his share of credit. There is a story about the hoarding of a film which did not carry their names. He made all the attempts to win that hoarding and add their names before the hoarding was put up again. A time came when Salim made his producers(and even inspired some of them) to put up hoardings of films which only had the name of the film below which were words in bold letters which read, A FILM WRITTEN BY SALIM-JAVED OR A FILM FROM THE EMPERORS OF STORIES
They had a permanent room in a old hotel in Khandala were they had all their narration and writing sessions.
They reached a position where no functions of films written by them could start without their arrival together.
Salim has always been a pious Muslim praying five times a day while Javed was and is still a non-believer who does not believe in the hand of God but in the hard work of man
Their split became a major sensation in the media and carried on for a long time and is still raked up from time to time. The one question that is always raised is who was responsible for the break up.
Salim spends time with his family and reading books which had always been lying in his library when he had no time to read them.
Salim once told me this very heart breaking story. It was his birthday when I visited him and there was only one bouquet in his room. He looked at it, smiled and said, yeh sachchai hai, Ali Sahab, ek zamana woh tha when the numbers of bouquets I received on my birthday had to be sent to all the nearby hospitals and orphanages and used to line up the road from my house to the Sea Rock hotel and they still kept coming in. That is the trip about life. Yahaan pe sirf ugte huve suraj ko salaam karte hai. I keep telling my sons this story and they are not demoralized when they face tough times.
Salim married Salma when he was a hero. But he was always in love with Helen, the dancer. It was only when his sons grew up that he had an open talk with his wife and family and they willingly agreed to have her as a part of them. Now Helen is Helen Khan, she is Salims second wife, and his sons give her the same respect they give their own mother, even though they call her ‘Helen aunty’.
Salim has one great admirer who is in his late 70s. He is S. Raamnathan who Salim like Amitabh Bachchan calls Sir with all the respect because he was the man who had predicted a bright future for him once and then years later for his son Salman when he had just done his first entirely forgettable film.
One of Salims daughters is an adopted daughter and is married to director Atul Agnihotri. He has created an atmosphere which is very lively, enlightened and even entertaining at home. He is also one man all his sons think of as the only man to rush to when in any kind of trouble because they know they will get the right kind of advice.
Salim and Javed split more than thirty years ago but they never speak ill of each other. Javed always refers to him as Salim Sahab and Salim is very happy for Javed and the success of his son Farhaan because he is a very talented man and has struggled more than me or any other man in the industry to reach where he has.
They came together over the dispute over the remaking rights of“Zanjeer”which they had written in 1972 and had made Amitabh a superstar. The film was being remade by the sons of Prakash Mehra, the director of the original. The two decided to fight for their rights and took the matter to court which could have stopped the release of the sequel, but the judge made them see sense and asked them to come to an out of court settlement which they did and the two writers got much more money than they were paid when they wrote the original“Zanjeer”.
He has always been a very helpful man for people in the industry and even outside it. The last time I met him to ask him to solve the problem over an apartment from which one of my so called friends for years, a failed actor called Suhas Khandke who was a contemporary of Anupam Kher, Satish Kaushik and Govind Namdev. Suhas was being threatened by some land developers. All the tenants had taken huge sums of money and fled the place, but this man called Suhas was asking for the moon which the land developers refused to pay. He approached me and cried and fell at my feet to save him and his family. I had tried talking to Priya Dutt who was then a MP and other import people, but I finally thought of Salim Khan and had only one meeting with him and he made some calls to unknown to me people and at the end of his talks, he smiled his bright smile and said,“tumhare dost ko bolo jaakar aaram se rahe,koi kuch nahi karega aur koi kuch nahi kahega”Suhas cried with joy and first fell at Salim Sahaab’s feet and then touched my feet and called me“God”and promised me the world. The man turned so ungrateful that he never went back to thank Salim Sahab and did not keep any of the promises he had made to me. He was so ungrateful that when I was in hospital and needed money desperately and told him (he was also a landlord who owned sixty old buildings from Dadar to Null Bazaar, but when I made a request for money, he first fell asleep in the chair opposite my bed and finally left a two thousand rupee note under my pillow and vanished never to be seen again when I told Salim Sahab about his behaviour, he said in his own style,“Insaan bahut nikamma hote ja raha hai. Maine jo bhi kiya tumhare liye kiya. Jane do kamine ko, nahi toh tumhari sehat bhi bigad jayegi aur dimag bhi”. It was a lesson from a much experienced man and I have been following his principle and have stopped helping anyone even though it goes against my conscience.
The man called Salim Khan has gone through all the ups and downs of life and has seen life very closely, but he is not a bitter man and has absolutely no regrets about life and in return life has been more than kind to him. It all shows on his face which shines bright even though he has crossed eighty and can give a complex to his sons and men who are far younger than him.
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