He's Bollywood's original brat. The media hates him; but crowds go wild at the very mention of his name. Girls swoon each time he flashes his bare torso on screen (which is quite often). Gossip rags work overtime fishing out juicy tidbits from his personal life: a brawl here, an alleged affair there….
And Salman Khan keeps mum through it all. The eldest son on writer Salim Khan (of Salim-Javed fame) claims he isn't here to please anyone, and doesn't care what the world thinks of him. He hates the press and loathes the idea of answering questions. But he's one of Hindi cinema's hottest selling stars, a safe bet on any day, both in India and overseas.
Yet, unlike most of his contemporaries, there seems to have been little plotting and planning in Salman's career. In fact, he made an nconventional debut as Farouque Shaikh's younger brother in 'Biwi Ho To Aisi (1988) and no one noticed.
The following year came 'Maine Pyaar Kiya', and his life changed forever. Sooraj Barjatya's syrupy romance turned Salman into a teen icon. Every producer with money in his pocket wanted to sign the star on the dotted line.
A decade later, there are die-hard loyalists who swear by him despite his alleged mood swings. Be it Sooraj Barjatya, Sanjay Bhansali or even David Dhawan. In fact, Salman is the only star who has struck a successful rapport with the plump director apart from Govinda, his eternal favourite. Remember the laugh-a-minute riot 'Judwaa' (1997)? Or for that matter 'Biwi No. 1', and their latest, 'Dulhan Hum Le Jayenge' which has also notched up a good opening.
Similarly, Barjatya won't hear of signing anyone else as his film's hero. And although Madhuri Dixit walked off with all the accolades for her mesmeric presence in 'Hum Aapke Hain Koun..!' (1994), it was to Salman's credit that he gracefully played second fiddle and let her hog the show.
Soon after playing the chocolate-boy hero in 'HAHK', Salman switched over to action-heavy flicks like Rakesh Roshan's 'Karan Arjun' and K K Singh's 'Veergati'. And gradually, the shirt started coming off more frequently.
So much so, many people believe it was Salman's pumped up body in the chart-topper "O, o jaane jaanaa" that helped brother Sohail's debut production 'Pyaar Kiya To Darna Kya' (1998), set the box-office on fire.
But when it comes to performing, he's been at his best with director Sanjay Bhansali. 'Khamoshi' (1996) brought Salman's acting abilities to the fore for the first time. As the sensitive music composer who loves Annie (Manisha Koirala), the daughter of deaf and dumb parents, he displayed a remarkable degree of maturity.
Similarly, his Sameer Rosselini in 'Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam' was a thoroughly charming character. Just before the release of this film, rumours of his supposed liaison with Aishwarya Rai started circulating in tinsel town. But neither of them was willing to discuss the issue; they still aren't.
In what must be the ugliest time of his public life, Salman was arrested in Rajasthan towards the end of 1998, while he was shooting for Barjatya's 'Hum Saath Saath Hain'. He was allegedly charged for hunting down the endangered black buck deer.
After spending a few days in a local prison, he was released, much to the ndustry's relief. For, at that time, the total value of his films under production was in the region of Rs. 100 crore!
Through it all, Salman kept his mouth shut and came back with a vengeance scoring one hit after another. Neither his somewhat tarnished reputation, nor the bald patch at the back of his head made a dent in Salman's popularity. Obviously, nothing matters but the magic he continues to create on screen….