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Since 1st March, 1999
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Away from home & Ash, Salman is a sweet boy
- Actor bowls over crew, keeps Mahima & fans entertained, but mum’s the word on scandal

London, April 9: In the past few days, Salman Khan has shocked everyone by behaving impeccably.

The actor, who has been shooting song and dance sequences in Britain with co-star Mahima Chowdhury, for Ravi Chopra’s Baghban, appears to have won over the whole crew.

Yesterday, pausing between takes in London’s Leicester Square on a sunny but cold afternoon, the director of photography, Barun Mukherjee, summed up his personal feelings in the only way he could — in Bengali.

Chhele ta khoob mishti (the boy is very sweet),” smiled Mukherjee, adjusting the green baseball cap he was wearing. “Ekdom chhelemanush (he’s so naive, so childlike),” he added, with genuine affection.

Could it be that the actor widely castigated as the bad boy of Bollywood was a much-misunderstood soul' What about Vivek Oberoi’s claim that Salman had threatened him on the phone on no fewer than 41 occasions in a single night' Or Aishwarya Rai’s unprecedented statement that he had abused her and she wanted to have nothing more to do with him'

The film’s director came to Salman’s defence and told journalists that the actor was perfectly easy to handle but did not want to give an interview. “He really doesn’t want to talk about it,” said Chopra, son of the great B.R. Yesterday was a busy day for the crew: morning was in Marlowe, the early afternoon at London Eye, the giant turning wheel by the Thames Embankment at Waterloo, and afternoon in Leicester Square.

At the Odeon Cinema in Leicester Square, A Man Apart, starring Vin Diesel, was playing; while The Lord of the Rings and The Recruit were on the Odeon West End. Out of Mukherjee’s camera shot was the Warner Village Cinemas, the venue for many a Bollywood premiere.

At the Chiquito, a restaurant, Mahima had finished her pasta lunch and her hair was being fussed over by her stylist, Heather Shay, a Haka Chinese woman from Mumbai.

“Salman is on his way,” someone shouted. “That means half an hour,” yawned Mahima.

Actually, Salman was outside, ready and waiting, dressed in faded blue jeans, a black leather jacket and a grey top.

He looked slim, without any sign of bulging muscles. On his wrist, he wore a bracelet, the sort that Indian fast bowlers shake angrily when they cannot get a wicket.

Mahima appeared, friendly and smiling, wearing jeans and an elegant and long powder blue coat.

Chopra wanted a pigeon shot, with birds fluttering round the couple as Salman picked Mahima up and swung her around. But nobody had remembered to buy bread for the peckish pigeons. On a Hollywood shoot, one suspected there would have been a whole pigeon department, headed by a bread manager.

Like many Bollywood stars, Salman was clearly a mobile junkie. Every few minutes he would take the phone out of his back pocket and either make or answer a call.

An enterprising young reporter, who believed she had his number, had been phoning him for three days, only to be told she had got the wrong person. She now tried a little experiment.

She rang the number again. Would he pick it up' After a few seconds, Salman’s hand slid to his back pocket. Who was on the phone' She gave her name. What was it about' She replied there had been a lot of allegations about him recently and perhaps he would care to comment. She was told that unfortunately Salman was in Holland but if she would care to ring the number again in three days’ time, he would be in Mumbai and she might be put through to him.

The reporter was tempted to tell him, “Actually, I am standing next to you, Salman”, but finally thought better of it.

When he was approached face to face, he was perfectly polite. “I don’t want to talk,” he said, adding that “I have not given an interview in 18 years.”

With his fans though, Salman could not be more accommodating. He signed every request for an autograph and posed for photographs with anyone who wanted one.

At any time of year, there are plenty of Indians in Leicester Square and by early evening, a sizeable crowd had gathered to watch the takes.

The choreographer, Vaibhavi Merchant, urged onlookers not to use their camera flashes. “No flashing,” she said repeatedly, not realising that in England, “flashing” has an entirely different connotation.

In Baghban, Salman plays a young Indian student in England, and Mahima his girlfriend. In one scene, he playfully bit Mahima’s finger. In another, he closed his eyes in ecstasy as she nuzzled him. Inexplicably, he jerked his face away as her lips were about to touch his.

Remarkably, Salman kept chewing gum and also smoking at the same time, with the lit cigarette kept out of Mukherjee’s tight shots. He did not mind at all when the director repeated his takes several times.

In between takes, he was considerate to his fans, who were either ignorant of the latest reports from India or did not care about them.

An Indian woman was on her mobile to her friend, Ravi: “You are no competition, I am with Salman.”

A man from Mauritius wondered: “Is he Salman' He looks different in films, younger somehow.”

After a 45-minute break, Salman was back, this time in a smart, dark suit, with a peacock blue shirt and matching tie. Mahima wore a short skirt, with a laddered stocking which no one noticed, a black top and a Burberry scarf. She sipped Starbucks coffee. It wasn’t clear whether she was really cold or this was products placement.

Salman, meanwhile, used his mobile. But this was not a private call — the shot was part of the plot.

After the wrap, Mahima said she had very much enjoyed working with Salman. She sounded as though she meant it.

“He keeps us entertained,” she said.

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