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Salman khan was at his candid best at a history TV promotional in Mumbai recently

Who is Bollywood’s tardiest star? Photographers debated that while waiting at ITC Grand Central, Mumbai. Topping their list were the two Khans, at loggerheads but united in bending appointment timings. Before the debate was resolved, Salman Khan’s car was spotted. “Bhai is in a good mood,” said a photographer, checking the watch.

The brawny superstar strutted up the corridor, surrounded by guards.

The show quickly came to life. Ajay Chacko, president, AETN 18, breezed through the channel’s new initiatives. Rajdeep Sardesai, editor-in-chief of IBN 18 network, explained his channel’s collaboration with History TV 18 in launching The Greatest Indian (since Independence) poll.

With the Dabangg track playing, Salman appeared, with a swagger.

Sardesai told the audience that 27 years ago, he and Salman had double dated once. “He remembers that, I don’t,” Salman quickly put in.

“Salman has gone onto bigger and better things. He has a date a day.”

“Really? With whom?”

“Let me put it this way….”

“Who were you with?”

“That was 1985. He can afford to forget but….”

“Did you marry that girl?”

Salman was relishing the public ribbing and the veteran journalist soon beat a retreat.

Asked who he would vote for in the channel’s contest as the Greatest Indian after Gandhi, Salman lapsed into silence. So some names were suggested. “Mother Teresa,” he latched on to one and launched into a diatribe against nobody in particular as to why Sister Philomena “who is doing as much as Mother Teresa” is not popular. The lady he introduced as Mother Teresa’s successor turned out to be the Superior General of the Missionary Sisters of Mary Help of Christians in the Northeast.

Offered alternatives to Mother Teresa in Amitabh Bachchan and Sachin Tendulkar, he said neither filmstars nor cricketers deserved to be in the fray. “We have an edge. We are on every TV channel, good films, bad films, restaurants…The fact that some people are good at their job does not mean that they are good people.”

Asked to explain, he started off on a candid note: “How many filmstars….oh shit!” Realising that he was set to net an own goal against his own tribe, he got defensive. “The thing is we have no time (to do good things).”

The channel was launching a platform called historyhardin.in.com, where Salman was to upload a picture of “a moment when he made history”. Choosing a picture of himself riding, he recalled: “I was on that horse for five hours daily during the shooting of Veer. At the end, all the hair was gone from the insides of my legs!”

Salman invariably lives up to his billing as a rebel. On learning that The Greatest Indian will be a one-time selection, he started arguing for the initiative to be made annual. “People who are older than me have had more time to prove their worth, people who are younger have had less time. It is not fair,” he cribbed. You can anoint Sallu miyan your brand’s official ambassador but you cannot make him toe the official line.

Soon after, Salman settled down for a one-on-one chat.

Have you modelled your charity Being Human on Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity?

My model is different. See, I have an advantage. I am a filmstar and I get a lot of publicity. I can get into a lot of things from which I can generate money for my charity.

Are Indians, as individuals, of a giving nature?

I don’t think so. We have this culture of saving for a rainy day. Let me correct myself. I know individuals who want to give but are scared if the money is going to the right hands. If you assure them that the money will be well-spent they will come forward. And they get a tax rebate as well.

With back-to-back blockbusters, you are riding high. Do you want to scale up your foundation now?

We don’t get that much of funds in our trust. Friends put in money and money that I make from the industry goes back to the foundation. With my name, it’s already such a publicised charity that I get scared publicising it further. People know it’s Salman Khan and they come expecting help and we can only do that much. Per day we get an average of 45 (requests to help). Then there is the operational cost. It’s huge. People say why don’t you publicise. Arre, publicise karunga toh back-up bhi toh karna padega. People come with genuine problems. What happens if you can’t help them for lack of funds?

Fakes of your Being Human T-shirts are flooding the market, in Calcutta and elsewhere. Your comments?

Fans buy them thinking they are supporting my cause. But the kaminas who are selling them knowingly should be shot.

How did the shooting go in Cuba for Ek Tha Tiger?

We are not through yet. There are a few days of work left. Ek Tha Tiger is an action film that has romance. Yes, I am working with Katrina (Kaif). That’s history being created right there (deadpan).

What news of Dabangg 2?

We start shooting on March 9.

Speculation is rife about which TV show you’d be doing, Bigg Boss or Dus Ka Dum.

I hope to be back on TV soon. But I don’t know which channel yet.