Media Focus—Salman and the Voice of Truth

IN Opinion | 25/11/2002
With trembling fingers, Salman opened the autobiography and started reading, despite the dim light….

Manjula Lal


The Week’s issue of November 10 2002 has an incredibly mushy story on what it  terms My Experiments Behind Bars. The strap line goes: "In an 8X8 ft cell, a fallen star picked himself up - and the Mahatma’s selected works."


With a promo like that, who wouldn’t read on? The opening lines are: "On October 15, a day after Salman Khan entered than central jail, his father Salim Khan handed him a packet. The actor kept it aside, and, with moist eyes, spoke softly to Salim, mother Salma and his brothers."


The narrator  -- is he really a reporter? - Quaied Najmi then tells us how he return to his cell, opened the packet with curiosity and "out tumbled four books." They were "Selected Works of Mahatma Gandhi" and a gift from Tushar Gandhi, great-grandson of the Mahatma, who we are told has known the family for several years.


"With trembling fingers, Salman opened the autobiography and started reading, despite the dim light. "The books made my days in jail easier", Salman told The Week a few days after his release on bail. "I found the "Voice of Truth" very profound. These books will remain a prized possession." Our breathless reporter, of course, would not have cross-checked with the jail staff whether our Boy Wonder actually spent hours reading these heavy tomes. Or, more to the point, whether he then decided to tell the truth about who was driving the Land Cruiser than ran over and killed one pavement dweller and injured four others. But we are ahead of our story - or rather Najmi’s.


We are told again - newspaper readers would already know this - that he slept on the stone floor, used mosquito repellents, and did his exercises. But here, we also are allowed to look inside his head. "Salman was then served a cup of tea which he savoured and his mind would drift to his luxury apartment in Bandra with its glass-top dining table, the plush sofas and the thick carpets."  "He would get very emotional and yearned to be with us,"  recalled Salim, without stopping to let us wonder whether he wouldn’t instead think of Aishwarya at such a time.  We are reminded that this is the same script-writer who, along with Javed Akhtar, wrote hits such as Sholay.  


The daily routine goes on. He reads and meditates, then again reads and meditates. Cut to the anxious family, praying to different gods. The family being "a perfect example of national integration" (Salim’s words, not the writer’s, for a change) is supposed to perhaps be a mitigating factor. Mother: Maharastrian Hindu. "Second mother" Helen and sister-in-law Malaika: Roman Catholics. Brother-in-law Atul and sister-in-law Seema Punjabi Hindus. (Long-time Pakistani girlfriend Somy Ali? Not mentioned).


By now the reader couldn’t possibly be wondering whether the white cap photo was an attempt to play the religious card. No, says his father, he was just trying to hide his unkempt hair.

By now you have lost hope that the reporter will pop the only important question: Who was driving the car? Salim parried the question: "Who can say whether he was driving or not? How can the media speculate on this? Did anybody see him at the wheel at the time of the accident?" Some vigorous experiments with truth, obviously.


Maybe the game-plan is to suddenly produce a driver who, anyway dying of cancer, is willing to say he was at the wheel for tens of lakhs of rupees. That is what a script-writer would know is just the twist needed in the tale, to redeem the image of the star in the eyes of his adoring fans. But Najmi must have the last word, for his imagination is more productive than ours. "There’s Dil Chura Ke Chaldi  with Shilpa Shetty and half a dozen assignments to be completed. And The ‘Voice of Truth’ may beckon again."



Manjula Lal is a columnist for Delhi Mid Day and a freelancer.  Contact:




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