The first time Salman Khan teamed up with Sooraj Barjatya was as a newcomer in super hit film Maine Pyar Kiya (1989), which turned him into an overnight superstar.
The second time they worked together was for Hum Aapke Hain Kaun (1994), which went on to become the most successful Indian movie of all time when it was released.
Then their third feature Hum Saath-Saath Hain was the biggest grossing Bollywood film of 1999.
They have come together again after a gap of 16 years for this month’s most high-profile Bollywood release Prem Ratan Dhan Payo. The colourful family drama, which has just been released across cinemas worldwide, sees Salman starring opposite Sonam Kapoor.
“From the day we met each other, we have had a bond. I have worked with a lot of directors and a lot of people, but the love, fondness and respect I have for Sooraj I don’t think I have for anyone else,” explains Salman. “There have been a lot of directors I have worked with, but I am most happy that I got to work with Sooraj Barjatya. As a director and as a human being, there is nobody better in this world than Sooraj Babu.”
This bond between the men is apparent during the promotion of Prem Ratan Dhan Payo. Salman praises his mentor, saying he makes the viewer a better human being, because the niceness and purity of Barjatya’s cinema promotes family values.
“When you see his movies he brings back Indian culture, which we keep on losing. He keeps on drawing us back to our morals, to our roots,” Salman says. “When you watch other films, audiences may change their hairstyle or clothes, but when they watch a Sooraj Barjatya film, they have become better people.”
Not surprisingly, the in-demand actor immediately agreed to play the lead role in Prem Ratan Dhan Payo when it was offered to him and reckons it is perhaps the director’s best work to date. “I like the film’s nice, sweet, cute, ticklish moments. I like it overall, and how this really nice, happy, sweet film turns into this really emotional, beautiful, romantic love story, which involves the family, brothers, sisters.”
Salman is once again playing the character of Prem, a name he has had in all the previous Barjatya movies. The actor explains that you see shades of the director in him when he is playing the character of Prem. “What I see in his character is what every guy should be like with a girl, which is very difficult as you need to have a lot of patience to be ‘Prem’ in real life. He is so endearing that every girl would want to marry someone like him. He’s actually Sooraj Bharjatya! Trust me, Prem is Sooraj. In fact, Sooraj likes to see that side in me, but the problem is that I don’t see that in me in my real life. So Sooraj puts that on film.”
When describing Prem’s character, Salman says he is a grown man who is very child like. He gives full credit for the success of the characters he has played in all four Barjatya movies to the writer/director.
“Sooraj has written this character. He has always been a mature man and romance has also grown in his life ten-fold. He was always a mature filmmaker, though he started his career at the age of 19. He wrote Maine Pyar Kiya at the age of 19-20 and Hum Apke Hain Kaun at the age of just 24, so there is no man as mature as Sooraj Barjatya. The way he has written this character, he basically wants men and boys to be like Prem; he wants to change the way they are and to change this for women in the world. He wants men to be funny and charming, but to also be respectful to women.”
While the entire focus, including the title of the movie, has been on Prem, Salman actually plays a double role in the movie and also portrays Vijay. He is not willing to divulge too much about the second character. “Yes, I am playing the roles of Vijay Singh and Prem – but if I open up too much about the characters, I will spoil the suspense. But what I can say is both the characters are phenomenal.”
Although there was a relaxed atmosphere on the Prem Ratan Dhan Payo set, Salman admits they could not have made “such a beautiful movie” while having fun and they needed to be fully focused. But he did describe every day as beautiful and says walking to the set was a really great feeling.
“The sets were so lovely that we didn’t mind shooting long hours. Sooraj actually is very particular about shooting long hours – he doesn’t like to shoot that many hours. Even if the scene was not complete he used to say, ‘let’s leave it now and we’ll continue tomorrow’, even if we were like, ‘no, let’s do it now’. It was a very large-scale film; in every frame there were like hundreds of people and there was a regal theme, which also made it a very expensive film. Each day could cost the production about Rs45-50 lakhs (£45,495-£50,328) so when Sooraj said, ‘let’s pack up and continue the scene tomorrow’, it seriously took a lot of courage.”
Now having done four films with him, Salman is looking forward to working with Sooraj again in the future. “I just I wish I could do another four or five films with Sooraj. I’m here in this industry only because of Sooraj Barjatya. A 19-year-old boy took a stand when he was directing his first movie, at a point in time when Rajshri Productions weren’t doing that well; to take on an actor who had already done a film that was being released before his. Sooraj had seen Biwi Ho To Aisi, and we all knew that I sucked in the movie, but despite that he took me on because he thought I was good in the screen test for the film. He went by his instincts and the gut feel of his sister Chanda and cousin Charu.”
The actor also praises his leading lady Sonam Kapoor, who beat off tough competition to land the role. He says she loved how regal Sonam, who plays a princess, looked.
“I remember when Sooraj was showing me pictures of a lot of leading actresses and each and every picture that Sooraj showed me of Sonam were absolutely stunning. He showed me all the pictures when she was at her worst test, and she looked like the way she looks now, so that is one quality that he saw in her, and he said, ‘this is the lady for my film. This is something that I want’.”
When asked what his favourite song in the film is, Salman says: “My favourite is the title track – Prem Ratan Dhan Payo, but I also like Jalte Diye, Jab Tum Chaho, Prem Leela and Aaj Unse Milna Hai.”
Looking ahead, the actor will continue following his instincts and balancing what is an extraordinary professional life with a personal life continuously in the spotlight.
“There is no difference between my personal and professional life because I work with friends, I work with family. If I don’t know them, I make sure I make them friends and family. Otherwise you can’t be happy, you can’t give it your best if you don’t like the people you are working with.
“If you don’t like somebody, you don’t do the movie. If you like the movie, you make sure you get along with everybody on set. You make the Taj Mahal with love, not with hate.”
Prem Ratan Dhan Payo is in cinemas now.