Salman Khan, the Hindi movie supernova from the best galaxy of them all—the one protected from negative viewer feedback, occasionally indifferent box office and horrified critics—is the indirect subject of a new documentary by film-making pair Shabani Hassanwalia and Samreen Farooqui.

Rather than deconstruct the secret of how Khan has endured in the imagination since he first bared his chiselled chest in 1989, Being Bhaijaan investigates his appeal through three fans from Nagpur. The 77-minute documentary will close the forthcoming Open Frame documentary festival in New Delhi. A bit like Rahul Roy’s When Four Friends Meet, Being Bhaijaan probes Indian masculinity through the routines and banter of three men, Shan, Balram and Bhaskar, who articulate their love for Khan, their own desires, and their economic and romantic prospects.

“We have always been interested in the complex relationship we share with our cinema and the myth making that we all embrace so dearly," say the film-makers in an email interview. Their first, acclaimed documentary, Out Of Thin Air, looked at the tiny but enthusiastic film-making scene in Ladakh, and they also edited Dibakar Banerjee’s segment Star, a comment on stardom, in last year’s anthology Bombay Talkies. “For us, the inception of Being Bhaijaan was a story a friend told us, about a friend of his who went and watched Wanted in a cinema hall in Meerut. So groups of men went to watch Bhai’s latest offering, and at a crucial moment in the film, just as Bhai seems beaten by the villain, they took off their shirts en masse and roared. Bhaijaaaan, Bhaijaan, Bhaijaan, it echoed, and shirts were flung at the screen. On cue, Salman Khan tore his own shirt off," the film-makers say.

The film-makers found Shan on Facebook, and he in turn introduced them to members of the Jai Salman club. Shot over six months in Nagpur, the documentary reveals how closely the men have attempted to mould themselves in the star’s image—they build up their bodies, mimic his clothes and accessories, profess to share his attitudes and values, and generally use him as a vehicle to forge ahead with their own dreams.

Evidence of how blurred the distinction between the man and superstar is, is revealed in the sequence in which one of the fans says, in all seriousness, that Khan is a virgin, which is how he has retained his “stamina". All of them point approvingly to the fact that he has never kissed in his films.

There’s more going on in the documentary than just blind love. The three men reveal a yearning for the personal freedom and single status that distinguishes Khan from his peers as well as for his success, fame, adoration and wealth. “The Salman Khan fan is part of that India, that is supposed to be shining, but he can’t seem to even touch it," the film-makers observe. “Just a few years ago, India was being celebrated for having the largest number of young people in the world. Today, economists consider it a demographic nightmare. Gleaming India, one which Shah Rukh Khan represented, didn’t seem true any more, for anybody, but especially not for unemployed boys fighting hard to find a purpose."

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The line-up

What to look forward to at this year’s Open Frame

Documentaries exploring the themes of gender, music and ecology are on the list of the Public Service Broadcasting Trust’s annual festival Open Frame, which will run from 29 August-2 September at the India International Centre in New Delhi.

The screenings will cover new, recent and older films. Among the fresh titles are city-themed films, including Shrikant Agawane’s ‘Walking In The City’, which looks at the relationship between the act of walking and Mumbai, and Tuhinabha Majumdar’s ‘City Within The City’, about migration and globalization.

There are films on music, including Pratik Biswas’ ‘On And Off The Record’ about recording Hindustani classical music. Gender issues get a fair share of play with Radhika Murthy’s ‘Keep Talking’, which discusses violence against women, and ‘Can’t Hide Me’, about female access to public space.

The Open Frame festival will be held from 29 August-2 September, at the India International Centre, 40, Max Mueller Marg, New Delhi. It is free and open to all. Click here for details.

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