Last week we almost decided that Salman Khan would be the next Lounge cover. Hell, I even saw Veer—one of those rare Salman movies I just couldn’t bring myself to watch when it was released earlier this year.

Popstar: Salman Khan is Robinhood Pandey in Dabangg.

It seemed like the perfect time to revisit the appeal of Bollywood’s craziest Khan. One film company head says that though, currently, Shah Rukh gets the best advance booking followed by Aamir, and then Salman, Dabangg—the latter’s new film that releases on 10 September—could change the rules. In trade lingo, the “pre-release buzz" for Dabangg is tremendous. Add that to the fact that Salman will host television’s biggest show, Bigg Boss. More importantly, there’s no disputing the fact that Salman Khan is Bollywood’s last “Bollywood" superstar, if you know what I mean

Shah Rukh is too busy making sensitive movies/going sci-fi; Aamir spends all his time tweaking our box-office psyche and training us how to be better movie watchers. But Salman is comfort food (think chicken curry, not dal-rice since he doesn’t understand the word vegetarian)—he embodies the psychedelic, pelvic-obsessed industry we grew up with, and not the multiplex maze it currently is. Those of you who worry about the overnight death of single-screen cinema and dancing in the aisles can surely understand the importance of Salman Khan?

Salman could end up being the last macho-masala super-entertainer of our times. Original bad boy Sanjay Dutt is now quite unwatchable; we seem mostly bored of poor Akshay Kumar’s brand of loud cinema; and Hrithik Roshan has always been too good-looking for Hindi cinema. But discount the eyebags/country-of-one accent and Salman looks/sounds better every year. At 45, as he confessed on NDTV during a visit to navy air station INS Hansa, he finds the way women react to him as he grows older a “little scary". “There was a time when women had the hots for me but now it’s reducing," he said. I’m sure he was joking.

Don’t send me hate mail for saying this but, if you can put aside his shadowy record of violence with women, it’s easy to understand the raw sexual appeal of Salman. He gets full marks for the ability to swagger comfortably in what is certainly Bollywood’s tightest collection of jeans. Add his other staples—leather jacket, sunglasses hooked into the neck of his jacket on the rare occasion he takes them off his nose, bandanna, boots, clunky leather belt—and nobody does biker chic like Salman.

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He may not dance but he’s got all the moves. He flirted exquisitely with all the women who appeared on his television debut 10 Ka Dum—the supposedly sexy/worldly Mallika Sherawat sounded positively gauche when they bantered. And 5ft 8 inches is not short by Indian standards, ladies.

Enough has been written about his chest. It was bound to play an important part in the climax of Veer where Salman got a screenplay credit too. Hero takes a bullet in the heart, strips his armour to die, then recovers enough to win a battle bare-chested before collapsing. “I’ll be back again," he announces before he dies, waxed chest in full view.

Which other hero does the 1980s-style entry any more? Which other hero can still excite audiences with a bizarre rinse, repeat punchline? Remember Wanted’s Ek baar jo maine commitment kar di, uske baad to main khud ki bhi nahi sunta or Veer’s Jahan se bhi pakadta hun, paanchser gosht nikalta hun. Dabangg’s one-liner will apparently be: kamaal karte ho Pandeyji.

So what if there’s never any continuity in the way Salman Khan looks through a film? Now you see hair, now you don’t. That’s part of his charm. So what if his dance directors tell him to do whatever it is he wants in the songs (usually, he opts to remove his shirt or flex his biceps but once in a while he might come up with the killer towel dance or the belt jiggle). In the last two decades, only Prabhu Deva has managed to squeeze some structured dance out of him.

Eventually we decided to keep the Salman cover story on hold, even though there’s a little bit of him in every Hindi film goer. Like the other two Khans, Salman is an important part of our pop history. We remember him doing bare-but-hairy-chested push-ups wearing jeans and high heeled shoes. We remember him playing a passionate saxophone without moving his fingers even once. And that was 1989. He gets full marks for history too.

PS: My favourite Khan? Aamir of course. Although I’ve never seen any Khan hold a woman the way Shah Rukh grabs Kajol in that wet sari sequence in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai.

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