I know two very different Salman Khans. And the distinctions are not based on real or reel life. He is both Bollywood's enfant terrible and man with a heart of gold. One of my earliest memories of Salman Khan is from when I had gone to interview his illustrious father Salim Khan.
Though I was just a cub reporter, Salman's reputation as dumper of coke on girlfriends' heads and alleged hunter of innocent animals preceded him.
Add to this his well-documented aversion to journalists (he frequently got into fisticuffs with photographers and walked out of interviews if he didn't like the questions) and it was only natural that I was immediately on my guard when he sauntered into the room I was sitting in. Thankfully, he completely looked through me on his way for a quick smoke on the balcony in the first floor apartment.
This was way back in 1999. Sooraj Barjatya's family opus Hum Saath Saath Hain was on its way to becoming the year's biggest hit. Between the first Barjatya film (Maine Pyar Kiya in 1989) and this third movie, Salman's career was chugging along. He was more or less delivering one hit a year.
Unfortunately, he was more in the news for brawls rather than his work. That December afternoon, while I spoke with his father about Sholay and his partnership with Javed Akhtar, Salman paced in the drawing room and in the balcony - always within earshot. The cigarette had been abandoned hastily as soon as Salim had walked into the drawing room.
As I was leaving, Salman finally spoke to me. "Do you want to interview me?" he asked petulantly. Though sorely tempted, I replied in the negative and left.
Almost a decade later, on a random rainy evening in Mumbai, Salman reminded me of this meeting. "I was surprised that you didn't want something from me. Everyone normally does," he said with a shrug.
In the 16 odd years I have known Salman Khan, this has been the most telling thing he's ever said to me.
My initial impression of Salman was the same as everyone else's - that he is impudent and brash - but I had also seen him supervising the dispatch of food to local orphanages or sending sick fans who routinely landed up at his home or his sets to various doctors (most well-known doctors in the city have, at some point or the other, got a call from the Khan home to either help a patient or to check on their treatment).
For his fans, Salman has always been the Robin Hood of Bollywood, the patron saint of the poor, needy and strugglers.
On the morning of Sept 27, 2002, the fateful day that will forever be etched in Salman's memory, the publication I worked at had printed an interview with Salman's ex-girlfriend Aishwarya Rai.
In the interview, the former Miss World spoke about her tumultuous and abusive relationship with Salman - how a drunk Salman wouldn't take no for an answer and how he landed up on her film sets and got her thrown out of films. It was the interview that everyone in Bollywood was talking about that day. The general reaction was that he was "obnoxious and playing with fire but as long as his films were making money, who cares".
Later that night, Salman's Toyota Land Cruiser rammed into the American Express Bakery on Hill Road in Bandra minutes away from his home.
In the accident, one person was killed and four others were injured. Mid-last week, a Mumbai sessions court sentenced the superstar to five years' imprisonment which was later suspended until June 15 by the Mumbai High Court. Soon, Salman was back to work in Srinagar on the sets of his Eid-release Bajrangi Bhaijaan.
Those who have known Salman for a long time will attest to the fact that the accident changed him. The cocky and irresponsible person morphed into someone who was mellow and considerate. But this transformation took the better part of the 2000s. There was a period after the accident, when he was jailed for a few days in the Blackbuck hunting case, that Salman seemed to have lost his way.