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Book excerpt: Actors are the last to know they have fallen, says Salman Khan

The newest pictorial book by American actor-photographer Mark Bennington showcases the stars and strugglers of the Hindi film industry.

Ranveer Singh at an awards show

Our Correspondent

Actor-photographer Mark Bennington’s book, Living the Dream: The Life of the Bollywood Actor, captures the candid side of many of Hindi cinema’s famous personalities — from Ranveer Singh (who graces the cover) to Sonakshi Sinha. He also tracks those who have yet to make it big — those waiting on the sidelines for their big break. Seven years in the making, Living the Dream, gives an insight to film fans about the working lives of their favourite celebrities.

Bennington spoke to a wide variety of actors in his journey to uncover who makes up the Hindi film industry. Below are two different viewpoints, one from superstar Salman Khan on fame and the new generation and on the other end of the spectrum, Gabbar Singh, a road performer from Mathura, who wants to be just like his screen idols.

This excerpt is reproduced with permission from HarperCollins India.

Salman Khan

Salman Khan (Courtesy: HarperCollins India)

It's the actors who are the last people to know that they've fallen, because everyone around them is blowing smoke up their asses. Actors are the last people to know, "Oh shit, this isn't working any more," and by that time it's too late because their egos have been overfed on so much bullshit.

Every day you keep on working. If you take this as a nine-to-five job then you're gonna get stagnant, but if it's like your hobby or something that you like, then you are obviously going to stay interested in it. And you have to enjoy the people you're working with. Life on the set... you have to surround yourself with good people...and laugh a lot. The process of a film being made, I mean, it's 120 days long sometimes, so you have to get along with these people, you know? I used to shoot three films at a time; it was crazy! Now it's like one or two movies at a time, which I like.

It's different in Hollywood because you have so many lawyers, contracts and deals but here you are just working with friends, you know. We do have contracts now, but all of those I sign at the end of the film, not before...but now the younger generation coming in – they are bright motherf***rs! Because obviously the younger generation is going to be more business-savvy than all of us guys who have been burned by producers, not paid on time or got no money for a film. So these younger kids are signing contracts or they won't land up for the shoot...so these guys have to pay now! We are learning a lot from this younger generation!

Gabbar Singh

Gabbar Singh (Courtesy: HarperCollins India)

I am twenty-five years old and my talent is God's gift. I learned acting from watching TV. Before coming to Mumbai, I was a local hero in my hometown of Mathura (Uttar Pradesh). I'd perform scenes from Sholay and all super-duper films of Shah Rukh Khan ji, Salman Khan ji, Amitabh Bachchan ji...I imitate these actors, acting out all the big hit films.

When I first came to Mumbai, though, people made a fool out of me. When I arrived I went to meet Shah Rukh Khan ji, thinking he would surely give some work. But when I reached his house, these watchman asked me to leave. Then, an extra police constable was called. When I started doing a little bit of acting outside the gates, four or five naughty boys approached me claiming that their fathers were big directors and that they could help out. I went along with them in the rickshaw but when we reached 'their house' they took off with all my things and about Rs900 ($16).

So, I went back to Mathura. When I returned to Mumbai, I worked at a hotel for two months. I lived on the footpath and started acting at Nariman Point. The money people gave me helped me survive. The local media also covered my story. After appearing on TV, I became a famous street performer.