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Book excerpt: How Salman Khan landed the role in Maine Pyar Kiya

As Salman Khan turns 54 and his second film approaches its 30th anniversary, an excerpt from Sanjukta Nandy's new book, released by Rupa Publications, reveals how Rajshri Productions and director Sooraj R Barjatya took their time in casting the actor in Maine Pyar Kiya (1989).

Sanjukta Nandy

When Salman walked into Sooraj's cabin for the first time, the initial thought that crossed the producer-director's mind was that he was very small to look at. But when Salman showed his photographs, Sooraj realized that this boy had a special relationship with the lens. The camera loved him.

Sooraj then narrated the script of the film to Salman. As the story unfolded, Salman could not visualize other actors like Jackie Shroff, Sanjay Dutt, Sunny Deol or Kumar Gaurav, but only himself playing the character of Prem. Salman could hear the words in his head, 'Isko jaane mat do bhai, yeh tumhari life banayega. [Don't let this go. This will make your career]'. As soon as the narration was over, Salman said, 'Sooraj, it's superb, man! We'll do a great film together.' 'But, Salman, I have not signed you yet,' Sooraj was quick to respond.

Sooraj then revealed that there were other choices to be considered for the lead role. Salman did not bat an eyelid and immediately gave him a list of friends' names who were struggling actors. Samsher, Vishal Verma, Mustafa, Hanu Tiwary Gujral, Deepak Malhotra — and the list went on and on. Sooraj was shocked and asked why he was doing this and further diminishing his own chances. Salman was clear. If he didn't get the film, he would be happy if someone from his gang of friends got it. Sooraj, an emotional person, had never met anyone so large-hearted. Impressed, he told Salman that he had crossed over from the first round into the audition round.

Just a week before his birthday in December, Salman was to audition. But on that very day, he suddenly came down with a severe sinus attack. He could not say his dialogues properly. Even his dance steps went haywire, although he had prepared well. He immediately called his friend-choreographer Farah Khan for a practice session and told her she would have to accompany him to the audition for moral support.

At a bungalow in Worli, where the test shoot was held, Salman got carried away and started to do a freestyle dance. This left Farah aghast and she switched sides. She told Sooraj that as it was his first film, he should reconsider his choices and stomped out of the audition.

The audition continued. The gates were open and a dishelleved young lover ran into the bungalow as his loosely worn shirt flew in the air and he stood facing the camera. The background played the famous track of 'Dil Deewana Bin Sajna Ke Maane Na'. The boy looked straight into the camera and held up a bunch of tattered notes.

After that, Salman did some shots with the guitar on 'Oh Hansini'. Sooraj showed it to Charu and Chanda, his cousin and sister, who approved.

Salman was sure he had cracked it, but for months after that he did not get a call. Clearly, Sooraj wasn't impressed. It was all over. Four months passed. Salman was back to struggling for work.

During this time, Salman went for each and every audition that he got to know of. A new producer, Suresh Bhagat, was making a film, Biwi Ho To Aisi, and JK Bihari, the production manager of KC Bokadia, a successful producer and director of the 1980s, was directing it. It was the remake of a Pakistani film and had an ensemble star cast. They were looking for a boy to play the role of Vicky Bhandari, the younger brother of the lead, Suraj Bhandari, a character to be enacted by Farooq Shaikh.

Sooraj hadn't given up the thought of casting Salman but did after hearing that he had signed up for Biwi Ho To Aisi. He did not want to cast a boy who had been chosen to do a supporting role in a small film.

Sooraj felt he should inform Salman about his decision. Salman then was shooting for Biwi Ho To Aisi in Bombay and as soon as Salman saw Sooraj walk in, he hugged him. Sooraj broke the news that Salman was not the chosen one for Prem.

This did not deter Salman. He immediately suggested another set of names for the role. Salman used to search for roles in films carrying three portfolios with him. His own, Suniel Shetty's, whom he lovingly calls Anna till date, and another actor-friend Sunny's portfolio. And of course, all his other actor-friends were also on his recommendation list. Sooraj was so stunned at this boy's nature that he went back to office and declared to his team, 'Agar koi hero banega, toh yehi banega [If there is anyone who will play the hero, it is him].'

Excerpted from Khantastic: The Untold Story of Bollywood's Trio by Sanjukta Nandy with permission from Rupa Publications. Click here to buy the book.