DUBAI: For years he has remained Bollywood’s most revered star in the UAE. Someone whose mere presence whips up a kind of frenzy that neither Amitabh Bachchan nor Shah Rukh Khan can rival.
When was the last time you heard police firing teargas to disperse a crowd of hysterical fans gathered to catch the glimpse of a celebrity? It happened only once in the UAE. The year was 2007 and the star was Salman Khan who had turned up to inaugurate a footwear outlet in Sharjah’s Safeer Mall.
Today, Salman has probably more ardent admirers in UAE than in some cities in India. Sure enough even his most mediocre movies run to packed houses here. The cine-goers aren’t just people from the subcontinent but also Filipinos and Emiratis.
Salman all around
As ambassador for a clutch of UAE-based brands, Salman Khan dominates the hoarding-scape of the country like nobody else. He stares at us from RTA buses and his larger than life cut-outs and posters greet us at nearly every bend.
But now the superstar has been found guilty in a 13-year-old hit-and-run case and sentenced by an Indian court to five years in jail.
With two upcoming films - Bajrangi Bhaijaan and Prem Ratan Dhan Paayo - currently in the last stages of shooting and many more in the pipeline there’s roughly $40 million (Dh147 million) riding on the 49-year-old actor. The stakes in the UAE are pretty high too where Khan endorses high-street retailer Splash and PNG Jewellers.
Whether RTA will want the face of a culpable homicide convict splashed on their buses remains to be seen. However, Splash CEO and Khan’s longtime friend Raza Baig has made it clear that the actor will remain their brand ambassador. In a text message to XPRESS from abroad where he is undergoing detox, Baig wrote: “My heart breaks to find out about the verdict but as they say every great man in history has gone through some struggle to achieve greater heights, so probably this is his calling. We cannot comment on the judgement and do not believe he deserves it but Allah’s will it is. At Splash we love Salman Khan and we will support him through every up and down. He will continue to be our brand ambassador.”
Judging by his fan-following it’s clear that Khan’s popularity in the UAE isn’t likely to fade any time soon and his friends and admirers will remain solidly behind him.
Less than three years after the actor ran over four pavement dwellers in Mumbai following a row with his then girlfriend Aishwarya, the actor was made the face of Belhasa Driving Center’s Road Safety Campaign and flown to Dubai to inaugurate their Dh42 million driving complex.
Asked to explain the irony, Khan had said: “It can only happen in UAE. I can’t even dream of inaugurating a driving school in India, certainly not after what happened back home.”