There are actors, stars and superstars, and then there are supernovas who emote through their naked torsos. Several Hindi movie actors have exposed their upper-body musculature for the pleasure of their fans, including Dara Singh, Dharmendra and Sanjay Dutt. But nobody quite does the open chest routine like Salman Khan, as a potted tour of his movies reveals.
Maine Pyar Kiya (1989) The 24-year-old Khan, in only his second screen appearance and already a star, glowers and flexes muscle for his lady love (Bhagyashree). The movie poster, in which his shirtless self (with hair) towers over his demure lover, set up a he-man image that persists till date. An enduring sequence from that movie, which has more visual innuendo than is usually permissible in a Rajshri Productions title: Khan clad in blue jeans and nothing else doing push-ups as Bhagyashree tests his resolve.
Baaghi (1990) Khan plays Saajan, the obedient son of an Army colonel, whose love transforms him into a man of action and a rebel with a cause (the object of his desire is a victim of trafficking). The opening frame sets up Khan as the angry young man of the 1990s: he runs towards the camera yelling at the top of his voice, lunging his sword into an unseen enemy. But it starts badly for Saajan. He is ragged at college and forced to run through the campus in a bikini. Deepak Shivdasasni’s movie finds a more conventional way to get Khan to show off the positive effects of exercise: Saajan pumps iron in a gym and spends the rest of the movie in a variety of singlets.
Hum Aapke Hain Koun…! (1994) The animal passion that Khan was able to evoke in Sooraj Barjatya’s Maine Pyar Kiya had been tamed by the time Barjatya re-united with the actor for Hum Aapke Hain Koun…! A family-friendly reboot of Rajshri Productions’ Nadiya Ke Paar (1982) that is dipped in the goodness of clarified butter and sugar syrup, HAHK allows a flash of Khan’s newly shaven chest in a bath-tub in the song Chocolate Lime Juice Icecream. He later emerges from a swimming pool in lycra briefs in a fantasy song. “Salman started shaping his body from his struggling days,” Jasim Khan writes in his biography Being Salman (Penguin Random House India). “He was a regular member of the gym at Hotel Sea Rock. This was the reason Salman could take off his shirt in his very first movie. Madhuri Dixit reportedly asked him during the shooting of Hum Aapke Hain Koun . . . ! if he waxes his chest. ‘I am a man, I shave it,’ answered an unfazed Salman. His clean-shaven body was displayed for the first time in that movie, and has been Salman’s trademark ever since.”
Karan Arjun (1995) Rakesh Roshan’s reincarnation vendetta drama features Khan in one of his best performances. Appearing alongside Shah Rukh Khan as brothers in a previous life who are reunited in the present one, Salman Khan has every reason to take off his shirt: he plays a street fighter. Khan was still a few years away from resembling an action figurine, and his torso remained in proportion to the rest of his body.
Pyar Kiya To Darna Kya (1998) Behold the new Salman Khan at the end of a most successful decade: his chest expanded in all directions, glistening in the sun, and the blue jeans soldered to those stocky legs.
Tere Naam (2003) A bona fide male weepie aimed at young men the world over who believe that love equals madness and death. Satish Kaushik’s Tere Naam is a remake of Sethu, Bala’s sleeper hit in Tamil that made a star out of its lead actor, Vikram. Khan plays Radhe, a rowdy with his hair worn in bangs on either side of his face who loses his mind to love. Keen watchers of the career graph of Khan’s bare chest will remember the scene in which he balances a feather between his breasts after fantasising about Nirjara. Anurag Kashyap paid a witty homage to Radhe in Gangs of Wasseypur 2 through the character of Definite, who wears his hair in a similar style and exposes his upper body in tribute, moobs and all.
Wanted (2008) The Yojimbo-inspired actioner signalled Khan’s comeback after a dry spell as well as laid the groundwork for Dabangg. Khan plays an undercover cop who finishes off rival gangs, which means there is plenty of verbal and physical action and at least one inspired shirt-free moment. As the villain hurls a fireball at our khaki-clad policeman, he swats off the flame and takes off the ruined garment. Game on.
Dabangg (2010) Filmmakers have found innovative ways to get Khan to divest himself of his upper body clothing since Wanted. A fierce spray of water does the trick in Bodyguard (2011). In Dabangg, Abhinav Singh Kashyap’s meta-movie about the Salman Khan persona, a mighty wind blows as Khan’s Chulbul Pandey faces his nemesis. Chedi Singh (Sonu Sood) has caused the death of Chulbul’s mother, but why is he bare-chested when the uncrowned king of the unclothed torso contest isn’t? The answer arrives in a series of frenetic zoom-ins set to pounding music. The force of the flashback shreds Chulbul’s shirt just like in the closing minutes of Kung Fu Hustle, and he stands there before the world, not a hair on the chest. Just the way we always like to remember our birthday boy.