By Subhash K. Jha, Indo-Asian News Service
Mumbai, (IANS) When it comes to Salman Khan, svelte actress Shilpa Shetty just can't stop gushing about her "best buddy" who is "sweet, chivalrous and polite".
"Salman has been through a lot. I'd never dream of giving up my friendship with him just because he's been in trouble," says the actress who has worked with him in "Auzaar", "Garv: Pride and Honour" and "Phir Milenge".
"Salman is truly my best buddy. He knows me from the time I was 17. He has seen me grow up. I was this thin, gawky teenager petrified by his image. He treated me like a child, still does, in fact," Shilpa told IANS.
"I first met Salman during a world tour when his image as an enfant terrible was at an all-time high. I was initially scared of him, but he was such a gentleman.
"I remember 14 years ago, when I was this Alice in Blunderland, mom and I had travelled without a male companion to the US. Salman was so sweet and helpful. Anyone who knows him would know how sweet, chivalrous and polite he is to ladies," she said.
"As for his wild image, if he's pushed around he'll push back. That doesn't make him any different from any of us. I remember when our family was in a spot of trouble, he stood by us like a pillar of strength. Not just Salman, but his entire family - Salim uncle, Salma aunty and Helen Aunty - is very close to me.
"I've been linked to Salman. But all the time that I've known him he has constantly had a girlfriend. People have barked up the wrong tree. These rumours haven't affected our friendship," Shilpa said.
Their latest release together is "Shaadi Karke Phas Gaya Yaar".
"I'm glad it (the film) finally saw the light of day. I've done four films with Salman, including (the late Mukul Anand's) 'Dus', which never went beyond the first schedule. But 'Shaadi Karke...' is the one closest to my heart.
"Unlike my other films with him, this one was an out-out-out romantic film. It's the first film I signed after 'Dhadkan'. As you know, 'Dhadkan' was a turning point in my career. To be signed with Salman at that point of my career meant I had arrived," she said.
"Besides being a dear friend, he is a huge star. To be paired opposite him was a huge high for me. And I can't deny the role in 'Shaadi Karke...' was very challenging for me. After I signed a film with Salman, I also got Sunny Deol as my hero in 'Indian'. So, in a way 'Shaadi Karke...' put me in the big league," she added.
In splits over Salman's pranks, she said: "I remember we were shooting an emotional scene and Salman wouldn't stop laughing in front of me. The more I pleaded with him to keep a straight face, the more he made me laugh. It's so weird, but Salman is truly effortless. He's very underplayed and extremely underrated."
"Salman had worked with both (producer) Bubby Kent and (director) K.S. Adhiyaman before. I was the odd one out. But I had a ball. I think the director is a fabulous technician. I don't get to play the conventional heroine in 'Shaadi Karke...'
"It's on the theme of marital discord, a topic quite in discussion. In fact, marriage is an issue that can never get dated. Salman and I play a couple who are a dream together before marriage and a nightmare after marriage," she said.
Was she apprehensive about the film's fate?
"No! Why should I be? I've survived in the industry for 14 years, watched so many girls come and go without being manipulative. It's cool. I've no regrets. Sure, 'Shaadi Karke...' went through its share of problems. Salman has had a big 'Shaadi' hit earlier ('Mujhse Shaadi Karogi'). Too bad this one didn't work," she said.
Shilpa has just started work on Anurag Basu's "Metro", which also stars Konkona Sen Sharma and Kangana Ranaut.
"I've been shooting with Kay Kay Menon and Shiney Ahuja and both are fabulous actors. Then there are two fabulous actresses Konkona and Kangana. The names can get quite confusing on the sets.
"I think we'll have fun shooting. Considering I haven't been seen for a whole year, it'll be good for my career to be seen in three biggies one after another," she said.
"Metro" is being released on Jan 26.
"It is the kind of film I can relate to. It's a film that's not just realistic but also commercial. Anurag gets such work out of new actors.
"How does he do it? Anurag is also a good actor. He explains a role so well. He is so calm and so full of beans. I know I'll be seen in a different light in 'Metro'," Shilpa opined.