By Subhash K. Jha
Mumbai, Oct 9 (IANS) Salman Khan has for the past month been travelling across the country, thanks to Samir Karnik's "Mera Bharat Mahaan". And the break from Mumbai has mellowed down the troubled actor beyond recognition, say his good friends.
"Salman has become far quieter and mellower. He was always a chilled-out guy. Now he's more chilled out than ever before. He doesn't get hassled about anything. No matter how wintry or warm the weather gets, he remains calm. And I've never seen him so work-driven," actress Shilpa Shetty, who has known him for years, told IANS."I was just a child when I came into the industry. Salman looked after me like he would a child. Today he still looks out for me," said Shilpa, who has starred with him in films like "Auzaar", "Garv: Pride and Honour" and "Phir Milenge".
It's not just Shilpa. Most of Salman's co-stars feel his personality has changed.
While shooting for "Mera Bharat Mahaan" in Leh and Chandigarh, Salman was so undemanding that the film's unit got slightly worried.
"We've never seen him like this before," said a source from the unit. "He requested the makers of 'Mera Bharat Mahaan' to avoid publicising his presence in the film. His argument was that his role was so brief he would've just liked to be the surprise element when the film came out.
"Throughout the Leh and Chandigarh schedule, Salman was totally focused on his work. He slept early and woke up before the cows to be on location in time," the source added.
Salman was last year handed a five-year jail term for killing a chinkara deer at a farm near Jodhpur in 1998 while filming Sooraj Barjatya's "Hum Saath Saath Hain". He has had two stints in jail and is currently out on bail.
Another close friend of Salman said the actor had also cut down on partying and drinking.
"He's cut down drastically on the drinks and spends all his free time with family rather than friends. He's no longer interested in partying...Suddenly he's more career-driven than ever before. If you see him in 'Partner', he has matched Govinda step-by-step in the dances," the friend said.
"It's all about motivation," said David Dhawan, director of "Partner" and long-standing chum. "Salman has always danced well. But if people find him more in rhythm now it's because he feels a certain inner enthusiasm. Salman rehearsed for hours with Govinda before facing the camera for the dance."
That's certainly a new one from Salman. Rehearsals, his directors will tell you, have always bored Salman. But today his friends and associates swear Salman wants to get it right.
Said Dhawan: "Salman is today a very generous actor. There was no sense of one-upmanship between him and Govinda in 'Partner'. He gladly let Govinda take centre-stage at times. How many stars would do this in their home production?"
And Salman also seems to be on a fence-mending spree. After making up with Shah Rukh Khan and Subhash Ghai, he has taken Ranbir Kapoor, whom he had once roughed up in a pub, under his wings. The two apparently share a good bonding, much to Ranbir's father Rishi Kapoor's joy.