An auto rickshaw pulls into the quiet curves of Bandra Bandstand. Streetlights illuminate the seafront promenade, waves crash on the rocks below, but not a soul stirs.

Ratan Singh steps out of the auto. He reaches into his pocket and pays the driver; they exchange a few words. The driver points to a weathered white building that says Galaxy Apartments. Ratan pulls his jacket shut and limps across the street. He sits on a bench from where the patron of Galaxy Apartment, Salman Khan, might be able to see him.

An SUV zooms into one of the many empty parking spaces. The glare shines on Singh; he cuts a somewhat dubious figure like an actor from a noir movie. It might be due to his beret, or the look of crazed desperation in his eyes.

There’s a chance the car might hold Bollywood’s leading actor, so Singh is on his feet, clutching a white plastic bag containing doctors’ reports. He’s heard that Salman Khan runs an open-door policy where the needy are helped outside his house early in the morning.

Three people jump out of the white Audi. None of them has the physique of a bodybuilder so Singh sits back down. He waits for an hour but there’s no sign of the Khan family. There’s nobody out there, just him and the blank vastness of the sea.
But he’ll wait, even though time’s not on his side.

Four months ago, Ratan Singh’s life changed. It started with a shooting sensation in his left arm: a throbbing that travelled up and down followed by lethargy, as though he had just run a marathon. Then the pain morphed into something more sinister. Pangs would start in his heart and travel to his back, squeezing him into a twisted embrace of pain. His posture stooped, he started coughing violently.

Singh tried to deny his body’s rapid deterioration but the late night coughing alerted his wife, despite his best attempts at muffling the noise. One night, under the harsh white tube light of his home, Singh spat out a lump of blood into the beige sink.

He’d washed the sink clean but the stains on his shirt vexed his wife. “What’s this?” she asked, her eyes wet with tears, as though she’d found the lipstick stains of another woman on her husband’s shirt.

“Probably nothing,” he had replied nonchalantly.

They fought. It could be tuberculosis, the wife said, and so he found himself sitting in Cooper Hospital opposite a doctor whose apologetic eyes spelled greater trouble.

“You have a bad heart,” he said. Singh was lying in a cold white room with an intravenous drip in his arm. Red dye travelled through his body to identify severe blockages. Four are found.

It costs Rs. 2.5 lakh to mend a broken heart and Singh, a retired electrician, doesn’t have the money for the operation. The doctors recommended open-heart surgery but he doesn’t want to go through something so invasive. He’s a quick-fix sort of man, so he’ll settle for the quicker and cheaper angioplasty.

But he doesn’t know where to get the money from, so he carries on. Singh and his wife watch Salman Khan on TV; he’s wearing a Being Human t-shirt. Maybe Salman Khan can offer what the government has failed to provide: money for health care, for a second chance at life.

“Ask him for help,” says his wife.

“You want me to beg?” Singh asks.

Years ago, when Salman was just starting out and Singh too was a young man, the two had been acquaintances. Singh worked as an electrician in the film industry and had shone the light on Salman’s face to bring out the best in the actor. He’d also accompanied the actor and Manisha Koirala to Ooty.

He and 30 others had spent three weeks shooting Sang Dil Sanam. On set, they’d pretended they were one big family but as shooting wrapped up, so did the camaraderie. Everyone became strangers again, but maybe Salman Khan would remember.

Asking for help, Singh says, isn’t something that comes easily. Egged on by his wife, Singh woke that morning at 5 a.m. and boarded two buses and an auto to a journey of rejection. He rode past tattered people sleeping in heaps under flyovers. He saw luxury cars jet across, ignoring the flashing traffic lights. At 6.30 a.m., the transition from night to day was signalled as all street lamps switched off.

The milkman plies his route in Bandra’s Pali Road, the crows caw, dogs wander the street. Soon the shutters of Starbucks and Bru World will open. The health-conscious are already out, sweating on the streets.

But the actor he sees on television is a superstar now: more buff, more in demand. His last five movies have gone straight to the top, setting records at the box office and bringing in crores.

Singh waits.

Finally an accomplice. A woman slumps onto the empty bench next to Singh, her eyes locked on Galaxy Apartments. The building looks unspectacular, unfitting for a star whose last movie grossed crores. The exterior with its bulges of air conditioners makes the building even uglier but Maria Agnelo Fernandez says, “It’s a dream abode.”

This isn’t the first time she has come to the actor’s house. She knows the drill and waits patiently, thumbing a rosary. More people arrive with plastic bags full of sad stories that they want to show the superstar. Fishing boats return with the day’s catch and the promenade is alive with the chatter of morning joggers.

A man in extremely short shorts and a tight vest is jogging past the burgeoning crowd. He’s a personal trainer coaching a girl. Members of the Bandra Jogging Club stretch on the only empty bench. Others do lunges as the crowd watches. In the small park behind the benches, a yoga class commences on the green.

Fernandes has watched the Bandstand come alive for four days. On the weekend, Salman’s bodyguards shooed her away. Even public figures were allowed their privacy and they told her to return on a weekday. Nobody bothered asking why she had come or what she had in her plastic bag.

She returned on the Monday in a new dress and placed herself on the bench she’s sitting on today. She tells me this is the seat with the greatest vantage point. He’ll definitely see her here, she says.

“Do you think he’s looking down?” I ask.

“Of course,” she replies. “My Salman, he’s got a heart of gold.”

She’s got it all planned. When he comes out, she will run to him and show him her husband’s death certificate which she brings with her every day. Nobody cares for a widow, she says. She’s got two daughters and unfortunate sons-in-law. Her situation is so dire that she’s had to put two grandchildren in an ashram.

Two years ago, when times got really bad, Fernandes gave her house to a loan shark for a bit of money. Times haven’t got any better but she wants her house back. The loan shark wants Rs.1.5 lakh.

“How will a woman come up with this sort of money?” she asks. She’s seen Dabangg several times, the movie where Salman styles himself as a sort of Robin Hood. Maybe that’s what he’s like in real life, she says. At least that’s what she hopes.

“But he helps sick people,” I say.

 “Desperation is a sickness too,” Fernandes says, still staring at the first floor of Galaxy Apartments where Salman Khan is often pictured, waving to adoring fans.

She fiddles with her necklace. She’s seen almost every Salman Khan movie. In a way, the ticket sales that have catapulted him to fame mean she owns a part of him.

For the people gathered outside his house this morning, Salman Khan is not just Bollywood’s Number One star but a role model, whose life they feel entitled to. With increasingly diverse media and a morphing celebrity culture, the boundary between real life and entertainment—the performer and his private life—has blurred.

For the people gathered outside his house this morning, Salman Khan is not just Bollywood’s Number One star but a role model, whose life they feel entitled to. With increasingly diverse media and a morphing celebrity culture, the boundary between real life and entertainment—the performer and his private life—has blurred.

Rather than the adoring fan waiting to see Salman Khan wave, the desperate citizen waits on the street, almost expecting Salman Bhai to share his success. But despite the intricate connection between celebrity culture and popular engagement, the actor remains elusive and so stories are born at the actor’s doorstep.

Fernandes tells me one of them: Salman Khan was once an addict, so deep in the well that people had said he wouldn’t make it out. “He was in his last stage,” she says. This narrative is entirely novel, unlike the oft-discussed one of the aggressive actor said to assault women and run people over in drunk driving fits.

But it’s her imagination that has won the discourse. She wants to identify with the Salman of her creation, paint him with a brush that shows weaknesses. She wants him to be as human as her. “Once my house is free, I don’t need to open my hands,” she says, and Salman is the most charitable of them all. She’s seen how he made a woman his sister on Discovery Channel. She too will be helped, of this she is sure.

Two heavy-set bodyguards step out of Galaxy Apartments. People talk in hushed tones as they watch the grey safari-suited men cross the street. “Go home, the doctor won’t be here today,” says one.

“Come back tomorrow,” says the other.

“If he’s opened a trust, he should have timings,” says someone. The guards don’t bother responding.


The crowd has started to disperse but an elderly woman refuses to budge. She’s staring at the dogs in the distance. She wipes her wet eyes with the edge of her red and white sari. Three hours: that’s how long she’s been waiting here, hoping that today will be the day that god answers her prayers—through Salman Khan. Yesterday she sold her mangalsutra and three bangles, but the cost of fixing her granddaughter is much greater.

Her son, the granddaughter’s father, tries to console her. The family live in Kurla, he tells me. Life in Kurla’s alleys is too crammed, there’s no space, no peace. The grandmother looks at her son with desperate eyes; he pats her shoulder and then her head.

A week has passed since tragedy shook their family. Her seven-year-old granddaughter, Mamta, was out playing on the streets with street dogs that she’d befriended. Over the past few months, she’d become attached to the dogs: feeding them biscuits, brushing their hair, putting powder on their faces.

A neighbour had commented on the development. “They’ll bite her one day,” she’d said. Nobody had heeded her advice.

When the grandmother was in the kitchen cooking, she heard a loud cry. She ran outside to find her granddaughter on the floor with a dog attacking her face. Its teeth were buried deep inside the girl’s facial skeleton. It pulled its teeth back, dislodging flesh and spilling blood. Passersby gathered in a circle around dog and child, too afraid to anger the dog further.

A woman in a burqa intervened and separated the two but by then, the girl’s lips and chunks of her left cheek had been shredded.

The father carries a pink folder in his hands and shows me the pictures. The first is of the young girl with her eyes bandaged and face mutilated. The second is of the young girl trying to manage an awkward smile but failing. Perhaps it’s because of the pain from the gaping hole in her cheek. The father breaks down, his face in his hands.

“All I need is Rs. 1 lakh,” he says. That’s the cost of reconstructive plastic surgery.

People stop over to watch the drama. “Salman Khan always helps children,” says someone. They’ve seen the Being Human website and with such an absurd tragedy, he’s likely to help.

Nearby, the yoga group laughs and roars as part of their morning constitutional. The guard from Salman Khan’s house walks past, waving his hands as though he is a swatting a fly. “Too much public,” he says, and starts telling them to disperse. A desperate grandfather talks to a desperate father about where to go next. “Try the Siddhivinayak Trust,” he says. This is the parallel world of healthcare: what under-funded hospitals can’t manage, generous hands attempt to.

Three hours have lapsed since Ratan Singh’s auto pulled into Galaxy Mansions. He’s hungry, but no one sells food and the stores in the area are too expensive. He’s brought a bottle of water. A chaiwallah who frequents the spot doles out lucrative cups of tea. Soon it’s all gone.

The guards reappear and order the people to form two lines: one line for Tata Cancer and the second for other types of illnesses. The cancer line is long; an old lady in the crowd comments that there was less cancer when she was young.

The doctor appears in navy shorts and beige Tods loafers. He leans against the wall of the park adjacent to the benches, making this public space Salman Khan’s charitable office. He speaks to each person for no more than a minute. Singh is one of them.

The fortunate few will get a Being Human stub. Singh doesn’t get one.

He remains a patient.


In a house in Andheri, a girl is lying on a small charpoy. Her legs are dead straight. They almost never move. There’s a TV remote control next to her; the TV’s almost never off. A re-run of Bigg Boss is on the screen. The noise of children playing outside filters through the house but seldom do any of them come inside. She’s almost always alone.

Ten years ago, Deepika Jadav was 13. She was diagnosed with a bone tumour in her knee. The pain was so excruciating, so debilitating, she says, that she doesn’t have words to describe it. The doctor had predicted one clean-cut surgery to replace the knee but six operations and 10 years later, Deepika still lies in pain. She got an infection in her knee and the knee bone had to be removed. Lack of funds has meant that she’s got a rod running down the length of her leg. She can’t bend her legs.

Deepika’s mother is short on time and waits impatiently outside Galaxy Mansions. She’s the only person pacing up and down, staring at her mobile.

“I can’t lose my job,” she says. She works as a tailor in a garment factory and has been waiting since 6.45 a.m. She just wants to hand over the doctor’s letter; she’s sure she’ll get help and if she doesn’t, she’ll beg. “Mothers will do anything for their children,” she says.

She’ll tell the doctor that her daughter’s like the living dead, never smiling, never happy. In the past three months, the only time she’s been out of the house is to have a blood test done. Most days she sits at home watching TV. She’s seen all of Salman’s films; she knows his characters like she would know the inner lives of friends, if she had any. She’s seen Salman’s box office hits, the movies that people flock to see in the cinema halls. Salman Khan has said that he does movies that bring people out to the cinema, but Deepika has never set foot in a cinema hall. She wanted to see Ek Tha Tiger on the big screen but how could she?

“I’m worse than a normal disabled person,” she says. “I’m too broken.” Girls like her, she says, will never have a fair chance at love or life. Broken kismet, that’s how she describes it. She’d like to meet a man like Salman—funny, strong, and cocky—but who wants to be with a girl like her, she asks. After her last operation, where charity from Ratan Tata Trust and Siddhivinayak Trust had restored her confidence, she’d ventured to the mohalla and had attempted a normal life.

But tragedy hit again. Three months ago, days after the doctor had informed the mother of the infection, her brother was run over by a BEST bus. He died. Her older brother finds the house depressing. The mother carries the burden of this broken home. Her husband died when Deepika was three.

That morning, when I met her mother outside Salman Khan’s house, she’d woken up at 4 a.m. and bathed her daughter and cooked her food. She boarded the bus from Andheri and took an auto to the star’s house. There she waited for three hours with a plastic bag full of folders and broken dreams. Then she stood in front of the doctor who was outside the house, for an interchange that lasted less than a minute.

The doctor gave her a ticket—a laminated Being Human stub—that said she had a chance of being at the receiving end of Salman Khan’s benevolence, feeling perhaps like Charlie had felt when he found the Golden Ticket and had a chance to enter the chocolate factory.