Salman bhai's many faults were not just forgiven but completely forgotten by his fans with the release of Bajrangi Bhaijaan. That's obvious, you might say. But what really isn't, is that this adulation comes from not just the tapori sitting in the stalls, whistling at every dance move Salman attempts, but also from those seated in the balcony.
If you're not familiar with single-screen speak, the seats in the balcony clearly divides the audience in the cinema hall from those sitting in the stalls or the dress circle down below, where the seats are closer to the screens and the tickets obviously cheaper. So when Munnabhai gets the girl or Bhuvan's team wins the match against the goras, it's the audience sitting down below that erupts into cheers, catcalls and whistles while those in the balcony continue to munch on their popcorn or sip on their colas.
But this predictability of the class structure in the single-screen cinema hall was shattered at the screening of Bajrangi Bhaijaan. And there could be only one explanation for what I saw at the weekend release at one of Mumbai's few remaining single screens, Chandan. The Salman Khan phenomenon!
I was at first quite surprised at how the film's first ten minutes were being received - with the crowd distracted, and a nonchalance looming in the air unfit for a Bhai-starrer. Let me add here that this was not the first time I was watching a Salman Khan film in Chandan. And even though I was amused to spot people walk into the theatre donning tartan scarves a la Ek Tha Tiger, nothing could have prepared me for the reaction to that first glimpse of Salman's eyes, a nanosecond before his entry song "Selfie Le Le Re". The mania that followed the start of the song was completely unforgettable.
It was unlike any concert you might have attended - even teenage girls at a Justin Bieber concert would seem tame in comparison. Given, there was no shrieking, but the fans all set to dance with their "bhai" were crazed enough for Chandan to call in their security. It wasn't just about matching steps with the actor, of course, as ten rupee notes were being showered (landing softly onto the other fans in the stalls, where else!). Strangest of all, though, were the chants for an encore. "Once more, once more," screamed the fans, until they realised it was a film they had come to watch, not just the star's entry song.