The crowds thronged at the entrance of Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH). Patients, nurses and visitors all waited impatiently for more than an hour, craning their necks each time a car drove up.
At last he came.
The arrival of Salman Khan, Indian superstar and one of the most bankable stars in the Indian film industry, was greeted with loud cheers.
Dozens of cameras and mobile phones were produced as everyone tried to capture the moment. Khan, dressed in a gray T-shirt sporting a superman logo, smiled at the crowd and flanked by a dozen policemen, made his way to the blood donors’ room.
The crowd was enthralled: “Oh, he looks so handsome!”, “He even moves like he does in the movies!”, “He is taller than I thought!”
Khan inaugurated the blood donation camp, one of the activities of the annual India-Maldives friendship festival 2010. Not just settling for a ribbon-cutting moment, Khan donated his own blood.
Later in the seminar room, Indian High Commissioner Dnyanesshwar Mulay said he hoped that this would herald a new era in the India Maldives friendship “as now we are blood relatives.”
Khan stood up and got as far as “Bismillahirahmaniraheem” before he was mobbed.
Photos and chats were requested – and he obliged. Smiling and gracious, he acknowledged everyone around him.
Khan was then whisked off to Iskandhar School to judge a painting exhibition by the school children. As children painted, Khan moved around signing their paintings and chatting with them. Outside it was pandemonium; the doors of the hall had to be locked to keep the crowds out.
A foreigner who said he was a teacher opened his wallet and showed proof.
“Now let me in, you have let other teachers in, let me in!” he screamed.
A Maldivian journalist threatened “I am going to make this as a breaking news now if you don’t let me in.”
Another journalist threatened to call the police spokesperson and complain.
Tempers flared, but the police inside kept the doors locked. People stuck their faces to the glass door to catch a glimpse of the superstar.
More than a star
Khan said he was pleased to be at the launching of the medical assistance programme in the children’s home on Villingili earlier that the day.
Mr Mulay explained that the medical assistance programme would provide free treatments for the children by Indian doctors.
Speaking at the ceremony, Khan said that he would help “in anyway possible” for similar charitable programmes.
“My number is at the Indian High commission. If my participation is needed for an event like this, all you have to do is call,” he promised. “It’s just a two hour flight to come to the Maldives and help out.”
Khan gained fame in the Maldives ever since he shot to fame with his first movie as a lead man, ‘Maine pyar kiya’ in 1989. His fame was later cemented with his hits ‘Hum aapke hei kaun,’ ‘Karan Arjun,’ ‘Kuch Kuch hota hei’ and recent ones like ‘Partner’ and ‘Wanted.’
His vast acting skills and his buff body are something a lot of Maldivians are familiar with.
But his humanitarian work is less well known here, and this was the first glimpse of it up close for Maldivians.
Khan recently set up his own charity NGO, ‘Being human.’
Asked in an interview about it, he replied “Being human for me is ‘being human’. We all are human beings and I think we don’t do anything human to be human so you have to do something. I mean, God gives you so much and you know eventually you need to start giving it back.”
The official inauguration of the festival was held last night. President Mohamed Nasheed and First Lady Laila Ali arrived with Salman Khan and Mr Mulay.
There was an audible gasp in the hall at Dharubaruge when people caught sight of Khan.
Once they took their place at the podium, a recitation of Quran started the ceremony.
Khan, clad in a slim greyish-striped shirt, provided the eye candy, there were more gasps as cameras clicked away.
“We live in this country, we breath this air, we earn our livelihood here, so we should contribute positively to the population” said Mr Mulay, highlighting why it was important for Indians to participate.
He said he hoped that the friendship between the two countries will be streangthened. Whenever he mentioned Khan’s name and his activities, a loud cheer went up.
Indian infrastructure giant GMR – which recently won the bid to develop Male International Airport – announced it would give 10 scholarships for the next four years to Maldivian students, and were greeted with loud cheers of approval.
Khan took the mic next and said he was honoured to be in the Maldives, and joked that the GMR group was now going to pay for his education.
“Islam means peace, we should all live in peace,” Khan said, drawing louder cheers.
President Nasheed also spoke, keeping his speech short “as this is no time for politicians.”
“We invited Mr Khan and wanted him here not only for his acting, but for his humanitarian work,” Nasheed said, thanking the famous actor.
Sitting side by side, Khan and President seemed amused at the enthusiasm of the crowd.
What followed next was two hours of entertainment, a fusion of Bharatnatyam and Khatak dance by Indians.
Maldivian dancer Jadu and his group performed a mix of traditional Maldivian dances with a modern take.
The atmosphere revved up a few notches when Khan took to the stage in the middle of a dance by young Indian girls. He matched them step for step, showing off his skills and driving the crowd went wild. He was invited to the stage for a follow up act.
When Jadu and his group performed a medley of his songs, he joined in and did his famous dance moves to songs like ‘Just chill’ and ‘Theyrahee chehra.’
After the President left, Khan followed and left the function.
A superstar was in town, and more than his dancing skills or his apparent talent for improvisation, what was most striking was his graciousness.
Despite being one of the most famous stars in the region, Khan showed no airs or graces. His whole demenour was respectful and obliging to the crowds who turned up to see him, and his apparent willingness to help Maldivians in charity work won the hearts of many.
The India-Maldives Friendship Festival 2010 will continue until August 15, 2010.
July 30-31: Education Fair organised by Times Group will be held at Dharubaruge.
August 3-5: A magic show by Mr Gopinath Muthukad will be held at the Olympus theater.
August 6: An evening of cultural programmes will be held by local artists.
August 12-15: Grande finale of the festival will be held in the evenings by a variety show group from India, together with local artists.
For more information, please contactthe Indian High Commission at Tel/Fax: 332 1824