My father’s life story will make for a great film: Saif Ali Khan

Of late, a number of biopics on sportspeople have done well at the box office. Although Saif Ali Khan “would love” to make one on his late father, and one of India’s best cricketers and captains, Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi, famously known as Tiger Pataudi, the actor says he is afraid of “making a bad film”. Here, we talk to the actor about a possible biopic on his father.

With so many sports films being made, would you like to make a biopic on your father as well?
I would love to. He is a huge icon in my mind. He was a stylish person — with his body language, the way he spoke, his attitude, and even the way he smoked his cigarettes. You can’t come close [to him]. It’s like making a film on Bruce Lee. Who is going to copy his body language? That is my main concern. Amma (Sharmila Tagore) feels Ranbir (Kapoor) can. Yes, he has a long face like my father but I don’t think he likes cricket (laughs). However, it will be great [to see a film on him]. It will be a great story about bringing India together.

It’s surprising that you never thought about it…
I think it’s because of my personal affection towards him, and also not wanting to make a bad film ever. Tab toh lag jayenge [it will get lot of criticism]. Who is making such mind-blowing films nowadays? You need somebody who really understands such stuff. Out of all the people I have met, Raja Krishna Menon (director) is one guy [who understands cricket]. I haven’t spoken to him about it though. I haven’t even thought about it. But Raja understands cricket well. It needs to be done at some point.

So, do you see yourself telling your father’s story?
It will happen someday, when I stop taking it so personally. It should be told as long as the basic point is correct. He would have been the number one [batsman] in the world, but he lost everything in an accident (in 1961, when a shard of glass permanently damaged his right eye). He then got it all back and played well enough to become the best batsman in the ’60s. It can have a great title too — Tiger.

Your father was the captain of the Indian cricket team, when cricket was at a nascent stage in India…
Yes, and he also united India, as an architect of a modern Indian team. That’s the main concept [of the film], besides other interesting ideas from him like, he wanted to have four spinners in the team. But when he was asked why he had no fast bowlers in his team, he would say, that you play your best bowlers. You don’t think if they are fast or slow; you just select your best four. The West Indies team later started having four fast bowlers. So, he had that kind of thinking, and I feel it will make for a great film.

Have you ever dreamt of seeing Ibrahim (son) become a cricketer?
These are unrealistic dreams. But of course, it would be so lovely if it happens. Then, you can say, ‘Oh God, it’s great, for so many generations. The family name and the legacy is alive.’ It’s important to take forward the legacy which gets forgotten in time. That’s why Pataudi [palace] is important as a house, and that’s why I took it back. So in that sense, it [Ibrahim taking up cricket] will be very romantic. But romance has its own place; you can’t get carried away with that. I would much rather have him be happy and have a decent job. However, if he plays cricket for India, I would be amazed.

What, according to you, could be the biggest challenge in making your father’s biopic?
You need to shoot cricket well. Another problem is who will play Sunil Gavaskar, Bishan Singh Bedi or who will play Tiger Pataudi in that kind of stance — a crooked open stance with his hat over his eyes and plus, his square cut was so dynamic. If one can show a fast bowler bowling and capture what that feeling is like on the pitch, it’s a great project.

Wouldn’t you like to play your father?
I don’t know, maybe. I am 46 and all his drama happened when he was in his 20s. So, there can be two actors [who can portray different stages of his life]. It’s actually very interesting but I am scared of making a bad film (smiles).

But with you at helm, won’t quality be a sure thing?

I don’t know. You always try to make a good film, but let’s put it this way, ‘who’s going to direct it, write or even decide whether it will be Hindi-English [bilingual] film or a typical Bollywood film.’ He spoke Hindi and Urdu, and even English. So, it has to be bilingual. Not many know that there used to be a translator in the changing room because no one understood too much of Hindi or English. While some could speak only in Tamil, few knew Punjabi and a few only Haryanvi. So, Abba would speak in English and then the translator would translate it in Hindi.

You must be privy to many such details…
Dad and others used to fight for players’ rights. Some of them couldn’t even afford tickets to travel to the match venue. It was ridiculous in those days. They were all amateurs, including my dad. Being a professional means you get paid for it. But he used to fly on his own expense. There was no money in cricket. Players would get `100 or something like that for a Test match. It’s very different now. Now, you can also make `100 crore as a cricketer. So, it’s a wonderful, high paying job, which is great. Tiger Pataudi would have been a dream brand icon today (laughs).
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