“Taimur is an ancient Persian name meaning iron” : Saif Ali Khan

New dad Saif Ali Khan may not quite be cleaning up baby poop but he’s certainly dealing with the scatalogical side of having an infant in his arms. “He scowls a lot, passes wind and yells so Kareena thinks he’s a lot like me—a cranky, farty yeller!” he says about Taimur, arguably the most famous baby in the country at the moment. The actor, no stranger to controversy—he was accused by the loony fringe of waging Love Jihad when he married Kareena Kapoor in 2012—speaks out for the first time since the controversy over Taimur’s name broke out in late December. And in doing so he strikes a cautiously optimistic note, warning against needless handwringing over right-wing fascists taking over the country’s culture.

“Social media just makes it clear what everybody is thinking in a sense. There is a lot of anonymity from the side of the people who are doing the talking so they feel free to say whatever they like, and sometimes they get very nasty…And that’s fine. It doesn’t mean that twenty, thirty or forty years ago people weren’t thinking similar things but maybe they did not have an outlet then.’ “As far as I am concerned, stars are privileged and our country is actually still very balanced,” he adds expressing gratitude for the support that he and Kareena have received in recent weeks.

“People talk about the country becoming right-wing and fascist, and we have all these fears…but the fact of the matter is that if you view the kind of unnecessary drama over Taimur, there were a lot of voices…I felt I didn’t have to say anything because a lot of people had spoken wisely and liberally. Voices that kind of vindicated my decision and made me feel that it’s absolutely fine (to have the freedom to name his child as he wished to). “Yes, there were some people who raised some objections but obviously just to look at medieval history and to make value judgments is, I think, ridiculous, and a lot of people have said that on my behalf. I feel quite confident that we don’t live in a right-wing society. As Yet. India is still liberal and people are still open minded,” he said.

If certain people get worked up about the idea of Love Jihad or over a name, that too, the actor felt was their right. “It’s just one of those things where people have a voice, and it’s OK for them to share it…These are the times we live in, but I don’t think it’s reason to get too worried.” The idea behind naming his son Taimur was obviously never to offend anyone. “My wife and I love the sound of it and we love its meaning. I am aware of the heritage of the Turkish ruler—he was Timur, my son is Taimur, an ancient Persian name that means iron.’ “Perhaps,” he adds, tongue firmly in his cheek, “I should have added a disclaimer, as they do in the movies, that any resemblance to any person, living or dead, is purely coincidental.”

Jest aside, Saif hopes that his son will grow up to emulate him. “That like me he will be an international ambassador for his heritage and counter Islamophobia. When people meet me they are surprised I am not some right-wing Muslim. My son too will be a liberal, balanced, open-minded guy.” At 46, Saif Ali Khan is in a happy place with wife Kareena and their newborn son and doesn’t feel the need to justify his decision of christening the baby Taimur. While some people have gone back in medieval history to make ridiculous value judgements, the new father has maintained a stoic silence in the face of the Twitter storm.

Opening up on the subject for the first time, Saif says, “I’m aware of the heritage of the Turkish ruler and my son was not named after him. He was Timur, my son is Taimur. Perhaps the root is similar but it’s not the same name. Taimur is an ancient Persian name meaning iron. Both my wife and I liked its sound and the meaning. In fact, of all the names I ran by Kareena, she liked this one the best because it’s beautiful and strong,” he says, adding that Taimur was the name of a boy he’d grown up with and a cousin too. “It’s an old family name like Sara who was also named after a cousin I admired.”

Saif points out that even names like Alexander and Ashoka have had a violent history but you don’t have to behave like the person you are named after. Every child makes his/her own history and destiny and he’s hopeful that Taimur too will conquer with love, peace and the good values he and Kareena inculcate in him. “Like me, Saif Ali Khan, he will be international ambassador for his heritage and counter Islamaphobia. When people meet me they are surprised that I’m not a right-wing Muslim, my son too will be a liberal, balanced, open-minded guy,” Saif asserts.

He’s content to have a baby at home who when he holds, reminds him of Kareena. And does his wife share his observation that the baby has taken after her? “Right now he scowls a lot, passes wind and yells so she thinks he’s a lot like me… A cranky, farty yeller!” he guffaws. Talking about Kareena, she looked glamorous and was glowing through the nine months of pregnancy, becoming a role model for mums-to-be. Saif points out that she could do that because she’s free, mentally, religiously and financially.

“We are artistes and rules don’t apply to us. I’m happy she set an example but whether others can follow it or not is a different story. Kareena could do it because at home nobody tells her what to do, rather everyone supports her decisions. She makes her own money and is free to do what she wants with it. Being financially independent is the crux of her freedom. As they say, he who gives money makes the rules,” Saif asserts. On his part, he informs that the seeds he has planted will bear fruit this year. Rent should start coming in from the property he has invested in, which he hopes will settle him financially.

Personally, Kareena and he now have a physical reflection of themselves in Taimur, his two older children, Sara and Ibrahim, are doing well, and the Pataudi palace is being renovated by his mother, Sharmila Tagore, after which he can spend more time there with his family. Professionally, he has three interesting and diversely different films to look forward to, starting with Rangoon, which hits the marquee on February 24. Quiz him about Vishal Bhardwaj’s Casablanca-like romance, which is set during the Second World War, and he says it’s a film Vishal had spoken to him about during Omkara, though the script has been updated since.

“At that time it was a dream to make a film in which production design is as important as the story but cinema has changed since and now you can offer viewers another world from another era. Sajid bhai (Nadiadwala) as a producer recognised it. We’re a bit ahead of the curve but I think Rangoon is perfectly timed,” he states. . The polar opposite of Omkara’s Langda Tyagi, Rangoon’s Rustom Billimoria aka Rusi is a former action hero who’s lost his hand while doing a stunt and retired early to became a producer. “He’s got a bit of a temper, is a megalomaniac in some ways and whether he turns out a hero or not is part of the excitement of the role,” Saif says, pointing out that Vishal has a tremendous appetite for writing roles that bring out darker emotions like anger, passion and jealousy, which for him is more interesting than the more heroic parts.

“The villains have changed, from Thakurs and the indulgent rich to backwardness and mediocrity, Dangal being a case to point.” For Rusi, he had a reference in his grandfather’s photographs as a young man and Hollywood stars like Errol Flynn. He’s watched a lot of movies and TV shows from the time, fascinated by a chapter in our history when Indian soldiers fought against their own as some were with the Indian National Army (INA) while others fought for the British army. Interestingly, many of the clothes he’s worn in the film are his own because he’s always liked doublebreasted suits, along with hats and shoes from the ’40s.

“It was a romantic period and cinema, was glorious with the Parsi filmmakers behind the scenes and actresses like Fearless Nadia on screen. People dressed well and everyone smoked because they believed it was good for the lungs. Vishal should appreciate my commitment to the character because despite having given up smoking, I puffed on these little cigarillos because they added a lethal dimension to the character,” he smiles. Saif today is keen on working with modern-thinking directors like Vishal who make him feel like an actor. He goes on to speak glowingly about Raja Krishna Menon who could have made a film with anyone after Airlift but chose to make the Indian adaptation of the Hollywood gastronomical dramedy Chef with him, for which he is touched and honoured.

“Raja is a meticulous, hardworking, intelligent guy who has taken the idea of a man losing his profession and rediscovering it through a food truck. Simultaneously, he reconnects with his exwife and his son. The idea is similar to the Hollywood film but the set-up’s completely different. It was exhausting— lots of practice in the kitchen, lot of travelling from Kerala to Delhi and Amritsar with different cuisines. I learnt to work the wok, chop onions really fast and can cook various pastas. Cooking is therapeutic if you have good music playing and a glass of red wine,” he smiles.

About his third cinematic outing of the year, Akshat Varma’s Kala Gandi, Saif is quick to point out that they might change the title as “it sounds a little rude”. It’s about three different sections of society in Mumbai and how they affect each others’ lives. The upper class converses in English, others in Hinglish, and two mafia dudes in Bambaiyya Hindi. “All the three stories are shot with different cameras to give a distinctive feel to the three worlds which cross-cross but at its core it’s a highly entertaining film with my character on an acid trip. I enjoyed acting for Akshat,” he acknowledges.

Meanwhile, Sara is looking to follow in his footsteps and though Saif admits, given that she was a brilliant student at Columbia University, he’d have liked her to be in a more stable profession where the luck factor didn’t come into play, he doesn’t want to dissuade her, knowing she craves this excitement, creative fun and glamour. “Who’s to blame, it’s in her genes. I remember on the first world tour we were on together, I spotted her peeking through the curtains backstage to watch the actors dancing on stage, mesmerised.

That’s when she decided this is what she wanted to do. Cinema has changed since and she’s also realised there’s a lot of angst in the profession, specially if you have not quite arrived yet. I worry about that, but what can I do?” he sighs, sounding every bit like a dad. He’s available as a bouncing board and for a chat, anytime, if Sara wants him. “If she discusses her profession with me, she will get an opinion, but the decision is hers to make,” he says, adding that he’s relieved she’s with the Dharma camp . For now though, Saif is happy and considers himself lucky that both his older children, in particular Sara, have always been supportive of his personal decisions. “A lot of it has to do with their mother (Amrita Singh). As far as I’m concerned I have three children and it makes me happy when I see them together and getting along,” he signs off with a smile.

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