Saif Ali Khan: ‘Maybe I should totally expose myself so that people get to know the real me’

There are many shades to Saif Ali Khan. His uber sexy screen persona that he revels in is just one of them.With little effort, he transforms into characters that are raw, rustic and totally `desified’. In reality, Saif is a shade of royal `blue’, the blueblooded nawab that he is. No wonder that long ago, he almost felt like a misfit in the filmland and confesses that he didn’t “think like a hero or an actor“. He’s a man with strong opinions and is unreservedly articulate about it. So what if he’s not perched on social media walls, shouting out loud. He unwinds and converses on a variety of subjects, and of course, movies, too. He shares his excitement about his role in the upcoming Rangoon, directed by Vishal Bhardwaj and produced by Sajid Nadiadwala, and also tells us how he needed a wake-up call in life. And no, it’s not the kind that his little bundle of joy , Taimur is giving him right now. Read on…

You always seem comfortable in new-age romance films and urban characters. But don’t roles like the ones you have played in Omkara and Rangoon push your limits more as an actor?
If you are talking about which part is easier, I have to say there is no such thing as easy anymore. Yes, urban characters require less prep work because when you are playing versions of yourself, the process is easier. You don’t need a backstory and you don’t need to be too different. The romcoms have a similar rhythm where one film is written much like the other, which of course, is dangerous. Once in a while, I get to play characters in a film like Omkara, or Rangoon where the process is more complex, where I need to work on detailed nuances.Vishal also thinks like an actor, so he gives us interesting ways to do scenes and creates a dramatic atmosphere and design. If an American director were to ask me to show him my best work, my first two choices would be Omkara and Rangoon. The kind of films that Vishal makes was viewed in the past as slightly niche, but not anymore. Today , people want that cinematic experience, which engages more than one of their senses.

We have seen your versatility on screen, but actors get trapped in their own image, right? The kind of uber-cool roles you get offered supersedes the roles that we just spoke about…
Well, this is why I think too much exposure or self-promotion is risky , because people start thinking that they know you and your life so well. Or maybe, what I need to do is totally expose myself so that people get to know the real me, which is different from the image that they have of me. For instance, people think that I am this extremely wealthy man, who has led a protected life. The truth is that I have not inherited any money or a house in Pataudi; in fact, I had to buy it back. It was almost given away to a hotel, and I used my earnings of 25 years to buy it off.Talking about on-screen image, I believe that an actor’s actual job is not just acting; instead, more than 50 per cent of it is green lighting projects.Successful actors should make brave choices, promote good cinema and break that image, which is a constant challenge. Sometimes, actors don’t focus on that, and we lean towards getting paid well and being offered big brands. In our country , the disparity between what the audiences actually like to watch and what we think they want to watch is often huge. India is so diverse that it is difficult to say that we are making films for this kind of audience or that. There are ideas that cut across magically and that’s the Holy Grail.

In Rangoon, there is a love triangle and the story also explores the dark shades of love. In reality, do you think love has a dark side?
Something that has a dark side can’t be love. If it is love, it has to be good all the time. Love doesn’t have a dark side. Yes, there are shadows of love -like possessiveness, greed and anger. Love is some thing you do, practise, and I don’t mean sex. It’s about doing unselfish things for people, and showing unconditional love. Romantic love at best is a fleeting thing, which doesn’t last forever.If Romeo and Juliet were married, they would have filed for divorce after a point (laughs!)

What would you say was the turning point in your career?
I had a very shaky start because I wasn’t cut out in my mind or in other people’s mind for this (Bollywood). I wasn’t thinking like a hero or as an actor. Over the years, I started understanding the dynamics of the industry better. Films like Dil Chahta Hai and Kal Ho Naa Ho were important. I think holding my own in a Shah Rukh Khan film was a big achievement at that time, and I also learnt a lot from him in terms of the kind of commitment a hero brings to a film. After that, I was cast in Hum Tum and thereon, things changed. Well, there were highs and lows, and sometimes, one loses focus and a certain amount of excitement of going to work every day . I went through that phase a couple of years ago, where maybe I was being a little less passionate about what I was doing. I guess I needed a wake-up call. Sometimes when things don’t work, you get a jolt and it makes you sit up and work that much harder.


Talking about change, were you nervous about bracing fatherhood again?

Not at all and neither was Kareena. I think it is also because she is freespirited and confident. Earlier, when we would talk about these things, she would tell me, `You know, times have changed since your mother’s time…’ I would tell her that times have not changed, people might have changed. Individuals define their careers, married or not married.The kind of person Kareena is, she’s not going to ever think that her life and career is over with motherhood. Even I don’t want her to ever feel that way . I am sure she will balance her life well.

Were you appalled at the way some people on social media reacted to your son being named Taimur?
Of course, it gives you an idea of how people think. This country has a lot of liberal and intelligent people. We have arts festivals, blues festivals and all of that, but at the same time, there are some right wing people, who could be following different religions but are uneducated and silly . And we don’t have to always listen to them. God bless them…wherever they are, but they don’t feature in my life. My son and his name have nothing to do with them or their views. Not that I owe anyone an explanation, but I know that my children will be brought up differently and in an open-minded environment because that’s how our parents were and that’s who we are. We are proud to be Indians, but we are also proud of where we come from. The history of India is thousands of years old. This land has seen the British and the Mughals and more…and all of them have left their mark. I believe in that and I think Taimur is a beautiful name, and that’s all there is to it.

Any similarity with people living or dead is purely coincidental.

Both Kareena and you have stayed away from social media. After all this, are you more averse to it?
Well, I grew up with a bit of a Victorian hangover, while we were also part of Bollywood. We were told not to talk too much to everybody , and I turned out to be more of a private person. It takes time for people like me to come out and speak about myself. Social media is great, but there is a downside to it, too. I think it should be about sharing rather than selling. This platform is not about news anymore; it is about making news. I know it can be a lot of fun, but promoting myself here doesn’t come naturally to me. I know the ups and downs of this because I come from both generations. I have witnessed the change; I guess being in your 40s gives you that advantage. I don’t want to be stuck to my phone like most do. If I want to show people the way I am living -like taking pictures of the places I visit, Pataudi palace or my children, then I feel I’m doing it for the wrong reason. On social media, everything I say has to be to create a good impression, and I think that will take away from the kind of person I am. I know that sometimes, it is better to share news on this platform and tell the truth because there are some things that people will talk about anyway .

Are you very involved in your daughter Sarah’s debut? Her launch has , been a talking point lately…
I am like her friend, philosopher and guide. I don’t want to control her, because it is not like one of those old-school star kids’ launch where she has to talk to me or her mom to decide what she wants. I am content functioning in an advisory capacity to my daughter. My advice to her is to mainly focus on the art and figure out what kind of an actor she is, rather than getting distracted by other thoughts and politics. Sarah will also get great advice from her mom (Amrita Singh), who gave me some great advice when I entered the industry . She discusses things with me and I teach her, too.Though I wish I had followed my own advice (laughs!). I think Sarah will be a good actor as she is very passionate about it.

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