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Yup, his fortunes have turned big-time for the first time in 12 years, and Saif is having a blast. Kyon nahin?
Between a hectic schedule for a fizzy drink, Saif takes time off for this talkathon:
What’s life been like after the super success of Hum Tum?
I have been on a holiday for the last two months. I’ve also been traveling extensively between Europe, Singapore, and God alone knows where all. During this time I performed at a couple of award functions, did some commercials and shows. Then I hurt my foot and that actually had me feeling very fat for a while. So when I came back to Mumbai to massive attention and stardom (In a way, I’d like to believe that I have always been a star.) I wasn’t looking the part. So I hid at home for as long as possible.
I don’t know whether I should be sharing this with the world at large or whoever decides to read this, but I live in Lokhandwala. And for me to go anywhere is a 3-4 hour commitment, what with the Mumbai traffic and all. I’m not trying to sound holier-than-thou, but it is bad enough that you don’t see enough of the family when you’re working. And then to just come home for half-an-hour, change, and go out is not okay. I’m quite happy not going out.
I’d much rather keep my head down when I’m in Mumbai. And do my socializing when I’m in London or somewhere abroad because it’s just easier that way.
Of course, one has to socialize sometimes. Like we had a party at Rain to celebrate the success of Hum Tum. So I was there. But I haven’t been to Olive or any other restaurant for ages.
Have trade and industry equations changed for you post-Hum Tum?
Well, I’m feeling good. Certain people had been questioning factors like my salablity and so on. So now that I’m more bankable, I’m taken more seriously and that is fabulous. But now to look the part and take that further is the issue. So the diet has been on and so is the exercising. I want to look the way I want to be perceived next.
Actually, there are two approaches one can take. One is to say, thank you I have been very lucky and to maintain your average, as they say in cricket. Or two, do as many films as are offered to you. Some of them may run; some may not. But then you just keep working. There are many stars in the industry who have established a reputation that is beyond hits and flops. They reason that this film worked because I was rightly cast and this one didn’t because I wasn’t. But fine, who cares? I’m working and this is my job.
And there is the other slightly more paranoid approach where one says, I’m not going on the sets unless I’m really turned on by what’s happening there. ’Coz I know my limitations as an actor.
Hrithik Roshan says he always knew you were ideally suited for the male lead in Hum Tum. Do you feel the same?
Well, I don’t know what to say, considering the film was first written for Aamir Khan. And then they approached Hrithik Roshan and Vivek Oberoi before actually coming to me.
I’d like to believe that I suited the role. While on the subject, let me give you an example of an ad I’ve just shot for. There is this bit showing a rock band and I’m shown playing the guitar. I don’t mean to sound pompous but I can confidently tell you that no one in this film industry can pretend to play the guitar on stage and be a rock star better than me. That’s because I know the nuances involved with that performance, like tuning the guitar while playing it. And this is something only someone who knows the instrument will do. That lends so much credibility.
Similarly, I think it is true of film performances. If you know the character you are playing and the area within which you are performing, then the nuances and the credibility you give it are massive. If tomorrow I say I have always wanted to do action and play a tapori, then that’s not likely to happen. Because I don’t know what a tapori is like in the first place. It would be foolish of me to get into an area I don’t know.
So you should get 100 percent credit for the Hum Tum gamble paying off?
Honestly, I think luck has a huge part to play in the whole thing. Now when people have started taking me seriously, then you start actually feeling that you know what runs and what doesn’t. But I’ve been around long enough and I actually have no clue as to what runs.
I don’t want to sound sycophantic about big banners, but I must give Aditya Chopra full credit for the success of the film. It was an incredible kind of business call, you know. He’s the one who decided that this stock is going up and let me buy it now. And he then spent crores on the publicity and elevated it to the point where it was talked about among some multi-starrers that released around the same time.
Reports say you won’t do multi-starrers anymore.
Of course, I will do multi-starrers. Nothing is going to change. I would much rather do two-hero movies. It is just that I’d want a part equal to that of the other hero. I remember when Harry Baweja offered me Qayamat, I asked him why couldn’t I have a role equal to Ajay Devgan’s. And he said because I wasn’t saleable. I was kind of miffed with him at that point. But he explained to me that when I had a solo hit people would start giving me equal parts. So, when Hum Tum happened, I said, “Wow, merry Christmas, Saif, the time is here.”
If for an entire year nothing exciting is offered to me, I’d much rather do a two-hero project. At least they can’t nail you then if the film doesn’t work. Only the filmmaker gets nailed.
So where are you taking your career now?
My life at the moment is divided into three segments. The main trunk is films, obviously. One major branch is commercial advertising. And the other major branch is shows. Perhaps I need to get an office to manage these three departments because there is too much going on there at the moment. And it’s too haphazard. It’s like you do your ads and your shows. Two, maybe three films a year because that’s an area that needs controlling. Besides, I want to spend time at home, too. One doesn’t want to while away one’s youth, but one doesn’t want to burn it up either. Now everything is pretty much proved. I’m now a bankable star. At least I can be spoken about in the same breath as some of the names I have always looked up to, like Shah Rukh Khan and Salman Khan.
Till yesterday there were three saleable Khans—Shah Rukh, Aamir, and Salman. Would you say you’re now the fourth?
I would not want to take credit for being on par with Shah Rukh, Aamir, or Salman. But I would like to say, yes, I’m saleable too. These guys have been consistently saleable from the word go. Which is something I can’t even fathom, really. I don’t like talking about other people in my interviews, but since you mentioned it, I must say that the numbers these guys have generated are huge. And they have done it repeatedly, so it would be unfair to even compare myself to them.
Of course, my surname is Khan and you know whenever they would talk about three Khans, I would somewhere hope that someday there would be four. ’Coz it is very elite company as far as the box office is concerned.
And the reason why I get along with Shah Rukh and Salman is because I give them respect. I don’t act like I’m on the same level. Perhaps mentally I’m on the same level. And we can talk about things and hang out together. But it is clear from my attitude that I respect their success. My upbringing teaches me to appreciate the kind of success these guys have. And I never try to say, “Hey buddy, I’m just like you now.” I think that would have an adverse reaction. I would react adversely if a newcomer came up to me and said, “Hey, even I’ve just had an average movie and I’m rocking,” which is what a lot of them do today. It irks me.
What film do you start working on next?
Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s Parineeta is the only film I’ve signed right now. And I’m trying my best to do Karan Johar’s next film directed by Soham. But it may not work out. When Karan called me in Spain and told me the genre of the film, I immediately agreed. Unfortunately, they require exactly the same dates I’ve committed to Vidhu Vinod Chopra much earlier. I believe Karan is already looking for an alternative. In many ways my loyalty is with Karan but ethically I’m bound. It is sad, but what to do? I can’t be in two places at the same time.
Is Parineeta a period film?
Yes, it is. Pradeep Sarkar wanted me for another part in the film. And after the narration was over, I asked him why I couldn’t play the main part. Pradeep said you are the main part. You are talking like him right now. And Vinod said, if you guys are convinced, go ahead.
It’s the most fabulous script I’ve read in a long time. Since it is based in the ’60s it will have great artwork and detailing. And for once I’m looking forward to getting into the wardrobe of the character. Persona-wise I play my father because that is what the character is, in terms of dignity, poise, and silence. It is a love story. And Pradeep is insanely passionate about it. That’s the kind of people one must work with. You won’t expect someone who has done Kal Ho Na Ho or Hum Tum to go there.
I’m not trying to sound clever, but it is boring to do the same thing over and over again. Sad but true, I get bored faster than most people.
What exactly are you looking for?
I don’t know. Sometimes I think I should talk to Ram Gopal Varma and create something small but exciting. There are so many meaningful films made all over the world. But why is it that I get offered the same sort of thing again and again? Every guy says he’s going to give me something new. But it all starts with me being the rich man’s son, etc. You almost don’t need to change the sets. You put up one fabulous set of sets in Mehboob Studio and you can make 50 films there.
People said things are getting better with corporates getting involved. They said everything is getting streamlined and becoming more professional. But it is not about money. There are so many movies made on shoestring budgets. But it takes an Oliver Stone to make a U-turn. He could have made a trillion-dollar extravaganza. But he makes a film in style. Just imagine having one cactus plant in the middle of nowhere. That’s visually stunning.
Just one last question, was it really necessary for you to go and shake a leg at Lakshmi Mittal’s daughter’s wedding in Paris?
There was a stage. And people were performing. Kylie Minogue was there. And since Vanisha, Mr. Mittal’s daughter, wanted Shah Rukh Khan and me, we went.
Before accepting the offer, I did discuss the morality of the issue with Shah Rukh.
Look, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan saab performed at my cousin’s wedding in Pakistan. And none of us looked down upon him. In fact, we were happy to have a star in our midst. Begum Akhtar sang at people’s homes. But that doesn’t make her less respected.
Besides, the Mittal wedding wasn’t in someone’s house. It was the Versailles Palace in Paris. And the audience was select, comprising of some of the biggest industrialists in India and abroad.
Mr. Mittal wanted to buy the best possible entertainment that he could. Hello, that’s who we are. We are actors. If you show off your craft with dignity, without demeaning yourself or anyone else, then it’s fine. Not everyone can walk off that stage and then walk into the dinner and have people say, “Very well done.” And you reply, “Thank you very much,” and continue a normal conversation. If someone asked me to come to Delhi and perform at his farmhouse I wouldn’t.
Anyway, I had a blast in Paris. We were spoilt rotten. By the end of it, there were more bottles of pink champagne than ashtrays. And people were putting out their cigarettes in them. It was so ostentatious. On second thoughts, you can’t be too ostentatious in that city. The more you spend, the better it fits in. It wasn’t loud. Let me put it this way, just about anything in Paris was affordable.
As I said, there was a stage. And Shah Rukh and I put together a small play. It wasn’t as if it was a family function and people were doing their own thing while we were performing. Having said it all, it is not something I might do very often.