The Nawab’s Speech

When he stepped into the Indian film industry with Yash Chopra’s Parampara in 1993, Saif Ali Khan was cast opposite some of the noted actors of Bollywood, namely Sunil Dutt, Vinod Khanna and Aamir Khan. For the next few years he starred in movies alongside big stars of Tinseltown till Hum Tum released in 2004. The movie was special for two reasons – first, it was his first as the lead actor and second, he received the National Award for his performance! And, as the saying goes, he has never looked back.

In fact, this Khan has perfected his craft so well that National Award-winning film critic Saibal Chatterjee had this to say about the actor’s latest cinematic venture Jawaani Jaaneman: “Saif Ali Khan brings great energy and charm to bear upon the role of Jaswinder ‘Jazz’ Singh….. He pulls off a remarkable star turn without breaking a sweat…”. We catch up with the actor just as he rides high on the success of the movie and opens up about his varied yet interesting choice of roles, the importance of web series for Indian creators and more.

It has been a glorious 25 years in the industry for you. Do you reflect on the movies you have done or wish you had been a part of?
If I am able to look back on a 25-year-long career and six to eight films stand out, it’s not too bad. It’s important to keep working till you get to a phase, like where I am right now, where I can be selective. Over the years, more than the films I have done, I have thought about the films I wish I had done like Kapoor & Sons and Jolly LLB 2. Overall, I think there has been a nice growth in the kind of films I have been doing and the projects that I have been offered. Sacred Games (a web television thriller) was lovely, as were the varied scripts of Laal Kaptaan, Jawaani Jaaneman and Bhoot Police.
Would you be open to another web series?
Yes, undoubtedly! It’s a great space to act and there are several talented people working in that genre. In India, there are storytellers who are drawn to international cinema. For them, the web is the right space as there they can have a slightly intellectual, brilliant and artistic time without the risk of theatrical receipts.

Do box office success and misses affect you now?
I don’t think anyone is ever beyond hits and flops. If people have faith in you, you can get by for a while, but ultimately we are here to make films that run at the box office. Hits and flops matter to producers, but I need to be offered interesting work. I am quite aware that my current projects – Tanhaji, Bhoot Police and Jawaani Jaaneman – are commercial in nature but are within a sensible artistic world. An actor just has to find his/her space. In Tanhaji, I play villain to Ajay [Devgn]’s Tanhaji and the character is a little outgoing like Alan Rickman in Die Hard or Robin Hood. In Jawaani Jaaneman, I play a Punjabi man, whose life changes when he accidentally meets his daughter at a London nightclub. It’s a comedy film in the family space.

Saif Ali Khan receiving the National Award in 2005 from then Indian President APJ Abdul Kalam

The audience identifies you mostly as a romantic and boy-next-door hero but you’ve also portrayed negative characters quite convincingly. Do you not have apprehensions playing anti-hero roles?
This question is pertinent for an actor who is consistent in his/her choice of roles and whom the audience expects to portray a certain type of character. I have never had that particular problem and have been playing characters with grey shades for some time now. Langda Tyagi [his character in Omkara] made me anxious not because of what impact he would have on my image but about how I would pull it off. I don’t believe the audience thinks Langda Tyagi is, in any way, a reflection of who I am.
As per reports, you dissuaded Sara [Ali Khan] to play your on-screen daughter…
That resulted from a series of events. Kedarnath [Sara’s debut movie] had been shelved and she did not have any other project. I offered her the role in Jawaani Jaaneman and she took it. Then Kedarnath was back on track and Simmba fell into place. I told Sara not to do the movie [Jawaani Jaaneman] because it was a back-up and that I would be happy to do it with another actor. I am glad that she decided to make her debut with

Have you never been offered a father-daughter script?
(Laughs) Of course! We have been offered around three to five films but either I wasn’t interested in the roles or the characters didn’t excite Sara.

What about roles with Kareena [Kapoor Khan] as your on-screen wife?
Not really. Anyway, to work with her, I would have to up my game, because she is more selective than I am in her choice of co-actors (laughs)!

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