MUMBAI—He touches 25 this year – in the movies. Saif Ali Khan’s career has been really chequered, ditto his life, despite the Pataudi upbringing and tag. The highs have been great, the lows quite alarming, but Khan has been a survivor, and a suave, sophisticated one, as he says, “I am much quieter now, and I am well-behaved. There was a time when I ended up twice inside the fountain of Mumbai’s Oberoi Hotel, near the car park!”
In another 5-star, the J.W. Marriott, India-West spoke to the new Nawab about his latest film, the dark comedy “Kaalakaandi.” As in most cases of late, the meeting happened almost on the eve of the release. The film releases on Jan. 12
Excerpts from an interview:
Q: “Kaalakaandi” has the feel of a niche film in all respects. How would you describe it?
A: “Kaalakaandi” is a proper, internationally-appealing, sensible, funny, engaging movie! It’s not a typical potboiler. For me, it is a very satisfying film, and I think it has something for everyone. It is really entertaining, makes you laugh, makes you cry a bit, and is about a very relatable India. It’s a crazy, not a quiet, film in which lots of things are happening. Akshat (Varma, the writer-director) wants to make different kinds of films.
Q: What does the title mean?
A: Akshat tell me that he heard an estate agent in Delhi use the word for a problem that cropped up. He thought the word was “Kaalagaandi” (Laughs), but someone told him that that term stood for black bums! So we got the actual word, “Kaalakaandi,” as in “Thodi kaalakaandi ho gayi!”
Q: What made you accept the film?
A: I loved the script. I just liked the way all the stories connect at the end, and all in one night. The film talks about various people from different parts of India who are living in Mumbai, which is itself like a potboiler. I have lived in Pataudi and been exposed to Bhopal, and the country is very different from this city in its small towns and farms and so on.
Q: But you took a while to take up the movie.
A: Yes, I was a bit unwilling to try this out, but Vishal Bhardwaj advised me to read the script and felt I would like it. I did. I am this boring guy who has never done anything wrong, and how he takes this drug and goes crazy. To do this part properly and not stupidly was challenging.
Q: What was otherwise good or bad about making the film?
A: The annoying part was working in the night and sleeping in the day. That spoils your system! The good part was that I was shooting in real parts of the city, like Bandra, or Juhu, and that reminded me of my own life. With current-generation cameras, people are shooting less on sets and more on real locations. And Mumbai’s very cinematic, and we do not need much equipment to make it look amazing.
Q: The film has a lot of expletives.
A: It has, but it is a proper film with a proper story, and it is not running on just dirty language! We knew that the bad language was risky stuff, and we got 73 cuts! But we went to the Appellate Tribunal, and though it took time, that body realized that we had made an honest film. For us, it was one week’s extra work, but that was okay.
And when I see some shows on the Web, where there is no censorship, I realize they are almost pornography! So we need to be careful in India. Otherwise, someone will abuse the freedom.
Q: You are now the Nawab of Pataudi.
A: I have never taken that seriously, except to look after the property. Frankly, I would rather be an actor than a Nawab!
Q: What do you have to say about the fact that this film is one among three releases this week, and the same will happen in the next two weeks as well.
A: We are making too many films. I have had only one film in my career that was released on a holiday – “Race 2,” and it took an opening of Rs. 13 crore, which was great!
Q: What excites you in your films to come?
A: I have done “Sacred Games,” there is the mass-oriented “Baazaar,” but the film I am really excited about is Navdeep Singh’s next with Aanand L. Rai as producer. I like to change genres with films, like doing a light film after heavy action.
Q: All you recent films – “Phantom,” “Rangoon” and “Chef” – bombed badly.
A: Yes, but I don’t think the people did not want to see a film with me—I don’t think I am that important! The biggest thing here is not to take it personally, though I can do that so easily and go wrong! The people will watch the film they want to watch, the film with the poster and trailer they like, and they would like to make the decision themselves and feel a film. I have slightly niche taste, so do all the filmmakers I like, but then beyond a point, it is also not right to try and change too much. “Chef” for example, had too little drama, too less pace and energy. Every one of us thought that was right, but the audience felt otherwise.
Q: Doesn’t marketing also matter?
A: It is the most important thing, and it costs a lot of money! What I do not like is the way every film is marketed in a standard way. That may be all right to hoodwink the producers that we are doing something for his film, but it does not work every time! (Grins)
Q: And do reviews matter?
A: Of course, they do. I received good reviews for both “Rangoon” and “Chef” – one more reason why I did not look on those films as personal failures. When the reviews of my work are negative, it makes me think. I agreed with a reviewer who felt that my work in “Phantom” was wooden because I think I took the role so seriously that I forgot to give it life!
Q: Do you watch new Hindi movies?
A: Not much, I should watch more. But I worked a lot in the past year and had no time. I did watch “Dangal,” “Bahubali2: The Conclusion.”
Q: You are not on Twitter.
A: I like the real world, not the digital one in which one can easily get lost, especially if reactions get more important. And what will I do on Instagram that will not look like I am showing off – this is my house, horse, son…!
Q: How would you look at Ebrahim or Taimur wanting to act?
A: I will support them if their reasons are right, and they do not choose films because they are carried away by a superstar’s lifestyle! They must want to become actors! (Shrugs) But then, as Kareena says, even with me, acting was initially all for the wrong reasons. Only of late has it been about a love for acting!
Q: Finally, when will we see Kareena and you working together?
A: You must come home sometime!