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Saif Ali Khan: Lessons Learned in Bollywood

Saif Ali Khan calls “Agent Vinod” an action film with a “nice twist.”
  • MUMBAI, India

    With an unspectacular opening of Rs. 28-30 crores in India, Saif Ali Khan’s second home production “Agent Vinod” may not be blockbuster material, but the actor certainly had his fundas clear. “I have made a film on the almost-untouched genre of a spy thriller for which there is, however, a market, but I have not copied Bond. It’s an action adventure with a realistic plot-line and a nice twist that at the same time is larger-than-life,” the actor told India-West last week.

    Adds Saif, “The story is about a nuclear weapon. There is Pakistani involvement and there are Lashkar-E-Toiba, Russian mafia, and so on. But there is no Pakistani-bashing and no jingoism. On the other hand, Kareena Kapoor’s character is a Pakistani and hers is a positive character.”
    An unusual marketing device used for this film is a comic book the producers have come up with — a graphic novel that is like a prequel to the film. “I love to read comic strips, and this has a very interesting plot. It ends where the film begins, in Morocco, and its production values are international caliber,” says the actor.
    Saif was upbeat that his son loved the film and was vocal about it. “He is a cool audience, laughs at the right moments and likes everything he watches, though his mobile ring-tone is ‘Don’!” he quips. 
    “I want everyone to like my film. The title is the same as the 1977 film that starred Mahendra Sandhu which was a B-grader but full of fun,” he smiles. The use of “Agent Vinod” as a title, he admits, was definitely a ploy to attract the single-screens. “The title has a nice pulp and comic strip feel to it,” says the actor.
    Saif also wants his film to work because his last two films, “Kurbaan” (2009) and “Aarakshan” (2011), did not. 
    “After them, I am lucky to have even one fan out there!” he grins. 
    But more than himself, Saif would like the film to be a hit for director Sriram Raghavan’s sake. “This is his big test after modest films like my ‘Ek Hasina Thi’ and ‘Johnny Gaddaar,’ so either he will be a huge name or it will be back to niche movies for him,” he says seriously. 
    “My film is not a formula film but not a Sriram film either. It’s contemporary and mixes his mindset with the glamour of a mainstream film. I love the film and I think that I am a good judge of my own products.”
    Saif declares that he will never turn director but would love producing films. “I am one of the most creative producers,” he insists. “I take a keen interest in production design, sound design and so on. And turning producer has made me think in a less selfish and more competitive way. Like I wanted Ram Kapoor, Adil Hussein and my other actors to be appreciated too. I can see the talent in others.”
    The film also has real action with very little computer-generated visual effects, or VFX. “We have not cheated the audience. And mostly, I have done the stunts myself,” he says self-consciously. “Real action has an intimacy, an earthy feel. I always think that violence that makes an impact can be sudden and swift and not necessarily elaborate or grand. Like I read this news item in which the wife of 18 years of a seemingly happy marriage suddenly smashed a jug on her husband’s head one day.”
    The recent controversy over an Iranian band suing the producers and composer Pritam for “Pungi” being a copy of their song finds Saif in dismissive mode. “Though seriously I feel that Pritam should have a legal department of his own now! (Laughs) I don’t think there’s much to it, though. I don’t understand why someone should wait for a song to become popular before waking up, and I don’t think ‘Pungi’ is eating into the Iranian market.” 
    Saif has made sure that has not ruffled any feathers and has accepted a U/A certificate for the actioner that shows India’s RAW (Research and Analysis Wing), MI6, ISI, Lashkar-E-Toiba and more and yet has not faced any problems except the ban in Pakistan that happened after our meeting in a newspaper office two days before his film’s release.
    Coming up next for Saif is Abbas-Mustan’s “Race 2,” in which Saif is repeated along with Anil Kapoor from the original. “It is a twist-and-turn franchise and a smart, sexy thriller, as you know. When you make a sequel, you try to be bigger and better.” 
    The second outside film he has signed is “Judwaa 2.” “I had doubts whether I could step into Salman Khan’s sequel, because I can never do what he can, but they have changed the roles to suit me,” the actor states.
    The production bug has bitten Saif firmly. His other two films coming up under Illuminati Films (his banner in partnership with friend Dinesh Vijan) are Homi Adajania’s love story “Cocktail” with Deepika Padukone; and the zombie film “Go Goa Gone,” directed by Krishna DK and Raj Nidimoru, which Saif says is about two idiots who are the two who do not take drugs at a rave party and land in trouble.
    “I play a Delhi guy who pretends to be from the Russian mafia!” he says.
    Saif looks back at his two-decade career with honesty. “There are films that I loved doing, and those that were incredibly bad. There were ups and downs. ‘Aashik Aawara,’ ‘Main Khiladi Tu Anari’ and ‘Yeh Dillagi’ were plus-es, but later came some truly atrocious films, like ‘Surakshaa,’ ‘Ek Tha Raja’ and more,” he smiles.
    “Then again came a phase that was good, with ‘Kachche Dhaage’ and ‘Dil Chahta Hai.’ ‘Salaam Namaste’ and ‘Omkara’ got me recognition as an actor. Then came the recent films that did not do well, except for ‘Race.’”
    And when will marriage happen? “Not until ‘Agent Vinod’ releases!” he grins, springing out of his seat to leave for the next media interaction in another part of the city.
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