Saif Ali Khan
Saif Ali Khan on why he feels nervous about his children entering the acting profession
Sarita A Tanwar (DNA; June 16, 2017)

I met Saif Ali Khan at the Royal Opera Theatre. What an apt location for coffee and conversations with the Nawab. He is shooting for his next film Bazaar, and is dressed in a silk dhoti with a shawl draped over one shoulder. He looks dapper as usual, and ripped (that’s unusual). Did the paps photoshop a belly in Saif’s picture emerging from the gym last week, I wonder. The shot and pleasantries done, he offers me coffee. I’m sceptical, “It might be from a coffee shop, so might be really great, na?” He replies poker face, “It will be sh*t. But I’m asking one for myself.” Then pointing to the seats in the semi-dark, cool theatre, he says, “Should we go in the corner and do it?” I make a lame joke, “What if Bebo finds out?” We both laugh. To my envy and his joy, within minutes, his coffee arrives in a Starbucks cup. He explains or thinks aloud, “It’s probably just the cup from there and sh*t coffee inside.” Over the next one hour and sips of coffee, Saif talks about his upcoming films, his life, his wife, his work, children and none of it sounds rehearsed — most actors say the same things over and over again. To be fair, most actors are asked the same questions. With Saif, the questions take a backseat and it becomes a free-flowing chat. Read on for excerpts...

One expected a lot from Rangoon, considering you were reuniting with Vishal Bhardwaj after Omkara.  Where do you think it went wrong?
It was great reuniting with Vishal, and I think we made a good film but somewhere in the second half, we went wrong. Although, I shouldn’t say this because no filmmaker does this deliberately and all decisions are taken for the betterment of the film, but a couple of great scenes of mine never made it to the film. That was disheartening but I got some good reviews, so it was not all bad. My mother called and said she liked my role. We tried to make a film that was about the Indian National Army and had Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, etc. It was a bit esoteric, and I heard one guy in the theatre said, “Arre, yeh Chinese kahan se aa gaye?” (laughs). Maybe we made a film that went over people’s heads. It was too clever for the audiences.

There was a lull from your side. Suddenly, there are about three films ready for release. Was that planned?
No. It wasn’t, but I’m glad that it worked out like that. I have interesting (I will avoid saying entertaining because everyone uses that word) films coming up. They are lovely characters and very different from each other. And now that I am working, suddenly the office looks like an actor’s office. There are scripts lying around and there are meetings and discussions... It’s good to be on a set. Otherwise, when work isn’t happening, and there is time between I become too laid-back and lazy.

That’s the Nawab in you...
Probably. I mean, I enjoy reading and travelling, etc. as much as I enjoy working. You only need to do a certain amount of work to ensure quality. You should work as much as you care. I’m in that space now. I have a car, home, office, kids are settling, well at least 1/3 of them (smiles). I can afford to do work that I really want to do. I have a comfortable life, and anyway acquiring wealth doesn’t mean everything to me. You should have enough to live comfortably, travel, send your kids to good schools... It shouldn’t be that at a party I feel compelled to go up to this hot shot producer just to pamper his ego. It’s nice to be in a position where you can be polite to him, without expecting things.

Sara is set to make a debut. How does that make you feel?
A little nervous. Fear is the most driving factor in the industry. Why would she want that for herself? Look at where she studied. After having done that, why wouldn’t she want to live and work in New York, rather than do this? I am not looking down on acting, it’s just it is not the most stable profession. And everyone lives in constant fear. And there is no guarantee that despite doing your best, you will succeed. This is not the life, any parent would want for their children.

She has grown up around you, her mom Amrita, your mom Sharmila, aunt Soha and Kareena. How can she not want to be an actor?
True. I remember years ago we’d gone for a stage show abroad and while I was on the stage with Salman and other actors, Sara was standing behind the stage curtain and looking at us. I knew then that she wanted this for herself. Being on stage and people shouting her name.

So many actors in the family, who is Sara most likely to talk to you, about things related to films?
I think she would come to me.

Not Kareena? Given she is an actress?
No. She’d look upto her for different reasons. The other day she and some of her friends had come over and they were looking at Kareena and I am certain they all want to emulate her and be a diva.

Were you involved in the decision of selecting her first film or was it just Amrita?
No, I wasn’t involved in it. Look, I am there if she needs to ask or talk to me about anything. I know what she is doing and we talk about films just like we do about everything else. You know, in our house on the dinner table, the conversations are not usually about films. And the other day Sara and Ibrahim had come over and she was asking me about films and I thought ‘oh we are that family now. Are we really doing this?' Ibrahim was feeling left out and after a while he said, ‘I have been offered an ad and I might just do it.’ I looked at him and said, ‘Wait a minute, I don’t know anything about this. I need details.’ And he said, ‘It’s an ad for suiting.’

He is 16. Has he ever even worn a suit?
Yes, once I think. But yes, he is over 6 ft tall, and he looks good in one. But I told him we would discuss if he could do that.

Do you think one day he will come and tell you he wants to act?
It’s a possibility. But he has to work on his diction. It’s a long time away.

Maybe a couple of years. You began acting early too. Even though your were not surrounded by film people.
Yes I did my first film at 19. But for me, it was an escape from Delhi. Also, although I went to Oxford I was a dud academically and there were not many options in front of me about what I would do. When I was offered a film, I was like, let me go to Bombay. This will be fun.

And you stayed back for over two decades.
It’s a great profession. But there still has to be a lot of structure. It would be nicer if we work for lesser hours than a 12-hour shift and these guys (pointing to the crew) have a 20-hour working day. I don’t know how they do it. It’s hard work. Acting is a creative job and you need to be in the space, think and feel and react. I can do that, if I am fresh, after eight hours on a set, you don’t care, no matter how much you want to. Then you just start saying the lines etc, it’s monotonous and you are not giving your best. We should have fluidity. You know I am happy to start work at 8 am. Some other actors, and we know who they are, would be happier shooting at midnight and they should have the freedom to do that.

Your film Chef looks interesting. It is also about a father-son relationship. Are you somewhere using your experience from your personal life with your elder son?
Well, yes and no. Being a father, I know the body language and the tone that one uses to talk to a 11-year-old boy. Because you are a father, that comes easily to you. It’s easier than roles where you don’t have a reference point.

A father to a 16-year-old boy and a six-month old boy. Are you more involved this time?
It is fashionable to say I am changing diapers, etc. Everyone does it. It’s no big deal. The real thing is being with the baby all day and taking care of him 24/7. Luckily we have a family set-up and everyone pitches in, and we also have help here to do all that for us and that’s a big blessing. I have seen friends in London and they do everything themselves. And it’s a lot of work. No wonder some of them kill their babies. Yes, it happens. I know it is a politically incorrect thing to do. Anyway, I think a father’s role is for other bigger things. When Taimur grows up, and we can talk is when the real father-son equation comes into play. All this is frivolous. I have been leaving my house early and I have started waking him up at around 7. He finishes his feed — he has just started on solid foods — and we spend about 20 minutes together. I read to him or put on some music, or nursery rhymes. Taimur, incidentally begins his day by listening to aarti.

Too cute. Who’s idea was that?
(Smiles) His nanny. And if I return by 8 pm and he is awake, we spend another 20 minutes together. He begins his day with bhajans and ends his day by listening to Chopin and Tchaikovsky. Other than that he just, burps and farts all day, just like me. (laughs)

Kareena said it was your idea to not hide Taimur’s face from the public glare...
For me, it was not about superstition, it was about safety. The paparazzi culture is getting really bad. They are always outside our home. But it isn’t as bad as it is abroad. It will only get there for sure. They will get the picture anyway sooner or later. The more you hide, the more aggressive they will get. I wanted to avoid that push and shove. It’s better to give them that pic. I told Bebo to hold his hand and make him wave to the photographers. Also, I feel, why should Taimur be treated any different from other children out there. People put up their baby pictures.

You trained under experts for your role as a chef. Did you actually learn to prepare any dish?
Yes, quite a few things actually. I mean I did cook the occasional pasta or spaghetti before but someone else did all the chopping. I do a fair bit of cooking now when I am in the mood. Director Raja Krishna Menon wanted me to get totally into the character so they arranged for me to go to the Marriott kitchen for five-six hours a day for weeks. I had to learn how to chop properly, that was important. You can’t be a chef without knowing how to hold a knife properly. And the stress walk that chefs do.

So is it like the original Chef?
No. Raja has changed it quite a bit. I think we have just retained the basic idea. It’s more emotional, and something Hindi audiences will be able to relate to. Even the father-son relationship will be different.

There are reports of you being offered two web series? Are you interested in working on the digital platform?
Definitely interested in doing web series. It’s a new medium. And there is a lot of fun stuff one can do there. There is no censor there, the scripts are different, the characters are interesting. Big screen or digital doesn’t matter if the role is interesting.