Renuka Vyavahare (BOMBAY TIMES; February 13, 2018)

She may be blue-blooded, but Soha Ali Khan exudes a certain sense of simplicity and realism that’s a far cry from one’s ‘elitist’ perception of her. Soha’s clarity of thought, coupled with the ability to express herself concisely, makes her for a great conversationalist. From films and sexism to her privileged life and her identity beyond the name of her family, the actress-turned-author spoke candidly to BT when we caught up with her at her Khar home, which is reminiscent of a French art gallery. The fact that we could meet her four-month-old daughter Inaaya Naumi Kemmu, was an added bonus. Excerpts...

While homemakers feel that working women have it easy because they have full-time help, the latter feel homemakers are fortunate to spend more time with their children. What’s your take on this age-old debate, now that you have become a mother yourself?
I feel women are always going to be criticized, no matter what they do. And, it’s women who criticize other women more than men; we make it difficult for ourselves. If you are giving all your time to your children, people will say, ‘Isko koi aur kaam nahi hai toh isliye easy hai. Isko toh ghar par hi baithna hai’. On the other hand, you judge working women for leaving their children behind.

If I attend a press conference, people will ask me who is at home looking after my daughter, but if Kunal (Kemmu, husband) goes for an event, no one ask will him this question. Such things are a part and parcel of a woman’s life. There is inherent sexism and no matter what you do, there will be people who will criticise you, so it’s best to ignore them and do your own thing.

Inaaya and Taimur (Saif and Kareena’s baby boy) are internet sensations already. As a mother, does the early exposure worry you?
As actors and public figures, this is an integral part of our lives. When I first joined the industry, there were no paps. They didn’t even like being called that. There were no photographers at the airport, outside the gyms or restaurants, but now, you see them everywhere. While we have chosen this life, it’s not Inaaya’s choice, so it might be irksome for her.

Born to celeb parents (Sharmila Tagore and the late Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi), you must have also dealt with public attention from an early age...
There wasn’t this kind of attention because we grew up in Delhi. There were no photographers or Bollywood glitzy parties there. Only in college did I learn about my father’s achievements in cricket. Similarly, I got to know about my mother’s achievements in cinema after joining the film industry. I remember my mother attending every PTA meeting at school. For me they, were like any other ordinary parents.

Given your background, do you get excited about the little joys of life, like common people do?
We do lots of normal things! Somebody laughed at my me because I made a comparison in my book as to how I live in a small 2BHK now. They wondered how small I think a 2BHK is, compared to the Pataudi palace where I grew up. So, ‘common’ for someone is not common for the other person. It’s all relative. I think that my life has been quite normal, though we come from a certain position of privilege. We are better off than a lot of people in the country and not as well off as some others. Also, when you talk of something like privilege in a country like India where there is so much income disparity, you can say that I work hard. But it’s difficult to muster up sympathy as an actor because you are paid very handsomely for your time. There are lot of people out there who work very hard and don’t get paid equally.

Even at the risk of getting into trouble, both Saif and you speak your mind. Have you inherited that trait from your father?
My father was more diplomatic than both of us. It’s not that he wouldn’t give an answer, but they were sensible and well-gauged and he would use the right language. I’d like to think that I am more like him, but I think outspokenness comes from one’s individual character. It is shaped by family, friends, education and your own personality. It’s also important to understand that complete honesty can be offensive to some people, so you have to be tactful.

What’s the dinner-table conversation like in the female-dominated Khan family, also since everyone’s famous?
I think Saif is grateful now that Kunal is around and there’s another man (laughs). As a family, we like to keep abreast of what’s happening in the country, so dinner-table conversations revolve around social and political issues, films... a bit of everything. In fact, we talk about films the least. Everybody shares their opinion, so it’s good fun.

Your marriage to Kunal came as a surprise since you two seem quite different...
Yes, we had different lives growing up, but we are very similar when it comes to the things we enjoy doing. We have the same taste in television viewing, we like being active, we are not party animals, we love travelling. Our choice of friends are also similar. He says that he was intimidated by me, but I think that he was intrigued by me and had a certain respect for me and my educational background. We can have healthy debates and I don’t always agree with him. I think that’s one of the things he likes the most about me.

You don’t really fit into Bollywood’s culture of socializing. Even as a star kid, one didn’t see you bragging about your industry connections...
I didn’t grow up surrounded by films or filmi people. I was in Delhi, then England. Growing up, I didn’t watch Hindi films, except for Salman Khan’s movies. So, it took me a while to understand how the industry works. Also, I am not very good at socialising; Kunal and I don’t go out very often. We love our space and most of our friends are not from the film industry. We don’t necessarily go to the right place and hang out with the right people. I am not saying that’s a bad thing, it’s good to network once in a while. I just think that I am lazy about it.

But there’s a possibility of this personality trait being perceived as laid back behaviour.
I think people have short memories. If you are not seen enough, they forget that you exist. So, it’s important to be visible in the media. Unfortunately, it’s not just about your ability as an actor, but also what’s saleable as a commodity. However, cinema is changing now. People can now make films for digital platforms. If you just want to act, there are many ways to do it, but if you want to be in the top league, you have to play the game a little bit.

Your book is replete with self-deprecating humour, and only a person who is truly secure can say that she is moderately famous when compared to the rest of her family members.
My mother thought I was being too harsh on myself but when I decided to write a book about my life, I thought about what people will be most interested in, and it occurred to me that it’s the fact that I am related to this most unique family. Everyone in the family is a superstar. So, I decided to write something on how it is to be recognised as Saif Ali Khan’s sister, Tiger Pataudi and Sharmila’s daughter, Kareena Kapoor’s sister-in-law or Taimur’s aunt! How it is to be in a position where people actually want to ask them questions, but they do it through me because they don’t have access to them. All this in a humorous way because there is a also a sense of self and identity. I have also written about other things like travel and pregnancy, that is entirely about me