Happy Birthday, Saif- he has truly emerged triumphant at the turnstiles!

Saif Ali Khan  who turns 43 today  is a happily married man with a great career in place.

What a  long journey it has been  for Saif Ali Khan. From  the over-pampered hedonistic  scion  of   a Nawabi Khandaan  to one of Bollywood ’s most serious contenders  for  the no.1 spot , Saif has  truly emerged triumphant at  the turnstiles.

One still remembers with a shudder  the comments  that accompanied Saif’s  debut in Umesh Mehra’s  Aaashiq Aawara  in 1993   and the melee of  monstrosities that  followed  thereafter.

Acidic  comments about his  looks and appearance  were  the order  of  the Friday.  One still remembers  the classic  of cattiness from a well-known columnist  who said, “Put a dupatta on Saif’s head  and he looks like Sharmila Tagore.”

Such comments  hurt all right.  But they hit home, bang-on. As Saif  once told me  , “My detractors and their  harsh comments have been  my greatest incentive to prove myself.”

And  then , in typical Saif  fashion ,  he leaned back  for some serious self-praise. “Actually  that’s a  good quote, don’t you think?”

Saif almost always ends every observation  tentatively.  No  wonder it took him so long  to realize  his worth.

“But do I really know  my  worth today?” he wonders with his brows characteristically knitted  in  a question mark.

I firmly believe  Saif should be in a desi Hamlet  instead   of  the  Othello that he did with Vishal Bharadwaj. The to-be-or-not-to-be  debate  was  invented  for Saif…Or so it seems.  Saif never says an  outright yes or no. Maybe is his clearest option and safest  zone.

No wonder  he remained  in  the zone  of the probables for  so many  years. Looking gawky ill-at-ease and out of sorts  in a series of post-debut  films, Saif all but finished  off his career.

He was and he remains to a large extent, the Khan from the outside. Aamir and Salman  belong to  film families.  And despite being a Delhi dude  Shah Rukh is more  of an   insider in the  industry today than any  other actor.

Yes,  Saif  ke paas maa hai. But moms,  as  experience tells us, don’t count in Bollywood . If they did,  Nutan’s boy Mohnish Behlwould’ve been  the  hugest superstar  on the block.

“Mom(Sharmila Tagore)  had actually agreed to play my  mother in Aashiq Awaara. That  was sweet of her,”Saif reminisced  about  the “good” old days when  columnists  took potshots at him for everything, from his girlie looks  to  alleged sexuality.

There’re stories about how insecure he would get on the sets  of Karan Johar’s Kal Ho Na  Ho. Saif denies them. “You know   I get paranoid about every movie. I knew the kind of  role  I had. I  knew from the  start that Shah Rukh  would   be  the pivot  of the  film. But I knew I had great  lines and a great role. I was never made to feel Shah Rukh  was  more important  to the project. I went with very clear   expectations. It  was a civilized unit. Everyone was young and  fun. I don’t   feel like an outsider at all. I never did, though I was from outside  Mumbai. I  was  always warned  about camps and  groups. But I always felt  there was  some strength  to  be gained from standing alone, and not being part of any camp. But at  the same time  if you look at  it I’m quite a Yashraj boy, in many ways. I started my career with Yashji in Parampara.  He saw my first screen-test.  My first hitYeh Dillagi  was also connected with Yashrajfilms. The way they work suits me. Once we go down to Goa   for a script reading  all we’ve to   is work hard on the  movie. I’m not  expected to  socialize with them. So  the whole ‘camp’ thing is quite a  myth for me. Really, Karan Johar and Yashraj Films havespoilt  me. ”

Laughs  his friend  director Siddharth Anand, “I’m surprised at  the amount of inane stuff Saif  was made to do in  the early part of his career and how he survived it. The problem was, Saif  never  took  himself seriously earlier. Even today I’ve to shake him up  to realize  his potential  . I can’t think of any other actor who has had so many solo-hero hits at a time when  everyone’s doing multi-starrers.  In the last three years nobody has had a successful solo  film except Saif Ali Khan.”

Saif’s make-over has  been  as  remarkable as  that of Karisma  Kapoor who came accompanied  by a  truck-load of flak and left  at  her peak  as a screen  queen.

Saif is certainly not going anywhere for a long time. He seems to enjoy  his newly-found status as a   leading man  to   the hilt. So far he  has been playing  variations  of his  own personality with a  cool candour  that suburban  audiences have identified with. Now  it’s  time to move on.

Omkara  was  definitely a  new beginning for  the dude with  his dynamics forever driven delightfully into distended  directions. WhenVishal Bahradwaj had zeroed in on  Saif  to play  the  desi Iago, Saif  was , as usual, unsure.  He never says an outright yes to  any role, not  even to Farhan Akhtar’s Dil Chahta Hai  in  2002. That  film clearly  was  the turning point in his career.

Farhan  was sure he  wanted only Saif  to play  the confused naïve and  confounded Sameer . As usual Saif  wasn’t convinced.

Vishal Bharadwaj who gave Saif  his  single-most important makeover  role before and after DilChahta  Hai chuckled  at  the memory  of Saif’s   indecisiveness.  “Everyone I approached  for Omkara said  yes immediately.  The  only actor  who needed some convincing was Saif.  He  was reluctant about cutting  his hair. I’d have never been able  to make  the film with  his long hair.  If I couldn’t convince him to do something so minor like cutting his hair, how could I convince him to get into character? I remember on  the night before shooting Saif sent me  a  message saying he has a razor  in  his hand wondering whether he should  cut his hair. It was Eid, and I told  him to take Allah’s name and  make the sacrifice.  Unki Qurbaniqubul ho gayi. My film will take Saif to  a different level.”

Saif recollected, “I was in Jaipur recently. And I began  to  think about how Vishal came down here  to narrate Omkara  to me. One morning  I  was sitting on  a beautiful lawn in Jaipur’s Rambagh Palace  with no work to do. Young Vishal  Bharadwaj  was sitting  in front of  me.   It  was  a beautiful  day. But  at  that point of time I was wondering why I  was being  offered a  negative role. Vishal really pushed  me . He told  me he was worried because it  was an important part in Omkara.  From getting me to cut my hair  to delivering my lines properly…he was quite paranoid.   Initially I read my character’s lines with a   bit of an English accent. Looking back I could’ve taken it even further.  But  it  was correct timing. Everything fell into  place.”

Siddharth Anand who’s a  close buddy  and a comrade  in cinema  gave Saif’s career as  a leading  man a  further boost with Salaam Namaste. “There’s  so  much I want to do with him.  What a fabulous actor he is !  I don’t  call him  an actor, he’s a natural-born camera  person. I started working with him during Hum  Tum which I had  co-scripted.  We hit it off immediately. Earlier we met at a  club  where we’d run  into each other   at the  gym.  We discovered we had a lot in common. In Salaam Namaste he  would  shock  me each time with the way he  did  the  fight scenes  with  Preity.”

Siddharth thinks Saif is constantly  doing roles that challenge  him to  make his presence felt. “In   Parineeta  he wasn’t  the central character in  these films. He  yet succeeded  in  making  his presence felt . And look at  the  diversity he  displays! FromSalaamNamaste to Being Cyrus, there’s no   character he  can’t do.  He  fits  into every film I make. In  my new film Tara Ram PumPum he’s again plays   someone audiences will connect with . It’s  Saif and yet   different.”

The  director says Saif  is  completely moody. “He takes my advice on  his career. He’s unpredictable. But I’m also  short-tempered.  So we do have fights  on  the sets  like children. But we’re  both  mature enough  to  realize when we make  a mistake. But honestly he’s  the actor  I’m most comfortable  with. After  Hum Tum I  knew I wanted to  direct my first film for Yashraj films.  I toldAditya Chopra  that I wanted  to make  it with Saif.  Salaam Namaste  was written  with Saif  in  mind. The entire characterization was tailored according to how the audiences would   react  to Saif.  Yes, I was that  impressed by him. Even  in Tara Rum Pum Pum the role is tailored  to suit  Saif.”

Adds Siddharth, “He has achieved it all  on himself. Now it’s  up  to  him to further his career. It’ll all depend on his  choice  of films. He shouldn’t  do films that will take him back.  Because he’s being  offered  rubbish multi-starrers.   He’s choosing very intelligently. For Omkara  I feel he’ll win all the awards  for  the negative performance. He’s going  to be fabulous in the  film. Saif would  read out entire scenes  to me  by heart.    I think his honesty is his big asset. Not just Saif and I, but my wife and  Rosa get along  well. So that helps our friendship  .  Since I don’t drink we go out for quiet dinners.”

Saif admits he’s incapable  of enjoying  the gift of  the  present. “Perhaps. But at least I’m conscious  of  it. I’m always anxious about  the  future.”

There is a self-deprecatory streak in Saif that serves him in good stead.

He once confided in me,  “On  the sets of  Omkara people would say  there were four National award winners. My first impulse would be  to wonder who  was the  fourth after  Vishal, Ajay Devgan and Konkona Sen. Then I’d realize, ‘Oh shit, the fourth National award winner  is actually me!”

Saif has the final word. “I may seem  like a  bundle of contradictions most  of  the  time. But there’s a method  to my madness which is apparent  only  to me a lot  of times.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button