There’s no nice way to put this. Saif Ali Khan’s ‘Race 2’ is an assault on our sensibilities. It’s the cinematic equivalent of ‘Baywatch’ gone wrong. It has rich, gorgeous people who shoot down people in nightclubs, walk away unscathed and spew dialogues such as “revenge is a dessert best served cold”.
Scathing terms such as “trashy”, “big-budget cartoon” and “race should be titled disgrace” have been bandied about by critics who have dissected the film. But here’s the deal: Critics may have unequivocally panned it, but its roaring box-office success has made a mockery of all the objections raised.
In the first weekend alone, the thriller, directed by Abbas-Mustan, has raked in Rs150 million (Dh10.4 million), making it the first big hit of 2013. It’s a bitter-sweet victory for Khan and his glamorous troupe comprising the beefy John Abraham and the leggy Deepika Padukone. Film experts may not have given them their unflinching support, but movie-mad Indians have given them their nod.
But stranger things have happened in Bollywood. To put it all in perspective, Bollywood actors go on a whirlwind promotional tour peddling their film before it hits the theatres. But once it’s out on the big screen and the verdict is delivered, they turn elusive and media-shy. Not Khan. He’s more than happy to defend ‘Race 2’.
“Race 2 was never meant to be rocket science,” he proclaims.
As always, the son of legendary actress Sharmila Tagore and the late star cricketer Pataudi was articulate as he came clean. His tip? Enjoy the ride and try not to take ‘Race 2’ seriously. tabloid! caught up with the actor who plays the slick, revenge-thirsty businessman Ranvir Singh to get to the bottom of it all.
Q: ‘Race 2’ has been ripped apart by critics. Your reaction?
A: Until now, I have done quite a few films. For ‘Race 2’, my aim was to do a film clearly for the box office. I wasn’t actually very concerned about the reviews because this is a fan’s movie. I knew this film wouldn’t get great reviews. This is one of those films where you pay for your tickets and have a good time. You look at some good-looking people, hear some nice songs and watch some good action. Perhaps, ‘Race 2’ is a film that my children would enjoy and not some respected journalists.
Q: But why would an intelligent actor such as you choose to associate with a film like this?
A: It’s important to do such films once in a while. At this age and stage in my life, I am more interested in box-office collections than my critics. Critics are always complaining about something or the other in India. The reality of the situation is that this film has taken home more than Rs15 crore [Rs150 million] on its opening weekend. The idea was to make that kind of film. Now how well it does and how good it is remains a separate issue. But getting such a good opening is worth celebrating. Remember, films that get four or five stars in Bollywood are often box-office duds.
Q: You have often been branded as a thinking woman’s eye-candy. So, was it wrong to feel slightly let down?
A: Please don’t expect anything more of me. I am an actor and I will do whatever appeases me. I don’t want to be India’s prime minister. I want to be a commercial star and I want to be a rich star. As long as I know what I am doing and why I am doing it, then we are good. It’s quite challenging for an actor to carry a film such as ‘Race’ which is all about running on convictions of the actor. If you found ‘Race 2’ far-fetched, then imagine if it’s performed badly. I belong to the ‘Amitabh Bachchan school of acting’. You need to be convinced of your role and the idea is to sell it well. ‘Race 2’ was never meant to be rocket science. I have never said it’s the deepest film or the most important film in my film. Hopefully, such films will come along. But right now, I am finding the success exhilarating.
Q: The leading ladies in ‘Race’ are blatantly objectified. Doesn’t it make a mockery of the debate that’s raging in India on whether objectification of women on-screen has led to an increase in violence against them?
A: This film celebrates woman. Both the original and its sequel have shown women with strong roles. They can tilt the balance either in favour of or against the hero. By no means is Deepika a sheer weak woman here nor is she just an object for glamour or sex. On the contrary, she is a hero in this film, purely due to the way in which she is presented. Objectifying a woman is pornography, that is a different deal altogether, we haven’t done that. Perhaps, we have glamourised them.
Q: It’s not just the women who have been presented well. We saw a lot of your sculpted torsos in this one. Have you been working out?
A: Of course. We worked out a lot. There are many schools of entertainment. Remember the popular TV show ‘Baywatch’ and the cynical adults got put off by it? I suspect that’s because they don’t have a chance of ever having those good torsos. For young children and college students, ‘Baywatch’ was aspirational. When my daughter saw the film, she turned to me and said: “Abba, this is too hot, what an introduction.” Between us, ‘Race 2’ was a lot of fun and it was not meant to be anything else.
Q: What does your wife [actress] Kareena Kapoor think about it?
A: She has a fine understanding of the movies and she understands what it’s meant to be. It requires a certain strength to carry a film such as ‘Race 2’ forward. A part of being a Hindi film hero is all about being slick. We don’t really make deep movies nor do we like our characters to be particularly unfit. Indians don’t have the same idea of cool as to Americans do. We don’t understand cool and we don’t have a self-deprecating sense of humour. We are very touchy people and we like to look up to our heroes. Generally, if you want to make money in Bollywood, you cant wander around without being good-looking.
Q: Are you telling us that an actor such as Robert De Niro wouldn’t make the Bollywood cut?
A: Robert De Niro is an intelligent and a very good-looking actor. He can play any role. He can be extremely sexy or genuinely ordinary. What I am saying is that people in Bollywood would be more interested in seeing him in ‘Godfather’ than ‘Deer Hunter’.
Q: When you recently came to Dubai to promote ‘Race 2’, your attitude bordered on smug. So when you look back, did the confidence stem from the knowledge that a well-packaged film such as ‘Race 2’ would inevitably do well?
A: No, it wasn’t anything like that. There are many people who come together for a film. Beyond a point, the writing quality of Indian films are not really flawless. The material that gets printed is not always top-class. Somebody in a review scoffed at the part of ‘Shroud Of Turin’ and said “wow”. I said the same thing, but sometimes you need to look beyond all that. Let me digress: an actor has his own destiny. I felt I am not getting beyond roles played in ‘Cocktail’ and ‘Love Aaj Kal’. At first, I thought of it in fatalistic terms and that I am destined to play those roles. But then I realised that you can change your set-up only if you put yourself in another director’s hand. Enter ‘Race’. I decided I am not going to put my sensibilities into it. Earning Rs15 crore on day one is not what Saif Ali Khan is used to. So, let me just enjoy that. I promise we will make an arty movie that will fetch me Rs5 crore. Then, everyone will be praising my work.
Q: ‘Race 2’ is inching towards the Rs100 crore club. Your thoughts?
A: It’s a young man’s game when you say you are not interested in box-office collections and want to do alternative cinema. But when it comes to meat and potatoes, those Rs100 crores matter. It means you are liked.
Q: Did you enjoy seeing yourself on screen or did you cringe at some of the dialogues you delivered?
A: It was liberating to watch yourself on screen. Some of the dialogues were difficult to deliver, but to actually to deliver it with a degree of conviction was no mean feat. My sister-in-law said I was cool. It wasn’t meant to be anything more. As an actor, I enjoyed watching it. The visual effects of ‘Race 2’ is amazing. Perhaps, the climax was a little tacky and borderline believable. But stunt inside the jet was a huge achievement for an Indian production. But if we are going to make a third part, we will make sure we have a strong script.
Q: Sounds fair. Last question, which is your toughest dialogue in ‘Race 2’?
A: The dialogue in which I tell Jacqueline [Fernandez] about her hot costume was one of the worst lines I have ever heard. I don’t want you all to take it seriously. As actors, we know when we are bullshitting. The intention today is to make money.
*’Race 2’ is currently showing in the UAE.