It’s crass to discuss money, even if someone falls under the crazy rich Asian bracket.
But we took a shot with Indian actor Saif Ali Khan, who is true blue Bollywood royalty.
He’s a real-life prince born into the royal family of Pataudi in North India and his latest role — a shrewd and unscrupulous Dalal Street stock trader Shakun Kothari in the thriller Baazaar out in the UAE on October 25 — legitimised that awkward topic a good deal.
So does somebody who’s insanely wealthy ever worry about money?
“It’s almost impossible to change people’s perceptions… I am not that rich,” said Khan in an exclusive interview with Gulf News tabloid!.
While it was tempting to scoff and do an eye roll here, we may be onto something. Giving the articulate actor, who was born into the lap of luxury, the benefit of doubt, he claimed he was privileged, but he was not flush with money as many were prone to believe.
“I have always had a certain amount of property… land. I have grown up with property but really nothing in terms of bank balance. So what I have earned [in cash] is from the world of movies. If I have restored the Pataudi palace, then I have done it with the hard-earned money from the world of films. I am definitely privileged, but nothing compared to some of the guys out there,” Khan said.
Ask him if he has ever done anything to earn a quick buck, he quips: “I guess the worst thing that I have done is a [tobacco masala] ad … that is as dark as it has got.”
A clip of that infamous jingle — with the tagline that claims chewing that particular brand of tobacco masala is a sure sign of success — shows Khan playing himself, a dapper suited-up superstar living the lavish life with fawning beautiful women and a sparkling beverage in his hand. The jingle’s cheesiness makes you cringe, but the actor offers a pragmatic critique of his otherwise blemish-free record.
“I have done alright, other than that,” said Khan. We couldn’t agree more. Khan has constantly attempted to re-invent himself by taking on unorthodox roles. Some of his creative gambles paid off handsomely (think his Indian National Award-winning act as the lethal villain Langda Tyaagi in Omkara and the affable bloke in the cult bromance Dil Chahta Hai), while a few others (think the painful comedy Humshakals) didn’t give him any solid returns.
His turn as a shark-like stock trader Shakun Kothari is his career best claims the actor, who impressed us recently in the hit web series Sacred Games as an unassuming turban-sporting Punjabi cop.
Khan plays the quintessential corporate villain in Baazaar directed by Gauravv K Chawla, also starring Radhika Apte, Chitrangada Singh and newbie Rohan Mehra.
“I play Shakun Kothari, a hard-edged Gujarati businessman. He’s come up the hard way and is like a shark. He is not interested in running companies, he’s only interested in profits and is ruthless. He’s someone who takes of advantage of certain situations and weakness. He destroys companies and people without any remorse,” Khan said.
While Hollywood has a rich history of films like actor Michael Douglas’ Wall Street and Leonardo Di Caprio’s The Wolf Of Wall Street that explore the murky and debauched world of capitalism, it’s relatively virgin territory for Hindi films. But Khan believes the Indian business is equally dynamic as the one in America and their stories are equally enterprising.
“Dalal Street [in Mumbai] is Bollywood’s answer to Wall Street… I guess it is about time that we had a film that was set around that world of ours. Films reflect the economy we live in anyway,” said Khan, alluding to how India has seen a spate of telecom scams and high-profile businessmen caught in fraudulent dealings.
“There’s a line that my character Shakun Kothari says: ‘you work on emotions, I work on math.’ That sums up my role well… Baazaar isn’t as complicated as some of the scandals shown in Hollywood films… You don’t have to be a stock market whiz to enjoy this film.”
Baazaar, a cautionary tale about greed and ill-gotten wealth, is no critique of capitalism. It’s a commercial movie made with a flair shown in artistic films, said Khan.
“Baazaar isn’t a discussion on the politics of economics or the philosophy behind making money. It’s a drama about what constitutes breaking the law. In a country which has seen so many scams, this film will seem highly probable. It deals a lot on telecom sector and is based on fact,” the actor said.
Khan even goes to the extent of comparing Baazaar to Mahabharata, the complex Hindu epic about the Kurukshetra battle. Just like the mythology, the characters in Baazaar are outwardly holier-than-thou, but scheming on the inside. The trailer shows a seemingly harmless Kothari attending a prayer meet in his downtime, but has a volte-face when he’s merciless in the boardroom. His game face is vile.
“I may come across as a holier-than-thou, praying for forgiveness but in reality I am a nasty piece of work. When you combine your religion with your policy of being cruel, that stems from Mahabharata… Even the women in the film are responsible for fixing us as shown in Mahabharata. Baazaar has a very Greek tragedy undertones,” he said.
Khan dubs the pious-yet-posh Shakun Kothari as a “cool, smooth customer”.
“He speaks with an accent and it doesn’t sound contrived… I haven’t overplayed it or caricatured him… Shakun is much older than I am… The way he talks, his clothes, his physicality, the kind of house he lives in and what he eats or the cars he drives indicate a world that’s a bit flashy,” he added.
While he is ruthless, there are some redeeming qualities in him too.
“He’s is a strong family man and perhaps it justifies his ruthlessness to an extent. He may be a shark in the murky moneyed waters, but he believes there are people worse than him,” he said.
As a part of his legwork, Khan had several script readings with his director and team to polish the film.
“There is a renaissance of the Indian film industry going on where I think all kinds of movies are being made. Baazaar is one of those and I am happy to be a part of one such film. We have worked very hard on this movie.”
Don’t miss it!
Baazaar is out in the UAE on October 25.
Did you know?
■ The team of Baazaar had to call off a press junket in Dubai this week. “A family issue came up,” said Khan, when asked about it.