Saif Ali Khan believes he has led a “creative life”, which has been all about learning and evolving with the times, despite the bad start in his career.
In the past two decades, Khan has created a versatile filmography — a combination of commercial hits like ‘Dil Chahta Hai’, ‘Race’, ‘Love Aaj Kal’ and ‘Cocktail’, as well as critically-acclaimed films such as ‘Ek Hasina Thi’, ‘Being Cyrus’, ‘Omkara’ and ‘Tanhaji’.
At 51, the actor says he is now a more aware individual compared to the person he was when he made his debut with 1993 film ‘Parampara’.
“I was completely clueless and now I’m a little bit less clueless, that’s the extent of my evolving. I mean, one learns and life teaches you things. If you keep doing the same thing and you don’t change, then you age in a different way. But if you do evolve and if you are learning and expanding, you can be interesting at 50. You have a lot of experience,” Khan said in an interview.
Son of veteran actor Sharmila Tagore and the late cricketer Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi, Khan said there have been many “influences” be it his father, who was the son of Iftikhar Ali Khan Pataudi, the last ruler of the princely state of Pataudi during the British Raj, or his mother, who is a member of the prominent Tagore family of Bengal.
“I think I’ve done well from the art I’ve collected to the homes I’ve built to the kind of heritage I’ve tried to look after, Pataudi, to the work I’m doing. It’s been a creative life so far, especially with a bit of a bad start.
“I think there have been influences that I’ve been very lucky to have like the kind of academic educational influences or even the influences of my father and the legacy of my grandfather, the Tagores. There are a lot of things that come into play in what makes a person,” he explained.
Khan was once dubbed the ‘chocolate boy’ of Indian cinema due to his clean, suave appearances in films such as ‘Imtihaan’, ‘Yeh Dillagi’, ‘Main Khiladi Tu Anari’ and ‘Tu Chor Main Sipahi’, but with his performance in movies like ‘Rehna Hai Tere Dil Mein’, ‘Being Cyrus’ and ‘Ek Haseena Thi’, the actor proved that there was more to him than just good looks.
“I’ve always thought that it’s interesting to do different stuff really. I just thought Homi (Adajania, director of ‘Being Cyrus’) was very interesting and making an English movie would be fun.
“I thought ‘Ek Haseena Thi’ would be great because I was doing ‘Kal Ho Na Ho’ and everyone said, ‘chocolate boy’. And I thought, it’d be quite cool to play this kind of role. Ram Gopal Varma (producer of ‘Ek Haseena Thi’) gave me a chance to act like somebody else,” explained Khan.
These movies led him to ‘Omkara’, filmmaker Vishal Bharadwaj’s 2006 masterpiece that was inspired by William Shakespeare’s tragedy ‘Othello’.
In the movie, Khan essayed the role of conniving Langda Tyagi, a role that was in stark contrast from the suave, urban characters he had played in his earlier movies.
Now 15 years later, the actor admits that ‘Omkara’ turned his career around, but at the same time, he believes that there are many other performances which have been equally praised by critics and fans.
“I think somewhere ‘Omkara’ has set a benchmark early on in my career. I don’t think you can do more and be totally different. So I’m very happy with that benchmark and very proud of that movie, but I constantly feel there has to be more to life than ‘Omkara’,” he stated. “For some of my other films, very often people have written that ‘this is his best performance to date’. So that’s great that they’ve said that. So as long as that keeps happening, it’s good.”
He gave the example of ‘Tanhaji’, in which he played antagonist Udaybhan Singh Rathod.
“I really think that ‘Tanhaji’ was amazing and the role of Lankesh in ‘Adipurush’ is amazing,” he added.
‘Adipurush’, Khan’s upcoming film, is being directed by Om Raut, who also helmed ‘Tanhaji’.
The new film, based on the Hindu epic Ramayana, features South star Prabhas in the titular role with Kriti Sanon playing the role of Sita.
Khan said if he had a chance to redo things, he would revisit the films that he did in the ’90s and make them better.
“I would love to have the chance to do all those things with the ability to do it a bit better. Even though I think a lot of those films had freshness. I was really trying my best in a very inhibited way,” he explained. “So I’m very proud of all of that stuff because we’ve done it in really tough situations. [But] there are many movies that I’d like to revisit and do again so that they can be better.”
At the same time, the actor is happy that the film industry has evolved for better as there is no demarcation between characters that are heroic and villainous in nature.
It was the industry’s innumerable award functions that used to bracket actors into various categories like the best villain or best comedian, he said.
“A lot of award functions in India are extensions of TV channels. I think every major channel has a different award function. They try to get as many actors as possible to then say, give this guy best villain, give this guy best comedian and give this guy best actor.
“So it kind of loses credibility, but it suits the actors most of the time. They are happy to get an award and be part of the system. But the real winner is the TV channel. So they make a TV show out of it and we are all junior artists — attending, performing, doing this and doing that.”