I’m a natural born
Khalid Mohamed
Friday, September 07, 2012

Farah Khan debuts as an actress with Shirin Farhad Ki Toh Nikal Padi — and makes no bones about her ‘star’ qualities

She’s gung-ho. Her debut performance in the comedy Shirin Farhad Ki Toh Nikal Padi may have evoked a mixed response from the critics but she says, “Really? But for a few exceptions, everyone’s been positive. And I know I was good because I didn’t feel as if I was acting at all. I’m a natural born.”

Coming from Farah Khan, the feisty 47-year-old choreographer-turned-director, and now actress, that doesn’t sound like immodesty or vanity. She has struggled to become a major force in show business, which traditionally doesn’t welcome female directors with open arms. On the studio sets, though, she is strictly no-nonsense, commanding authority over her posse of male assistants and technicians. “Yes, but there does seem to be a bias against women directors when it comes to award functions,” she states. “I’ve been always handed consolation prizes even though my films have been the biggest successes of the year.”

Farah and her brother Sajid Khan, a comedian-cum-director, have gone through the hard knocks, holed up in tiny rooms. For years, they wouldn’t know where their next meal was coming from. Born to the second wife of filmmaker Kamran, who passed away when they were barely in their teens, Farah started off as a chorus line dancer. Cabaret queen Helen was her ideal.

She imitated Helen’s dance moves, and after years of being on the periphery of show business, landed her first solo assignment as a choreographer with the Aamir Khan number, Pehla Nasha, in Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar. It was on the day her grand-mother passed away that Farah had to supervise a performance of that number at the Filmfare Awards. Despite her bereavement, she showed up the venue, displaying the spirit that the show must go on. Anil Kapoor, Shah Rukh Khan and Juhi Chawla had rallied around her, preventing her from breaking down at the venue.

The miniscule apartment, shared with her brother, continued to be the choreographer’s home, even as she made her mark with as many as 100 dance set pieces. Her work in the films of Yash Chopra, Karan Johar and Mani Ratnam were especially impressive. For Ratnam’s Dil Se, her Chhaiya chhaiya atop a moving train, indeed, sparked the trend of item numbers. Meanwhile, Sajid began appearing in TV shows and acted in a few films. Those days of anxiety about their next meal were over. Next: the sister-and-brother moved to a terrace-apartment, their mother — settled in Goa — visited them more frequently. Farah’s open-house brunches became famous, with directors 
and actors dropping by 
for the regular Sunday menu of fish curry, rice and malpuas.

In the course of her ascent, Farah Khan did set off bad vibes with reigning choreographer Saroj Khan. The senior dance director would lash out against her younger peer in print. Courteously, Farah refrained from hitting back. After almost two decades of choreography, the leap forward to direction was inevitable — her partnership with Shah Rukh Khan, resulting in the zanily entertaining Main Hoon Na and Om Shanti Om.

A temporary fallout with Shah Rukh Khan — since he was taking long to greenlight their next project together — led to a realignment with Akshay Kumar. Tees Maar Khan tanked. For a while it seemed as if Farah had overplayed her cards. Moreover, she had to handle a nasty incident: Shah Rukh Khan slapped her husband Sirish Kunder in public. The Khan’s ire, it’s believed, was aroused since Kunder had tweeted against Ra: One. The media went on an overdrive. Again, Farah managed to do damage control by patching up with Shah Rukh Khan. The two will come together for their third film Happy New Year, scheduled to start 
in November.

“My triplets Czar, Diva and Anya are four years old now. They don’t need minute-by-minute attention,” Farah says, “which is why I accepted Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s offer of acting in a film he was producing. Since my mother’s Parsi, I was familiar to the story’s milieu. Plus I could identify with the story of a middle-class spinster finding true love in her mid-40s.” The shoot was minus glitches, except for the scenes shot in rain, she jokes, “I had to shake my fat body in pouring rain and was down in bed for a week… with high temperature. That apart, acting was a cakewalk.”

Er, what about the comments that she was stiff and uncomfortable in her scenes with the super-seasoned actor Boman Irani? To that she retaliates, “No way. I’m not the kind of person who would get intimidated even if I have to act with Amitabh Bachchan. From the response I’ve got, there was tremendous chemistry with Boman. See, I wasn’t exactly a fresher before the camera, I didn’t face any anxiety cramps. If I direct other actors, I should be pretty well-versed in acting. Right?”

Right. Now does this mean that Farah Khan will be acting more regularly? “No, not at all. Shirin Farhad Ki Toh Nikal Padi was a one-off for me,” she asserts. And then characteristically chortles, “But who knows? Never say never.”

(The writer has been reviewing Bollywood for decades, has scripted three films and directed three others.)

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