Saif Ali Khan talks Jawaani Jaaneman
Saif Ali Khan explains how he's enjoying the current phase in the film industry as he looks forward to the release of his rom-com Jawaani Jaaneman
Whatever be their real life age or marital status, Bollywood actors are known to hold on fiercely to a carefree, forever young-at-heart image when it comes to the big screen. Among all the Khans, perhaps, nobody epitomises the commitment phobic metrosexual Indian better than Saif Ali Khan. One just needs to glance at his repertoire of movies including Cocktail and Love Aaj Kal to drive home the point.
So when the actor signs on for a movie like Jawaani Jaaneman, starring him as a promiscuous, fun-loving, 40-year-old bachelor, confronted with a 20-something daughter, there is a sense of déjà vu that hits you initially. After all haven't we seen the type before?
"There is something very age appropriate about this guy (in Jawaani Jaaneman)," Saif explains over the phone from Mumbai recently when we caught up for a tete-a-tete.
"And how apt that the actor who did Love Aaj Kal and Cocktail should now be confronted with an issue where he is not grown up and he kind of comes across his daughter in a night club and he is like hitting on her. I mean not really hitting on her. you have to be careful of being incestuous!"
"We all knew people like this when we were growing up. This is one of those guys who is way too old to be in the club.
"The story touched me. It kind of makes you cry, it kind of makes you laugh. Jawaani Jaaneman is about family and acceptance and it is about a guy who is quite lost and doesn't even know who he is and what he thinks is frightening turns out to be his redemption."
When put that way, we kind of see the progression of his character, but still in an image conscious industry, where Bollywood heroes tend to hang on to their 'youth' mainly by romancing girls half their age, didn't he have any reservations about playing dad to a 20-year-old? His daughter, Sara Ali Khan, with Amrita Singh, is 24, by the way.
"I don't blame people who have a lot to lose and who are protective about that (image)," explains Saif.
While the actor admits it is "physically reckless" of him (to play a dad), he asserts he has never been "manipulative" when it comes to his movie selection.
"I act and I work as a means to an end. It is not an end in itself. So I like to keep acting and going on holidays and enjoying time with my family. If somebody offers me something I like, I just do it. I am not really trying to be very clever."
He is also keen to point out his character in Jawaani Jaaneman is nothing like his real self; he asserts he is quite responsible in his personal life. "I definitely had a close relationship with my children and would never ever try and get away from that responsibility. That is pretty much what this guy (in the film) wants to do."
In retrospect what would he do differently as a dad?
"Maybe I would try to be a little more patient, a little less focused on my own work. But the fact is, it is a bit difficult to do that when you are 25.
"If you could have the brain of a 45-year-old or the experience of a 45-year-old when you are 20, there's nothing like it!"
'Age of the actor'
For an actor who seems to march to his own drumbeat, Saif Ali Khan is strangely open about his need for commercial hits. He was reacting to our query on how important box-office success is for him, specially considering his last historical drama Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior, in which he played the role of the central character's adversary, Udaybhan Singh Rathore has surpassed the Rs200 crore mark at the box-office.
"A lot of people have got their money involved and ultimately it is an investment for them and we have to make sure they get their money back," he tells us.
The 23-year-old who made his Bollywood debut with the dud drama Parampara in 1993 and then went on to balance commercial hits with nuanced performances in films like Omkara and Being Cyrus has come a long way.
"I love, love, acting, especially when it is something challenging or interesting.
"It is really the age of the actor in India today because people are coming up with different looks and different twists to stories; it is a fascinating time and I'm just enjoying that."
Debacle of Laal Kaptaan
But not all his choices have paid dividends. Case in point his 2019 release, the neo-Western Laal Kaptaan that boldly ventured where Indian cinema had never been before. He admits that the film was a "huge risk" and difficult to make, yet he was attracted to the story line.
"If the plot had been a little tighter. if the hunter character had been a little more supernatural, maybe we could have gotten something different. I think it should have been treated in a more international manner.
"It was one of things where you are hoping people would be able to pull off that vision but .
"In retrospect I think the nature of the film was not something that the Indian audiences liked."
Judging from his previous career choices, especially movies like Omkara, Being Cyrus or Kurbaan, one would have thought Saif was more resilient when it comes to box-office performances, but he seems to have mellowed down with age. He is 49, by the way, though could easily pass off as someone in their early 30s, which is exactly the mind space he occupies, in his own words!
"In all honesty I think it (the debacle of Laal Kaptaan) does affect me and I wouldn't take that many chances the next time." A pity we would say considering the movie was an enriching experience for some.
"I know it is a little late in the day but I'm also figuring out slowly what the audience likes. I also would like to work with producers and directors who understand the market a bit better."
Khan seems to be figuring out a lot of things of late, specially when it comes to expressing his opinions in public. His recent comments that "there was no concept of India, till the British gave it one," instantly became fodder for social media trolls. The actor seems resigned to the fact that he is damned if he has an opinion and damned if he doesn't. So how does it feel to be hounded for his opinion only to be vilified for the same? "I have realised that the media can be very naughty," he says resignedly. "You get tempted into a comment and then it goes on and on for a while. I don't think anyone is really interested in the issue anymore. They are just interested in what you say."
"So most sensible actors tend to keep quiet and I think that's going to happen more and more cause nobody likes to talk when you are not being understood. So perhaps these opinions are best expressed over a drink with a group of interesting, intelligent people in a different environment."
There is no anger when he makes these comments, only a matter-of-fact acceptance that the world is the way it is and as a celebrity he is fair game.
"I think social media is quite a toxic environment and it is probably good for the soul to be away from that."
Acting with newbie Alaya and a seasoned actress like Tabu
For any senior actor who has proved his mettle, acting alongside a newbie must be a patience-testing endeavor. While Saif is the first to admit that he is probably not the best costar on sets, "we were lucky that she (Alaya Furniturewala, daughter or Pooja Bedi and granddaughter of Kabir Bedi) is brilliant, she doesn't think like a new person. She is a proper actor. Her timing is impeccable. It is like you are working with an actor. It doesn't seem like she is new or you are launching her or anything like that. She's like a young professional and it was a great pleasure working with her because I feel she kept me on my toes as well."
As for Tabu, who plays the role of his former love interest in the movie, he says, "Whenever you act with someone who is a lovely actor, the whole thing comes alive in a different way. Tabu has very interesting, nuanced interpretations. We really bounced words off each other quite effectively."
Take 5 with Saif
What are you reading currently?
War and Peace. I'm on Page 50, there is a long way to go!
Last time you saw Kareena on the big screen...
It was in Good Newwz.
What's the one movie of yours you'd like to introduce Taimur to?
Maybe Hum Tum or Love Aaj Kal, something nice and funny. Not Tanhaji. It's violent.
Best piece of advice you'd given daughter Sara.
Be yourself. And think like an actor.
Why is Saif not on social media?
Because I enjoy my privacy.