Bollywood is not a place for friends: Sara Ali Khan

The Columbia University graduate, who only competes with herself, has seen the underbelly of success in her brief career of three years



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By Kaveree Bamzai

Published: Thu 23 Dec 2021, 8:11 AM

Last updated: Thu 23 Dec 2021, 11:30 AM

“I love my job and love the people of my industry, but I don't look for solace or friends or fathers here. I’ve a father, I’ve friends, I’ve a mother. I’ve a sense of who I am external to films and I really do value that because this is not a place for friends. This is a place for work."

This is Bollywood and the person commenting on it is one of its brightest stars, Sara Ali Khan, who is quite riveting in her latest film, 'Atrangi Re', co-starring Dhanush and Akshay Kumar.

A standout persona

Not for nothing is the 26-year-old a graduate of Columbia University, an Ivy League college in New York. Sharp as a stiletto and quick with her repartee, she stands out in a sea of newcomers, some with famous last names and some without, who seek their dreams in Bollywood.

"Back in the day, even before my first film 'Kedarnath' had happened, people would come to me and say you know you're so loud, you only want to wear Indian clothes, you should go for grooming classes. Cut to the present, where everybody else is also wearing Indian clothes at the airport and going around with undone hair and I'm saying really, send them to grooming classes. It was authentic when I did it and style when someone else did it. What's this?” she asks.

Reality check

In her brief career of three years, Sara has already seen the underbelly of success. While 'Kedarnath' and 'Simmba' won her a lot of acclaim and love, she was immediately put on a pedestal and equally quickly it was snatched away from her after and 'Love Aaj Kal'. 'Atrangi Re' came to her at a very low point in her career in 2020. "What kept me going was various schedules of 'Atrangi Re'," she says, adding: "I'm a very ambitious actor and when my films don't get love and appreciation, it makes me low, and when I'm made to be at home as somebody who is vivacious and wants to live a life and go out there and do good work, it makes me disappointed and restless."

'Atrangi Re', which was shot in Varanasi, Madurai and Delhi, was started 10 days after the shoot of 'Love Aaj Kal' and its first schedule ended a day before the Covid-19 pandemic.

So, on March 19, she was on a set of 200 people and on the following days, she was in lockdown.

Rinku Suryanvanshi, a firecracker

Her character in 'Atrangi Re', Rinku Suryanvanshi, who is in love with two men, is a firecracker, but she has her quieter moments, too, in which she has to match Dhanush's amazing emotional agility and physical malleability. How much of Muku, the headstrong Hindu priest's daughter from 'Kedarnath' did she see in Rinku? "Rinku is very different. Muku comes from a more supportive family, from a comparatively privileged space and has grown up with a loving family. Rinku has an innocence and a vulnerability that Muku didn't have. Let's just say Muku is my first love and Rinku is my true love," she says.

She has a deeper connection to Rinku and it is evidenced in the way she has almost single handedly promoted the film across cities and shoes, brimming with her trademark Knock Knock jokes and rhyming couplets. From Madhuri Dixit to Ranveer Singh to Salman Khan, she has performed the movie's electric song on every social media platform possible. " single handedly pulled me out of a very sullen year so it behoves me to promote it on my own, if I have to."

The poster child

Daughter of actress Amrita Singh and actor Saif Ali Khan, who had parted ways in 2004, she has managed to be the poster child for well-adjusted blended families. She is friends with her father's second wife Kareena Kapoor-Khan and dotes on her much younger step brothers, while often featuring her brother Ibrahim, who is assisting Karan Johar on his new film 'Rocky aur Rani ki Prem Kahani'.

She has also struggled with her weight in her adolescence, and has often spoken about it on public platforms.

Already prepping for her next movie with Vicky Kaushal, she is a natural interview subject and is a human quotable quote machine.

She competes only with herself. "I realised early in the day that there will always be someone out there doing something else better than me, that's more authentic to them. My only shot at being here is being honest to who I’m and constantly adhere to it," she says.

An honest, ambitious young girl

And who is she? She laughs: "I’m an honest, ambitious young girl with a decent number of insecurities and vulnerabilities. I want to go out there and do good work and make my mother proud."

But it's not as if she is led by anyone, not her mother nor her managers. She says: "I’m lucky that everyone from my mother downwards understands the kind of person that I am. You can advise me, you can guide me but you can't manicure me or tutor me. That is how I function at a fundamental level."

Unlike her contemporaries, she is also fortunate that her emotional language is Hindi, just as her co-star Dhanush's first emotional language is Tamil. "At my peak of emotions Hindi is what I go to, at my happiest, saddest and angriest," she adds.

She has a strong sense of who she is, whether it is her love for Indian wear or her middle parting. It doesn’t mean she won't try anything new — the occasional Dolce and Gabbana dress and Manolos and sideswept hair is great too. But she is unwilling to pretend to be something she is not.

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In a short span of time, she has worked with an eclectic mix of directors. What has she learnt from each of them: “I've learnt passion from Gattu Sir (Abhishek Kapoor who directed 'Kedarnath'); presentation and high energy form Rohit Shetty (director of Simmba); I've learnt sensitivity from Imtiaz Sir (Imtiaz Ali who directed 'Love Aaj Kal'), and (sparkle in the eyes) from David Sir (David Dhawan, director of 'Coolie No. 1')." And from her latest director, Anand L Rai?

Innocence and the importance of preserving it.

“Being called to an A-list party doesn't make me any less or any more secure as a person. Getting a good review or a good opening does and that's what matters to me.”

Spoken like the true warrior she is, coming from a long line of fierce women, right from Sultan Jahan, the Begum of Bhopal, her great gr​eat grandmother.

(The author is a senior journalist and author, most recently of 'The Three Khans and the Emergence of New India')


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