Saif, how is the lockdown treating and your wife Kareena Kapoor Khan?
Well, so far so good. We are all learning to cope with the new normal. Our son, Taimur, is the sunshine that keeps our home radiant. And now, Taimur has a sibling on the way.
Do you think things will ever be the same again?
They are not the same right now as they used to be. But yes, I do feel they will be the same again at some point, though at the moment we don’t know when they would be. I have to admit that there’s still a fear to go out to work. I am just hopeful that soon a lot of us will be asymptomatic we can all work in a more relaxed atmosphere.
Would you be comfortable doing an intimate scene?
Well, yes sure… relatively a one-to-one is safer of course you think ten times before doing it than a crowded song-and-dance sequence with 500 chorus dancers. Right now, things are scary. But we’ve to keep pushing along in the given scenario.
The first Bunty Aur Babli that released 15 years ago was fun. Will the sequel be equally entertaining?
I don’t know. The entire cast and crew barring the heroine (Rani Mukerjee) is different now. I wanted to do a small-town normal working-class guy — you know the kind with a small paunch and a moustache? – for a long time. I haven’t done that before.
Are you one of those rare contemporary Indian actors who does his homework on his characters?
I don’t know what other actors do or don’t do. But for me, doing the homework is part of the fun in playing a character and getting excited about what it’s eventually going to turn out to be. When I start playing a character I don’t even know where it will go. So I tend to be very quiet on the sets for the first few days. But with Bunty Aur Babli everything was okay from Day 1. Working with Rani Mukerjee again after so many years — we have done some of our best work together in Hum Tum and Ta Ra Rum Pum — everything just clicked.
You had received the National award for Hum Tum which raised quite a few eyebrows…
(Laughs) Yes, I was seen to be undeserving of the few awards that I received earlier in my career, including the National award for Hum Tum. But I think over the years I’ve proven myself to be more worthy of recognition.
At that time, I thought you deserved it more for Omkara. But over the years, though you’ve given many awards-worthy performances you haven’t really got many awards…
No, not really. To be honest, I don’t believe in them. Some years ago I was called for an awards function. When I got there someone higher up in the organization told me, ‘We wanted to give you the Best Actor award. But you know how it is. We’ll give you the award for Best Actor in a comic role.’
What did they mean by, ‘You know how it is’?
I think he implied there’s a certain amount of politics and manipulation in giving the awards. It (awards functions) is a TV show, yaar! It’s a TV show. You have to go on the stage and perform. It is no longer about going on stage, taking your award and mumbling your ‘thank you’ speech. Now it’s a whole big tamasha on stage. Initially, it was a good idea, then the commercial aspect was introduced and that gobbled up the entire credibility of awards.
What did you think of veteran editor/journalist Shekhar Gupta’s blog on how Katrina Kaif, Karan Johar and others threw tantrums for awards when Gupta was editor of the Indian Express group which gave the screen awards?
Well. I mean, it was illuminating to some people. To me, it was no great revelation. I feel everyone is part of the hypocrisy of film awards including Shekhar Gupta. I mean, why did he give Katrina that award if he thought she was undeserving? The truth is, we haven’t created a healthy environment for awards where one actor out of 5 wins an award and the other 4 actors clap.
Why doesn’t that happen?
Why we haven’t created that environment of camaraderie is a debate for some student of sociology to figure out. As I see them, awards functions are an excuse to make some money by performing on stage. If you have the intelligence,then you spend the money well. That’s what awards are worth as far as I can see. It’s not about pretending to be an art of a community.
Given the vitiated environment would you say Bollywood is a good job place for your three children Sara, Ibrahim, and Taimur?
It is the best place to work in. I remember at 17-18 years of age I was a mess. Acting saved me from self-destruction. Having the job, the sense of identity, it has given me and the job satisfaction and the enjoyment it has given me are more than I could ask for. The other day I saw myself in an episode of the new web series Taandav that I’ve done. I had earlier seen it on my phone. Now I made myself a Martini, sat with Taimur on my lap and watched it on the biggest TV screen at home. And I was really proud of what I had done. That self-satisfaction is priceless.
How much of your work have you been able to catch up during the lockdown?
I have been doing that a lot. So has my mother (the legendary actress Sharmila Tagore) and she has been evaluating her work. She is very self-critical. I have been watching my work in my old films. In some I feel I was not so good. Then in others I feel, okay I wasn’t bad but the film was not so good. I’ve understood that sometimes you work really hard. But then the tone of the film is all wrong. It’s more important to be in the right film than to give a good performance in a project that lets you down.
Which of your performances seem effective to you at this point?
I’m trying to think… Something like Hum Tum where everything seems in place. There was a nice story to it. I gave a fluid easy performance. I remember how stressed out I was while doing Hum Tum because there was no drama in the plot. It was all conversation. You have to be a good conversationalist to engage the audience in something like this.
During the making of comedies, the crew is known to laugh its head off while shooting. But often the audience doesn’t find it funny?
I am totally against laughing on the sets. I hate it. I tell my colleagues, ‘Let’s laugh later. Let’s work now.’ But seriously, I like doing lighter films. The writing is clearly the key to a film’s success. Last year I did Jawaani Jaaneman which was a really nice breezy film. I enjoyed doing that.
In Tanhaji, the only successful Bollywood film of the year, you played the villain. Do you enjoy the dark space on screen?
Yes, it gives me a chance to do something different. Goodness is often stuck in a rut. The darker roles are more challenging. When I play one I try to find a core of humour in the evil character. Villains are more fun to when they are slightly humorous. The idea is to entertain people. Being an actor is a fascinating process. The finding of the truth and then the telling the truth is an endlessly interesting process. Even the act of lighting a cigarette can become a performance. There is a story to everything. After a point in my career I have discovered that the real acting is not in the dialogues but in the silences in-between.
But Hindi cinema hates silences?
It’s changing. There’s always a silence and if the editor keeps it. When you do a scene where your co-star is the centre of attention, your reaction to his or her presence can make so much of a difference.
You remind me of Shashi Kapoor
That’s good. That’s a big compliment.
Your elder son, Ibrahim is getting ready for a film…
Yes, he seems prepared. But I think he should wait a little longer.
Why, he’s looking great! You never looked like that when you started out?
(Laughs) I know. He’s looking good. And he’s a very gentle soul. He’s secure in his space and has a sense of humour.
Does it make you feel guilty that you give so much time to your youngest son Taimur and not for your two eldest Sara and Ibrahim?
I am always there for them. I love and adore all my three children. It’s true that I spend a lot of time with Taimur. But I am constantly connected with my elder son Ibrahim and my daughter Sara. All my three children have different places in my heart. If I am hurt with Sara about something, Taimur can’t make me feel better about it. Every time you have a child you divide your heart. And they are all different in age. I feel each of my three children require a different kind of connect. I could have long chat on the phone or have dinner with Sara or Ibrahim which I can’t do with Taimur.
How has little Taimur taken to the lockdown?
It’s heart breaking how easy he has taken to it. He keeps saying Coronavirus all the time and is constantly wearing that mask and is living in an adventure. Children are massively accommodating. The other day my wife Kareena and Taimur had gone to my mother-in-law’s for lunch and I was all alone in the house. It made me think about how lucky I was to have them with me during this time of crisis. To be living alone at this time must be awful.
What about you and Kareena? Spending so much time together during the lockdown has created a havoc in many marriages?
Luckily, we’ve a good balance of, companionship and alone time. We enjoy certain things together, a certain kind of music, lighting, hanging-out etc. There are many things we like doing together. But then we can be in the same room and then be on different planets. If you know what I mean. Though we live in a small apartment we have room to be in our own space when we want. Like I know she likes her time alone during the day when she has a nap and watch a tv show and not to be bothered…
Are you moving into a bigger home?
Yes, slightly bigger with a bit more space. There is more terrace space for Taimur. This house is to cluttered. It’s lucky that Taimur has not bumped into anything . We didn’t remove any of the furniture, as we were advised to, when he came.
Taimur is more popular than both of you…
(Laughs) I know. I hope he finds a nice job when he grows up.
What do you mean? He’s a matinee idol at 2?
Well, I hope he keeps it up on the Friday of his first release. I’d like him to be an actor.
(At this point Taimur barges into the interview asking for his bow and arrow to complete his Lord Rama ensemble).
I can hear Taimur?
Yes, he has come in. It’s a small apartment.
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