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November 1, 1999


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'I don't have a bull's eye on my head that everyone can take a shot at me'

Saif Ali Khan He has been around for several years now. Yet, Saif Ali Khan has never been a contender for the top slot in Bollywood. He has given hits in the past, but never been spoken of in the same breath as the other Khans.

Earlier this year, Saif came up with another commendable performance in Kachche Dhaage. And now, of course, he has the biggest trump card up his sleeve -- Sooraj Barjatya's Hum Saath-Saath Hain which releases this Friday.

Even as he was recovering from an accident -- he fell from a bike and had to get stitches on his forehead -- he was down with flu.

The Chhote Nawab in conversation with Sukanya Verma.

Does all this pre-release hype over Hum Saath-Saath Hain frighten you?

It is expected. That is the business we are in. Some films receive a lot of hype, some don't. Hype is something created automatically when reputed film-makers like the Barjatyas are involved. I have worked with other productions who have tried to create more hype than the Barjatyas, but not succeeded.

I feel the audience is interested in watching good movies. In a depressed and repressed country like ours, movies provide an escape from reality. Hence a certain amount of hype for a good movie is expected, it's nothing to worry about.

So are you not even a wee bit nervous?

No. I mean I am a professional actor -- I have been one for the last nine years. Tension and pressure are things we are quite used to dealing with. This job involves a lot of money, it is emotionally taxing and there are lot of other problems which we don't need to bore the public with, but we can deal with them.

How did you bag the role?

I got a phone call from the Rajshris saying that Sooraj Barjatya would like to meet me. So I went over, he narrated the script and asked if I would be interested in doing the film. And I said, 'yes.'

That was it?

Hum Saath-Saath Hain Yeah! I think he had seen some of my earlier work and I was told that he was apparently thinking of casting me because I happen to suit his idea of a young, romantic lead. It is the role of a boy who is somewhat protected.

There are around 50 characters in the film -- does it still give you any chance to make a mark?

You will have to see the film and tell me. I am part of a very big film. I am not claiming that it is only about me. But I am happy and privileged that I got the part and I hope I've done justice to it.

Your role, apart from Tabu's, has been touted as the best in the film. Is it true?

I don't know who has seen the film and is going around spreading this news. There is no particularly important character, everyone's role is significant. And the film is amazing in itself. You see the film and decide for yourself. The post-mortem is left to the audience. Everyone has done a great job. But if people like Tabu and me, it is very sweet of them.

How was the experience of working with Sooraj Barjatya?

It was a privilege and a pleasure. I have never worked like this before. It was great fun working in the unit, it was just like a family.

Hum Saath-Saath Hain Neelam played your romantic interest in your first film, Parampara and now in Hum Saath... she is your sister.

I don't consider Neelam as my first co-star, I think of Kajol as my first co-star. We were to work in Bekhudi together and then our first hit was Yeh Dillagi. Neelam is a sweet girl and she looks it. But we've never had an equation beyond 'hello' and 'bye.' So I think it was pretty much the same working with her now, except she spoke a little more to me during the making of this film.

Do you interact with your co-stars on the sets?

No, not much. I like to keep the work atmosphere pleasant. I might crack a few jokes and fool around though.

Are you moody?

Sometimes yes. I'd say, I am human. I try not to hurt people, but sometimes when I feel I am not being understood and being treated as a human being. I can't help it. For example, when I hurt myself while shooting for Friends and was lying in a pool of blood, people were taking my photographs.

People don't remember the good things you do, they simply focus on the bad things. I have the reputation of being an arrogant brat. But if people mess around with me, obviously I will be arrogant with them. I don't have a bull's eye on my head that everyone can take a shot at me.

Do you regret doing any films?

Yes, a few of them. But then again, I learnt from them, got paid for them and ran my house with them. Though at times, I wish these were better films.

What are the factors you consider before signing a film?

The script, the director and then the producer. I ask myself: If I weren't acting in the movie, would I still be interested in seeing it?' If the answer is yes, then I go ahead and sign the film.

And how do you feel when your intuition goes wrong?

But you have to do something. You can't just sit idle. Sometimes, you choose the best of what is offered to you. That is life. I have chosen the best of what I have been offered, so you can imagine what the worst must have been. (laughs)

How much does success and failure matter to you?

As much as my job does. Acting is not always about success and failure. I get satisfaction at the end of a hard day's work. But the ultimate satisfaction is when the audience appreciates it. I worked hard in my flop films too, but it is kind of pointless unless it runs. So there is an element of disappointment when the film doesn't do well.

But it is okay, one must go on. One has to learn from mistakes and try not to repeat them.

Do you consider yourself a misfit in this industry?

Biwi No 1 Sooraj Barjatya did not think so. What I think doesn't matter. I am here just to do my job. This is not my life, this is my work. There is no set of credentials required to get into this field. As Jackie Shroff once said, 'from a spot boy to a rich man -- anyone can make it here.' So there is no such thing as fitting in. And who is looking to fit in anyway? We are looking to do good work.

Did you ever think of taking up cricket as a career?

I can't play cricket -- well, not as well as Ajay Jadeja. I played a lot of cricket in school. I enjoy the game, it is in my blood. But I didn't want to play club cricket. My dad used to play on a professional level. At least now I'm working with the best in my profession in India.

Tell me about your childhood...weren't you a wild kid?

Yes, very wild (smiles)! But being wild in the '80s was not the same as in the '90s. Earlier, having a couple of cans of beer was wild -- which is no big deal now. We used to party all night and things like that. It was great fun.

I was in boarding school in Winchester, England. I remember that there was this good-looking, tough Italian guy in my school. It was my first night in school and he came up to me saying that I am very sweet and chikna and that he wants to sleep with me on the same bed. I was 11 at the time and started crying. Then I realised it was a prank.

That was funny. There are so many other such incidents, there was so much freedom over there.

Who are you closer to -- your mom or dad?

Both of them. When I was a kid and needed hugs and cuddles, then obviously I turned to my mother. But when it comes to some sound advice, then my father is the most amazing man in the world. He is a complete gentleman and I wish I were more like him.

What about your sisters?

I share a warm relationship with them. Unfortunately, I don't get to see them too often. There is an age gap between me and them. As kids, we used to stay out of each other's way.

How has marriage changed you?

It has quietened me a bit, made me more responsible. I never worried much about anything earlier, now I am much more stable.

Tell us something about the three most important women in your life: your mother, wife and daughter.

I am very close to my mother, but I talk more to my wife today. They are all different people, yet they have one thing in common. Even though Sarah is very young, I can see the traits in her. All of them are very organised. You can take them and dump them in a desert or an island, and they will end up putting some order there too.

They are thinking people and do not like to wrong others. Somehow they come across as independent, correct women. I hope Sarah is brought up that way. I am confident Amrita will bring her up very well. Sarah is a cross between me and Amrita, in looks and personality. Amrita and I are so different, but when we see Sarah, we feel it is so beautiful that we are different.

Why do you always end up playing roles of a spoilt brat?

Saif with Kajol That is a good thing (smiles). There are many aspects to an actor's character. People seem keen on capitalising on one side of mine. But I am doing different roles too.

You role in Friends is supposed to be negative, isn't it?

This film taps a totally different side of me. I wouldn't call it negative, I think it is a very real role.

Could you elaborate?

Sure. Mine is a slightly suicidal character who does not believe in family values. He doesn't respect women as he doesn't respect his own mother for various reasons. He is on a destructive path. The story is about how one girl changes him. But he ends up messing that relationship too. So there is a slightly negative shade to my character, but the film, on the whole, is positive.

How was it working with Kundan Shah?

Exhausting and fun. Because it is a serious film. Since we did not have much time or money, it was exhausting. But he is an extremely intelligent and kind man, despite his Hitler-ish behaviour on the sets (laughs).

You are working with him in Loveria as well...

Yes, I am.

Isn't your role in Loveria different from Friends?

I am playing a driver who has ambitions of marrying a rich woman.

Do you think you look convincing as a driver?

May be I don't, because I have long hair. Apart from that, I don't think I have any problems. I mean Rajesh Khanna (in Bawarchi) doesn't look like a cook, for god's sake. The point is whether the script is interesting or not. In any case, it is supposed to be a comedy.

Any plans for the millennium?

We are planning to have a party at our palace in Pataudi where a few family friends will be invited to stay for a few days. So guests will fly down to Delhi and drive to our place. I hope it works out fine.

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