Happy Birthday Saif Ali Khan: Actor Had Once Said, 'I May Seem Like A Bundle Of Contradictions Most Of The Time. But There’s A Method To My Madness'

Saif Ali Khan who turns 51 today is a happily married man with a great career in place. Here's looking back on how he started his career and where he has reached today

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Happy Birthday Saif Ali Khan: Actor Had Once Said, 'I May Seem Like A Bundle Of Contradictions Most Of The Time. But There’s A Method To My Madness'
What a long journey it has been for Saif Ali Khan. From the over-pampered hedonistic scion of a Nawabi Khandaan to one of Bollywood’s most dependable actors, Saif has truly emerged triumphant at the turnstiles.

One still remembers with a shudder the comments that accompanied Saif’s debut in Umesh Mehra’s Aaashiq Aawara in 1993 and the melee of monstrosities that followed thereafter.

Acidic comments about his looks and appearance were the order of the Friday. One still remembers the classic of cattiness from a well-known columnist who said, “Put a dupatta on Saif’s head and he looks like Sharmila Tagore.”

Such comments hurt all right. But they hit home, bang-on. As Saif once told me , “My detractors and their harsh comments have been my greatest incentive to prove myself.”

And then, in typical Saif fashion,  he leaned back for some serious self-praise. “Actually that’s a good quote, don’t you think?” Saif almost always ends every observation tentatively. No wonder it took him so long to realize his worth.

“But do I really know my worth today?” he wonders with his brows characteristically knitted in a question mark.

I firmly believe Saif should be in a desi Hamlet instead of the Othello that he did with Vishal Bharadwaj. The to-be-or-not-to-be debate was invented for Saif…Or so it seems. Saif never says an outright yes or no. Maybe his clearest option and safest zone.

No wonder he remained in the zone of the probables for so many years. Looking gawky, ill-at-ease and out of sorts in a series of post-debut films, Saif all but finished off his career.

He was and he remains to a large extent, the Khan from the outside. Aamir and Salman belong to film families. And despite being a Delhi dude Shah Rukh is more of an insider in the industry today than any other actor.

Yes, Saif ke paas maa hai. But moms, as experience tells us, don’t count in Bollywood. If they did, Nutan’s boy Mohnish Behl would’ve been the biggest superstar on the block.

“Mom(Sharmila Tagore) had actually agreed to play my mother in Aashiq Awaara. That was sweet of her,” Saif reminisced about the “good” old days when columnists took potshots at him for everything, from his girlie looks to alleged sexuality.

There’re stories about how insecure he would get on the sets of Karan Johar’s Kal Ho Na Ho. Saif denies them. “You know I get paranoid about every movie. I knew the kind of role I had. I knew from the start that Shah Rukh would be the pivot of the film. But I knew I had great lines and a great role. I was never made to feel Shah Rukh was more important to the project. I went with very clear expectations. It was a civilized unit. Everyone was young and fun. I don’t feel like an outsider at all. I never did, though I was from outside Mumbai. I was always warned about camps and groups. But I always felt there was some strength to be gained from standing alone, and not being part of any camp. But at the same time if you look at it I’m quite a Yashraj boy, in many ways. I started my career with Yashji in Parampara. He saw my first screen-test. My first hit Yeh Dillagi was also connected with Yashraj films. The way they work suits me. Once we go down to Goa for a script reading all we’ve to do is work hard on the movie. I’m not expected to socialize with them. So,  the whole ‘camp’ thing is quite a myth for me. Really, Karan Johar and Yashraj Films have spoiled me.”

Laughs his friend director Siddharth Anand, “I’m surprised at the amount of inane stuff Saif was made to do in the early part of his career and how he survived it. The problem was, Saif never took himself seriously earlier. Even today I’ve to shake him up to realize his potential. I can’t think of any other actor who has had so many solo-hero hits at a time when everyone’s doing multi-starrers. In the last three years nobody has had a successful solo film except Saif Ali Khan.”

Saif’s make-over has been as remarkable as that of Karisma Kapoor who came accompanied by a truck-load of flak and left at her peak as a screen queen.

Saif is certainly not going anywhere for a long time. He seems to enjoy his newly-found status as a leading man to the hilt. So far he has been playing variations of his own personality with a cool candour that suburban audiences have identified with. Now it’s time to move on.

Omkara was definitely a new beginning for the dude with his dynamics forever driven delightfully into distended directions. When Vishal Bahradwaj had zeroed in on Saif to play the desi Iago, Saif was, as usual, unsure. He never says an outright yes to any role, not even to Farhan Akhtar’s Dil Chahta Hai in 2002. That film clearly was the turning point in his career.

Farhan was sure he wanted only Saif to play the confused naïve and confused Sameer. As usual Saif wasn’t convinced. 

Vishal Bharadwaj who gave Saif his single-most important makeover role before and after Dil Chahta Hai chuckled at the memory of Saif’s indecisiveness. “Everyone I approached for Omkara said yes immediately. The only actor who needed some convincing was Saif. He was reluctant about cutting his hair. I’d have never been able to make the film with his long hair. If I couldn’t convince him to do something so minor like cutting his hair, how could I convince him to get into character? I remember on the night before shooting Saif sent me a message saying he has a razor in his hand wondering whether he should cut his hair. It was Eid, and I told him to take Allah’s name and make the sacrifice. Unki Qurbani qubul ho gayi.”

Saif recollected, “I was in Jaipur recently. And I began to think about how Vishal came down here to narrate Omkara to me. One morning I was sitting on a beautiful lawn in Jaipur’s Rambagh Palace with no work to do. Young Vishal Bharadwaj was sitting in front of me. It was a beautiful day. But at that point of time I was wondering why I was being offered a negative role. Vishal really pushed me. He told me he was worried because it was an important part of Omkara. From getting me to cut my hair to delivering my lines properly…he was quite paranoid. Initially I read my character’s lines with a bit of an English accent. Looking back I could’ve taken it even further. But it was the correct timing. Everything fell into place.”

Siddharth Anand who’s a close buddy and a comrade in cinema gave Saif’s career as a leading man a further boost with Salaam Namaste. “There’s so much I want to do with him. What a fabulous actor he is! I don’t call him an actor, he’s a natural-born camera person. I started working with him during Hum Tum which I had co-scripted. We hit it off immediately. Earlier we met at a club where we’d run into each other at the gym. We discovered we had a lot in common. In Salaam Namaste he would shock me each time with the way he did the fight scenes with Preity.” 

Siddharth thinks Saif is constantly doing roles that challenge him to make his presence felt. “In Parineeta he wasn’t the central character in these films. He yet succeeded in making his presence felt. And look at the diversity he displays! From Salaam Namaste to Being Cyrus, there’s no character he can’t do. He fits into every film I make. In my new film Ta Ra Rum Pum, he’s again playing someone audiences will connect with. It’s Saif and yet different.``

The director says Saif is completely moody. “He takes my advice on his career. He’s unpredictable. But I’m also short-tempered. So we do have fights on the sets like children. But we’re both mature enough to realize when we make a mistake. But honestly he’s the actor I’m most comfortable with. After Hum Tum I knew I wanted to direct my first film for Yashraj films. I told Aditya Chopra that I wanted to make it with Saif. Salaam Namaste was written with Saif in mind. The entire characterization was tailored according to how the audiences would react to Saif. Yes, I was that impressed by him. Even in Tara Rum Pum Pum the role is tailored to suit Saif.”

 Adds Siddharth, “He has achieved it all on himself. Now it’s up to him to further his career. It’ll all depend on his choice of films. He shouldn’t do films that will take him back. Because he’s being offered rubbish multi-starrers. He’s choosing very intelligently. For Omkara I feel he’ll win all the awards for the negative performance. He’s going to be fabulous in the film. Saif would read out entire scenes to me by heart. I think his honesty is his big asset. Not just Saif and I, but my wife and Rosa get along well. So that helps our friendship . Since I don’t drink we go out for quiet dinners.”     

Saif admits he’s incapable of enjoying the gift of the present. “Perhaps. But at least I’m conscious of it. I’m always anxious about the future.”

 There is a self-deprecatory streak in Saif that serves him in good stead.

 He once confided in me, “On the sets of Omkara people would say there were four National award winners. My first impulse would be to wonder who was the fourth after Vishal, Ajay Devgan and Konkona Sen. Then I’d realize, ‘Oh shit, the fourth National award winner is actually me!”

Saif has the final word. “I may seem like a bundle of contradictions most of the time. But there’s a method to my madness which is apparent only to me a lot of times.”

Image source: SpotboyE archive