And yet, Saif Ali Khan says he's happy being just an A-list actor. Ten years ago, it was a big deal for him to be even accepted in movies. He tells Sunday MiD DAY how he's only competing with himself today
THERE aren't many actors from whom you learn something new. With Saif Ali Khan, chances are, you will. In one interview, he spoke of a love for the comic character, the evil grand vizier Isnogud. On another, he revealed that professional piano players remove the last bone in their fingers so that they can play the instrument better.
On this, when we first meet, he kicks off his answers, his face turned up to a 3 pm sun, outside his make-up van in the sweltering heat at Mehboob Studios. "You sweat, it opens up your pores and it's easier to do make-up then," he explains. Call me naÃÂÃÂ¯ve, but I also learn of Modesty Blaise and a Swiss nightclub called Kaufleuten for the first time, courtesy Saif.
So it isn't strange that after 18 years in the business, Saif is venturing into something new himself. He turns producer with Love Aaj Kal, directed by Imtiaz Ali under Saif's banner Illuminati Films with a tale of love, much like our star, "hip and contemporary".
How long are you shooting Jehaad in the US? About a month for this Karan Johar production, then a small holiday in Europe on the way back. Then back to serious promotion of Love Aaj Kal we're looking at a June 26th release, but I'd wait for the strike to get over to decide.
Do you think you're more experienced now to get into production? It's experience as an actor so I don't think it counts. In fact, it can be a hindrance. Imtiaz (Ali) tells me that after 18 years of working, I still come for a take without baggage. Experience isn't important; reinvention is. You have to be imaginative and express yourself in exciting ways. Otherwise, you're just a fad that doesn't age with your fans. People outgrow you.
What kind of a producer are you? I have a partner (Dinesh Vijan) who deals with all the money. I'm as creatively involved as I can be. That's a big and tiring deal.
Shah Rukh Khan and Aamir Khan go all out on publicity for their productions. What about you? Well, I suppose if people are interested in your film, it makes things easier. How you promote the film says a lot about you. Somebody suggested I dress up as a sardar and go to Amritsar. That's a bit ridiculous. I don't mind going as myself. These decisions are dodgy. Where do you draw the line between good and silly publicity?
Love Aaj Kal is reported to be inspired by a Taiwanese film. Not that it matters, but Love Aaj Kal is totally original. The whole point of it is the way in which Imtiaz has written the dialogues between the two lovers. If it was inspired by a Taiwanese film, it's not a bad thing. The Ring was inspired by a Japanese film. Rann was a Japanese film inspired by King Lear and Omkara was inspired by Othello. Love Aaj Kal is a hip and a contemporary tale dealing with the pressures that lovers always have.
During Love Aaj Kal's shoot in London, there were stories of you and Deepika Padukone not getting along? No, she's a lovely girl. I didn't really speak to her much. We were both newly in love, so when we weren't working, we were on the phones with our respective partners.
Your mom says you make a cute sardar in it. Yeah, well, more than cute, I think I make a genuine sardar. Like Omkara, in Love Aaj Kal, I think I actually surprised myself.
Shah Rukh apparently hated growing a beard. What about you? I hate this goatee that I have to maintain. But I love having a beard because I hate to shave!
There was a recent report that your personal trainer Satya and you split because his dues weren't paid. I'm not entirely sure whether there's an issue there. It didn't work out between Satya and me, but I really don't think we owe him anything. But there's usually no smoke without fire so I need to look into it. There may be an unpaid bill, but there's no need to go to press about it! If anything, it's an oversight. It's bit petty to not pay the trainer, for chrissakes!
But you're now also getting a six-pack for Agent Vinod, right? Yes, I do weights and power yoga and most of the work goes in there.
We've seen Shah Rukh Khan and Aamir Khan train for their packs. What's your weak spot? Oh, there's nothing in training. The weak spot is in eating. I've difficulty controlling the diet.
What kind of space do you find yourself in today? At one point, you were straddling arthouse and commercial easily. Yeah and I think one must still do that. If you look at anybody who's had a career with longevity and respect, it's important. When I say anybody, actually I only mean my mother (Sharmila Tagore). To do Aradhana, An Evening In Paris and at the same time to do Devi and Mausam that's what gives a career respect.
Last year, you had a hit in Race, then an iffy year with the rest. Yes, the rest flopped. Doing a film is either a business decision or an emotional one. Unfortunately, to me Tashan, Thoda Pyaar Thoda Magic and Roadside Romeo seemed like obvious choices.
But there was Race. I'd been told by so many producers, 'We can't open a film with 1,200 prints with you'. That I'm a multiplex hero. The first show of Race was 7 am. It's why I did Race to try and prove something to myself. Also, my films with Yashraj were never going to give me a raunchy number. No masala. Abbas-Mustan had that and I got my songs for the stage shows.
Is that why you're going to do Race 2? I really want to. It's a great idea as far as any sequel goes. Apart from Dhoom, Race is the obvious to make a sequel of. This year though, it's Love Aaj Kal and Jehaad.
Do you think you're doing too few films? I don't know. Films are your equity. It is who you are and you have to be careful not to dilute that. Those times are gone when you had to have seven or five on the floor. In 2006-2007, I knew what I was doing Salaam Namaste and Parineeta. Then these past couple of years, apart from Race, I had the feeling that I didn't know where I was going. I can't explain that.
Now again, I want to do Race 2, Agent Vinod and a romantic comedy or something quirky. It seems clearer. When you've got an 18-year-old career, there will be ups and downs, even physical ones. Suddenly you put on weight or feel tired. But to be consistent for someone like me is tough, dude.
Is Agent Vinod more James Bond or pulp fiction? There's always been a side to Hindi cinema that's got a lot of pulp. This is just like the original Agent Vinod, the Rajshri film with Mahendra Sandhu and Asha Sachdev. It's got the Scorpion gang and the nuclear scientist a pretty funky plot. But it's a bit cheesy if you look at now, like Mission Impossible is today.
The idea behind it is to upgrade Agent Vinod like Tom Cruise did with MI:2. It's not James Bond. It's more Jason Bourne meets Indian scientists. An undercover agent saving the country, the girl and the world (grins).
Reminds you of that famous line in Flash Gordon... Yeah (imitates), 'Flash, I love you but we only have 14 hours to save the earth!' (Laughs) Queen did the soundtrack for that film.
What does your dad (Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi) think of the IPL? Why aren't you buying a team? I'm not much of a businessman. I can't handle much more now. My father finds the IPL interesting. He preferred test to one-day cricket. He thought it more of a captain's game since he's a great thinker and tactician, he liked to do that over five days where the pitches change. But he feels he would have enjoyed 20:20 because he was an aggressive fielder and captain.
You enjoy comics and superheroes. There are a rash of them coming out in Hollywood. Your favourites? Batman and Wolverine. Basically Batman because he doesn't have any super powers. He's just like a ninja. I'd like to do a superhero film, but there have to be directors who are comfortable with the treatment of a superhero movie. Hrithik Roshan has set the bar pretty high.
Recently, Shah Rukh Khan, Aamir Khan, Salman Khan have all had spats. How do you stay neutral? Because I'm not really involved with them, after a point. I am buddies with everyone. I'm fond of Salman, Aamir and Shah Rukh, but I don't even know enough about their issues to take sides. All friends fight. I hope they patch things up.
Are you concerned with the numbers game? I suppose if I had been number one, I might have been. For me, it was really a big deal to even be accepted in movies. I'm now actually very happy. As long as I'm always an A-list actor, my sights are not really on being number one.
Unfortunately, I'm not even as successful as I can be! It should be to compete with yourself go to the gym, lose weight, act, choose good scripts. Though it must be amazing to be No: 1!
Apparently, Kareena Kapoor and Shahid Kapur don't want to work together again. Anything to do with you? In the sense that have we laid down ground rules for each other? No, of course not. That's such a private matter between the two of them and we should respect that.
'I'd love to learn to control my mind before I die'
Whose T-shirt collection do you envy? If I was a chick, I'd envy Kareena's. She's got the coolest collection.
Is there any interest of yours that you encourage your kids to do? Reading comics, playing computer games, cricket, rock-climbing and lego with Ibrahim. With Sara, it's hard enough to get her off the phone now. She's 14 (grins).
Which were your favourite comics? BATMAN! And Superman, Flash Gordan, Bahadur and Phantom, but the coolest were Batman and Modesty Blaise.
What's playing on your I-pod? I lost mine and a friend of mine recorded it for me it's got everything from Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and the Sabri Brothers to Led Zeppelin, Kaufleuten (which is this Swiss nightclub that has this really famous DJ) to house music. The most eclectic mix. Except hip hop and garage, which I don't really like. I love Queen and Freddie Mercury, may his soul rest in peace.
Yes, those concerts where he's wearing spandex... Always tight white pants and... why not?! Brian May (Queen member) is one of the greatest guitarists, I must tell you. When we were playing in college bands, we would copy songs of Led Zep and Deep Purple. But Roger Waters (Pink Floyd) and Brian May were difficult. Too complicated. May's chords and progressions he's some kind of weird scientist!
Since you're doing Love Aaj Kal, what's your all-time favourite love scene? I'm not big on love stories, but I'd probably say the Titanic.
That cheesy?! Your cool quotient just plummeted. Yeah, (grins) I made that up actually. That one's Kareena's favourite, I ripped it off her. I don't watch love stories.
I can't remember this film there's a scene in which she closes her eyes and asks him, 'What colour are they?' He says blue, but they're brown and he loses her. I loved that.
I love Audrey Hepburn, so probably also Breakfast At Tiffany's.
I usually enjoy stuff like Dirty Harry and Scarface more, but I'd probably not get accepted that way. People dream of romance, I dream of power and tragedy. I'm more Macbeth than Romeo And Juliet.
Ever thought of writing a film? Yeah, maybe a love story about a guy figuring out his head with a psychiatrist and the advice being applied to his love life. Screwed. It's in my head; I'll write it someday.
The one thing you'd like to learn before you die? Mind control. My own and to control my moods a bit more effectively. And contract bridge.
What you reading right now? A book on the history of sword-making throughout the ages.
Your favourite junk food? French fries without a doubt and bhel puri.