Saif Ali Khan admits that the first time he faced the camera with Amitabh Bachchan for Aarakshan, the “incredible actor’s” famous scenes and songs from films like Yaraana (1981) and Muqaddar Ka Sikander (1978) were playing in his head. “It’s a miracle I was composed enough to remember my own lines,” he laughs. “I also got to hear Amitji recite his father Harivansh Rai Bachchan’s verses. It was a cultural experience I’ll always treasure.”Bhopal is Bachchan’s sasural (in-law’s house) and home for Saif too since his paternal grandmother Sajida Sultan was the Begum of Bhopal. So even though it’s far removed from his glamorous world, the landscape and mindscape of this part of India was familiar. "I remembered the trees, the golden sunsets and the people from my childhood and was really relaxed there," he smiles.
The ‘chhote nawab’ plays a scheduled caste professor and admits it was a challenge adopting a different body language and speaking Hindi with heavy Sanskrit influences. "Some of the words I’d never used before," he admits. "I took my mother’s (Sharmila Tagore) advice and rehearsed my lines before going on the sets, repeating them in the shower, before going to bed and first thing in the morning till they became a part of me."
The film is based on the government’s reservation policy and director Prakash Jha’s known to be a fearless filmmaker. Doesn’t Saif anticipate any controversies? "It is an explosive subject but Prakashji has presented both sides of the argument responsibly and sensibly. The backward classes and castes do need some government support. The question is how much and for how long," he argues.
His leading lady in the film is Deepika Padukone, who plays the daughter of the college’s principa, played by Bachchan. This is Deepika’s second film with Saif after the superhit Love Aaj Kal. They have a third film coming up in June, another Saif Ali Khan home production, Cocktail. "I never think in terms of numbers. The cast is secondary, it’s content that matters. All three are amazing films with very different roles for me and Deepika," he points out.
It’s being said that he shares a great comfort level with Deepika? Saif retorts, "The comfort level with all my co-stars is high. I’m a comfortable person to work with."