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‘The fields we owned are government property now’

Saif Ali Khan recalls his childhood days in Bhopal, says he was a nawab only for a year.

bollywood Updated: Jun 13, 2011 18:55 IST
Roshmila Bhattacharya

The Aarakshan shoot in Bhopal took Amitabh Bachchan back to his sasural (in-laws place) and Saif Ali Khan to his childhood days. “I grew up in the city… The old house is still standing…There are so many happy memories,” Saif smiles.

He admits that some things have changed with time. “The fields we once owned are government property now. There are signs of progress everywhere, that’s interesting. When I grew up there, life was slow-paced,” he muses.

The actor studied at the Shishu Vihar School, sharing a farmer’s lunch with his classmates and popping hara channa (green chickpeas) straight from the fields. His paternal grandfather, Iftikhar Ali Patuadi, was a nawab and a cricketer who played for England, and captained the Indian side. He married Sajida Sultan, the Begum of Bhopal.

His great-grandfather, Nawab Hamidullah Khan, was the last of the princely rulers and Saif is still reverentially referred to as the chhote nawab there.

Ironically, he is playing a scheduled caste professor in Prakash Jha’s film that reflects on the Mandal Commission’s recommendations for reservations at educational and professional institutions. Saif acknowledges that it’s not a role one would associate with him. “Like Langda Tyagi of Omkara, this one too was a challenge because even the lingo was different. And that for me is the thrill of this profession. You get to live lives far removed from your own,” he says.

Given his blue-blood lineage, there’s a section that believes that he is completely unsuited for the role. Saif retorts, “The best thing about the film industry is that there is no divide of caste, class, creed or colour. Here, with talent and a little bit of luck, even a spot boy can become the No 1 star. You need no qualifications for this job apart from being a good actor.”

He dismisses allusions to his ancestary as “stupid” and points out that privy purses were abolished in 1971, and ‘nawabs’ lost their titles and their land. “Since I was born in 1970, I was technically a ‘nawab’ for just a year. Right now, I am as much of a commoner as anyone else, so this argument is illogical,” he reasons.

There’s been talk that Amitabh Bachchan, Saif and Deepika Padukone are planning a concert, proceeds of which would be going to the victims of the 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy and their families. “Whatever Prakash (Jha) decides, I’ll go with it. Just the fact that he decided to shoot the film there should draw public attention back to Bhopal.”