She calls him ‘Saifoo’ and he refers to her as ‘Ma’am’ in public. Why ‘Ma’am’? “She’s so much older than I am!” grins Saif Ali Khan (in fact, Kareena is ten years younger).
In a scintillating session on the second day of the HT Leadership Summit, anchored by the HT Advisory Editorial Director Vir Sanghvi, Hindi cinema’s 'It' couple, often dubbed Saifeena by the press, floored the audience with candid revelations about their much-discussed relationship and their equally intensely scrutinised careers.
Saif said he first saw Kareena on a film set when she was just 14. He asked who she was and was told she was Kareena Kapoor and that she was going to be a movie star when she grew up. Once both things happened, Saif found he kept bumping into her off and on at parties. Then they did a movie together.
“She said a few very funny, outspoken, politically incorrect things and I thought — she’s so refreshing!” recalled Saif. But the love story really unfolded during the making of Tashan, a Yash Raj film that was famous for two other things: Kareena’s size zero figure and a resounding flop.
During the making of Tashan, Saif and Kareena went to Ladakh for a shoot. One day they decided to go for a walk and ended up under a tree. Suddenly Saif turned to Kareena and said, “I think we’d be great together.” Equally suddenly Kareena grabbed Saif. “I thought — this is really going well, but then realised that there was a dog behind me and she was just pulling me away!”
The relationship blossomed. But both of them kept things quiet. “We didn’t want to flaunt it, since each one of us had just come out of a relationship,” said Saif.
Till one day they ended up at a Fashion Week, hand in hand. Someone asked if they were seeing each other. “I didn’t want to flaunt the relationship, but I didn’t want to deny it either,” said Saif. “So, hesitantly, stumbling a little, I acknowledged that we were seeing each other.”
On her part, Kareena said she always found Saif “charming and cute”. He became “sexy and good looking” only after his electrifying performance as the menacing Langda Tyagi in Omkara. “But he was always so correct,” recalled Kareena. “He would always call me ‘Ma’am’! He never stepped out of line.”
Saifeena have now been together for about two years. Ma’am has had a ‘healthy’ influence on Saif. He’s even tried the famous diet, which helped Kareena go from 58 kg to 50 kg during Tashan.
How and why this drastic weight loss happened is interesting. Apparently, the press wrote that Kareena looked overweight in the Ye mera dil song in Don. She decided to change her body shape.
Kareena’s weight became a national obsession; but push her a little on the subject and she retorts: “I am where I am because of my body of work, not just my body!” That “body of work” includes dazzling performances in films like Chameli (“I was just 23 and playing a sex worker from Kamatipura was not easy”), Omkara and Jab We Met. But it also includes roles that make you cringe in excruciating films like Kambakht Ishq.
Saif himself has come a long way from the time he was offered his first film, when “I was just so excited to be going to Mumbai, getting my own apartment, with no fixed working hours.” In the early years, Saif had as many as 16 or 17 flops. Something of a misfit in an industry dominated by producers who wore white shoes and chewed paan, Saif’s time came when people like Farhan Akhtar and Karan Johar entered the scene.
Today, he’s turned a producer and “I see my role as someone doing my best to do the best movies I can.” Saif is not interested in going ‘international’. “We have to stop using this word. We have a certain palate. Westerners won’t understand it or enjoy it. We must start looking at ourselves and make movies we can be proud of. That’s good enough.”
Right now, both of them have a —hopefully — good film coming up: Dharma Productions’ Qurbaan, a thriller-cum-love story set against a backdrop of terrorism.
Marriage? That can wait.