He’s been called brash, arrogant, rude, and offensive, but Saif Ali Khan has proved he can be delightful company, too. Having summoned us all the way to Laha Bari in north Kolkata, he keeps us waiting for an hour. Just as our impatience threatens to boil over, he makes an apologetic entry and then proceeds to charm us with a no-holds-barred interview.
The last time Saif was in Kolkata to shoot for a film, his director was Pradip Sarkar and the film was
. In the four years since then, much has changed. With acclaimed performances in films like
, the maturing of Saif the actor is evident. And he has turned producer for the film he is shooting for in Kolkata, helmed by Imtiaz Ali and tentatively titled
Production No. 1
. What hasn’t changed is his shooting location, because Laha Bari is where he shot for
“I am emotionally attached to Kolkata. It’s sort of my mother town. It’s where my grandparents lived, and I really like the Tollygunge Club, Alipore and, of course, the fattening food, which is a real problem,” he smiles.
Meet the new, chatty Saif, owner of a production house, Illuminati Films, and a mature professional. “There comes a time when you realise that you make certain deals and plan something around saleable commodities, which bear your name,” he says. “It’s an exciting time for me, because I’m taking more creative control over things.”
So the actor has joined hands with long-time friend Dinesh Vijan (producer of Being Cyrus) to handle his company’s finance. “It’s about working for yourself… making films you truly believe in and being happy owning part of the film,” he says. But creative satisfaction is not all there is. “I am not a businessman but I can learn to be one. Having been a soldier for so long (he has spent 18 years in the industry) I now want something for myself,” he says.
That sentiment extends to his acting career as well. That he is committed to his work, both as actor and producer, is clear by the way he has been handling his affairs. Typically for the new Saif, he is ready to bank on his directors without interfering in their decisions, and is even ready to learn from them. “We are new to this business (of producing) but we don’t think we will fail. As of now, we are happy with the quality of the film, the directors we have on board, and the writers we have on board for our next project (Sriram Raghavan’s
). Imtiaz’s film is the biggest project I have been part of so far. In fact, this is the first time a Hindi film has been shot in San Francisco,” he says.
So focused is Saif on his new role that he can forego the pleasure of working with girlfriend Kareena ‘Bebo’ Kapoor in Ali’s film in favour of Deepika Padukone, and can actually talk about it with equanimity. “It’s a very emotional thing. Of course, I would rather have Kareena in it. But who am I to argue with Imtiaz? He is the captain of the ship, and he must have thought Deepika would be better for the role. And Deepika’s a brilliant actor,” he says.
“When this film was conceived I had just met Bebo. Since then, our relationship has grown and had I started production now she would certainly have been part of the film. We could have spent more time together. But I see this as a business and Deepika’s silence suits the character she plays.” A little convoluted, that, but we think we’ve got the point.
Since we seem to be talking about Kareena without Saif flying into a rage, it seems a good time to ask about marriage, without which no Saif interview is deemed complete. Marriage to Bebo is on the cards, he says, but “not anytime soon as our careers are our prime focus right now”. And what did a box-office disaster like
do for their careers? “I don’t regret doing
. It’s how I met Kareena,” he beams. That is dangerously close to soppy, we feel like saying, but don’t have the heart because Saif is obviously excited to feature opposite Kareena in Renzel D’Souza’s next film. Sameer of
Dil Chahta Hai
, who fell in love ever so often, seems finally to have found love and luck.