"Evil has rarely looked this cool on screen," said director Vishal Bhardwaj describing Saif Ali Khan as Langda Tyagi, an interpretation of Iago in Omkara, the adaptation of William Shakespeare's Othello.
But when I meet Khan on the sets of his latest advertising shoot, the convict-like crew cut has grown out and the stubble has been shaved off.
Dressed in a grey vest, Khan appears relaxed between shots for the soap commercial, so much so that at one point he begins to try on his suit for the next day's shoot right in the middle of the set. He tries on the whole ensemble — sunglasses, shirt, jacket and trousers (yes, even those).
"I always wanted to play larger-than-life characters that people look up to," says Saif
But we meet to talk about Langda Tyagi, perhaps Siddharth Anand's
Tara Ra Rum Pum
with Rani Mukerji for Yash Raj Films, but all I get from him is "I can't say anything right now, but I am off to New York to shoot soon."
How about Rosa and the family? Khan gets to that a little later.
The look for Omkara
At first I got a little hassled and didn't know if I should do it or not. But I always wanted to play larger-than-life characters that people look up to. I liked the western film setting with a real cinema feel and a big hero.
To play a character in a western style film set in North India, in my head I had to be someone completely unlike myself — he has a limp, yellow teeth, scars and the short hair.
Hair and now
I'm a Leo and attached to my hair. It was long at the time I got offered the film and I knew I had to shave it off for the part but I didn't want to. And then Vishal said, 'Come on, it's Eid, shave your hair.'
I had to do some amount of other preparation for the part too, like reading the original play, and I must say that Omkara is totally Othello.
Langda Tyagi meets Saif Ali Khan
Iago must be the first pychopath in Shakespeare, and he's literally a devil.
He has many reasons for his behaviour but not much justification. He's fascinating as an intelligent, motivated villain. I find that the most interesting evil characters start out as normal people who respond to tragedy in misguided ways.
Look at our comic book characters like Dr Doom, Two Face and Dr Octopus.
Of course Langda had to have a limp, but we had to work out how much and how he got the limp so that he would not be disabled and could still be dangerous.
We decided it happened at birth, and to achieve the effect, I made one heel higher than the other. But it was tough. Sometimes the shot would be perfect in everyway except that I would forget to limp.
Khan's balancing act
I feel the right equation for me is to do three films a year – one in the Yash Raj school, and preferably with them, the second should be less about what other people think and more about what I think (like Parineeta, Being Cyrus, Omkara) and the third should be a musical thriller with Abbas-Mustan where I can do more action and drama.
Initially I was keen on pushing my urban character as I felt very comfortable with the language, look and market around that. But now I think this balance would work well because even the independent films must make money otherwise they don't get you anywhere.
We had some vague plans, more like a dream, to start a production house together, but it would be just too much. So, no, Soha and I are not starting a production house.
Rosa and roti?
I am too busy these days, with films and endorsements, and need to work out how I can earn more, work less and spend more time with my children. I do know that I have a few years more of this and then I can put my feet up so I have asked my accountant to give me a plan and set me some targets. How much do I have to give him to get lots more. Earlier, responsibilities and commitments used to frighten me, but now I am excited by it.
As for Rosa, she's hoping to work with children, maybe teach them yoga, which she is trained to do. No, we do not have plans to do any more ads together as of now but if something comes up we would consider it.