From the metrosexual in Salaam Namaste to the sinister Langda Tyagi in Omkara, Saif Ali Khan has truly come a long way and says he is happy he could carry off both roles with élan.
"I was scared it (Omkara) would arrive after Salaam Namaste and expose my limitations. But I'm happy I've the range and reputation to carry off both," Saif told IANS in an interview.
He doesn't feel that Omkara has weaned him away from the comfort zone he enjoyed while shooting for Hum Tum or Salaam Namaste.
"Haven't I been doing that in my own way for some years now? While doing the urban cool of Dil Chahta Hai, I also did Ek Haseena Thi where I was the scheming cad. And while I was doing Hum Tum, I did Parineeta.
"Getting my hair cut and preparing for the role in Omkara really appealed to the actor in me. I actually felt like a real actor. It was absorbing and rewarding. But a role like Omkara doesn't happen every day," said Saif.
Saif is currently busy with Siddharth Anand's Tara Rum Pum Pum and said: "It is totally commercial. It focuses me in a flattering light."
Q: Your last release Being Cyrus was in English. Omkara took you into a rough UP lingo.
A: Now we're talking! I was hugely relieved and excited that the film generated positive news and some money. I know how little we spent on the film, trying to work fearlessly without caring about profits. I was scared it would arrive after Salaam Namaste and expose my limitations. But I'm happy I've the range and reputation to carry off both.
Yeah, I could get away with Being Cyrus. Today so many filmmakers have the liberty to make so many kinds of cinema without getting mainstream. Being Cyrus was made with clockwork precision. It was an artistic experience.
Q: Being Cyrus and Omkara explain your range.
A: Everyone has a range. It's about actually exploring that range. And I'm doing that. I'm deep into Siddharth Anand's Tara Rum Pum Pum, which is totally commercial. It focuses me in a flattering light.
Q: Omkara puts the film's main responsibility on your character?
A: I wouldn't go so far as to say that. Ajay Devgan's Othello is central to the conflict. But if my character of Langda Tyagi didn't work then nothing would happen. So it's my responsibility, but only as an actor. If you're taking about stars then there's Ajay Devgan, Viveik Oberoi, Kareena Kapoor, Bipasha Basu and others.
Q: But in terms of plot propulsion Iago is central to Othello.
A: Right. There can be no Othello without Iago. And the better the Iago, the better the Othello.
Q: Kareena feels Omkara has changed her attitude to her career. What about you?
A: I can't speak for her. But I personally went through a phase where I wanted to cash in on my city-boy image. You know, the urban dude who fits in nicely in New York. I changed the tenor of the Hindi so it sounded more westernised -- I really enjoyed that space. It was an image I thought I could capitalise on especially since people were writing roles for me.
Q: Why not?
A: Yeah, specially since this image came with the luxury of shooting in a posh environment and cool climate. You'd have to agree the world of Omkara is absolutely removed from Hum Tum and Salaam Namaste.
Q: Would you say Omkara has weaned you away from your comfort zone?
A: But haven't I been doing that in my own way for some years now? While doing the urban cool of Dil Chahta Hai, I also did Ek Haseena Thi where I was the scheming cad. And while I was doing Hum Tum I did Parineeta.
I'd say films like Hum Tum and Salaam Namaste gave Yash Raj Films a more fun image. I remember after Parineeta I got myself a funky haircut and decided to have fun with Arshad Warsi in Melbourne for Salaam Namaste.
Then, I was offered Omkara. I knew it was going to take me away from the luxury of Melbourne to the sweltering heat of Wai. Getting my hair cut and preparing for the role in Omkara really appealed to the actor in me. I actually felt like a real actor. It was absorbing and rewarding. But a role like Omkara doesn't happen every day.
Q: What about your female co-stars Kareena and Konkona?
A: I don't have that many scenes with Kareena. My co-star is Konkona. I had a different notion about her. I saw her as this National Award-winning actress who was very different in her choices. But our moms (Aparna Sen and Sharmila Tagore) have been associated for years.
That predetermined our relationship. I was aware of Konkona's reputation as an actor. I remember she did this big scene with all the actors. It required her to flit around the courtyard in a good mood. She did it bang-on. And I knew I was on to a good thing. I just felt happy to have done my homework and be on the set of this film. Not like the Saif Ali Khan that anyone would imagine. Vishal told me how theatre actors were smirking because he had apparently sold out to stars. Langda Tyagi and Saif Ali Khan? Doesn't jell.
Q: Is Omkara is a coming of age for you?
A: It certainly is. They first said I can only play the rich city boy. Then they said he's good for the second lead. For a long time I wasn't ready to play a village role. It daunted me. But the fact that it was Shakespeare egged me on. Iago was not quite on my radar. When it came to me, it excited me. And I think I've made something out of it.
Q: Do you think Vishal has done justice to Othello?
A: Yes, I think he has captured the essence of Othello in Omkara. To a large extent Maqbool was a departure from Macbeth. In Omkara he stuck faithfully to Shakespeare, down to the nuances. He has brought a new power and energy to the original. And the way he has dressed up Shakespeare in the Western UP's political mafia is stunning.