Family drama: Sanjay Khan spills his best-kept family secrets, replete with cinema-style bravado
There’s an old-school tastefulness to the ante room of the Juhu bungalow of erstwhile Bollywood star Sanjay Khan. There’s also a sense of sameness that I’ve experienced before. Just about 15 years ago, I sat in this very chamber waiting to conduct his son Zayed Khan’s first ever interview, weeks before his debut film hit the screens in 2003.
This Friday afternoon, it is obvious that the senior Mr Khan is still the superstar of the family. He is just out with an autobiographical book provocatively called The Best Mistakes Of My Life, and B’town is abuzz with questions: what will he reveal, what will he not? Will the man once called “the best-looking actor in Bollywood” speak about the indulgences of the stars of the time? Will he reveal details of his friendships with India’s top politicians? Will he talk about his children and their lives, all beautiful looking, publicly known people, often battling the “paps” (read: paparazzi) themselves? And finally, will he reveal some more about “the incident” with Zeenat Aman almost 40 years ago, quite obviously reported in a one-dimensional manner in any news story you find online?
Mr Khan starts our talk with aplomb. “My life has been a giant explosion: very exciting and vibrant. Even as a child, I sensed there was something special about me, but I could have never anticipated the adulation, the fame, the fortune I’d earn. I saw the high rise in my career: I’m a star of many blockbusters, which are remembered even today. I’ve written, directed, produced and acted in more than three major motion pictures, and I’ve made many monumental mega TV series. Combine that with my proximity to kings, prime ministers, presidents, world leaders, warlords, cocaine kings and mafia dons, and you’ll see my life has been filled with so much…
“I have also been a great survivor: almost five times my life came to an end; be it The Great Mysore Fire on the sets of The Sword Of Tipu Sultan (1990), or the helicopter accident, where the tail broke off 80 feet up in the air and the chopper came spiralling down. So when the idea of writing an autobiography came up, I felt it needed to be done.”
The book of best mistakes
Autobiographies can be revealing. For a public person who has fought to maintain a private family life, wouldn’t a book like this have skeletons tumbling out?
“I’d like readers to find that out,” he says. “The book has extraordinary moments, and I have not spared anyone; I have written whole facts. Sure, the title is intriguing, and a lot of people are calling me up and asking ‘What do you mean by Best Mistakes?’ A mistake can be a simple error of action, calculation, opinion; there are big mistakes, small ones, silly mistakes and unforgivable mistakes. I’ve used the word in a fashion that’ll only be revealed in the 18th chapter, which is the climax of the book!”
Mr Khan’s thinking in the language of a filmmaker is apparent. I continue to prod, “What is the most revealing thing you’ve written in this book?”
He sidesteps. “Unlike making a film, writing an autobiography is a solitary exercise. The art of writing takes you down a journey of self-discovery. You have to be honest, and you must have the intelligence to not insult the intelligence of your readers. I have no crisis of conscience or any doubts that I have not done my job. I have done it diligently and I am supremely confident by the grace of the Almighty Allah that this book will find its place.”
But surely, Mr Khan, there may have been instances from your life that made you think: should I say this publicly, or should I not?
“There are a lot of incidents that I could have put in the book, but I didn’t want to overload it and make it 500 pages long and tedious to read. So, I picked the essentials.”
Maybe you sought advice from your wife, Zarine, or your children, on whether you should write about a certain incident or not?
“Yes, my family is my counsel. I did discuss a few things, and they would voice their opinion. But when I said I was doing something, they always said, ‘Papa, it’s perfectly fine.’ I did not want to embarrass my children by writing something irresponsible like tearing someone’s clothes off, or throwing ink in somebody’s face… I can’t do that…!”
The lineage of a family
And that brings us to the core of this story: family.
I cite two television shows: Friends from the ’90s and Modern Family from the ‘noughties. What’s the Khan family like?
“We are very simple people. The foundation of our family lies on the rock-solid principles we have inherited from my father and mother. Napolean once said, ‘The first university of a child is the mother’s cradle. And I say, the second university of a child is the family dining table.’
“My father would say, ‘If you feel like eating three chapattis, eat two. Get up with a little bit of hunger and you will never fall ill.’
“Then, he taught us to never break an appointed time. Because if you are not in time, you will insult their time. He also said that if you go to meet somebody and if they don’t turn up in 15 minutes, leave a polite note and walk out.
Because if you stay on, you will lose your equity…
“Then there was, ‘Aasmaan dekh ke mat chalo, zameen dekh ke chalo. Why? Because thokar nahi lagegi…’
“Growing up, we used to have dozens of servants. My mother used to give shelter to all kinds of poor people, and there were a variety of names: Hindu names, Christian names, Muslim names… and we grew up never hearing at our dining table one word against a community or a religion. We celebrate Diwali very traditionally: flowered doors, lamps, we distribute sweets, friends come over, and we have a nice party. We celebrate Diwali like we celebrate Eid, Christmas and New Year’s, all occasions which bring people together. We don’t want to inject religiosity into a festival.
“Fortunately, the entire family lives in and around Juhu, within a few minutes of each other. Then there is a WhatsApp family group. Farah is the most active,” he says with a private laugh. “But I am guilty of not seeing it for a few days. Then my wife tells me you had better see it, so now I’ve started checking it more regularly.”
Talk about his wife Zarine shows the side of a strong-minded man who is willing to follow. “Zarine has been the navigator of the ocean of my life. She would never agree with me if I am wrong, and that’s a quality I truly admire. Equality is important to me in a relationship. When I first married Zarine, I told her ‘You and I are 50-50. That’s how we’ll share everything I earn. But in reality, it isn’t 50-50. I give her everything, and when I need something, I ask her for it.
“I always told my three girls who I had before Zayed was born, ‘Look beauties, you must learn to earn your own and stand on your feet. Don’t think you’ll get married to somebody who will come and take over your bills. I also told them that if you get married and your husband does not have the capacity to support you, you support him!”
In his marriage with Zarine, is there anything he’d have done differently, I ask. Mr Khan is now combative: “In what sense?” he demands.
As an actor, and a good-looking man, there must have been advances from women all your life. What’s your secret to keeping the family together?
Mr Khan now laughs a hearty laugh, and says, “I’ve always followed a principle: Never cross the line. Of course there were many beautiful women who would vie for me and try to get into my orbit, but I would not senselessly cheapen myself by falling into their hands… I always thought that if I ever went and slept with another woman, what would my children and my wife say…? I may have insulted many a lady by not giving them the right attention, so I apologise for that through your columns.”
Relationships and marriages are changing in today’s times. They are not as permanent as they once used to be. What is his take on relationships today: on infidelity, on divorce?
“It is sad and unfortunate,” says Mr Khan. “The institution of marriage is being eroded and isn’t celebrated as it was in the earlier days, when it was marriage till death do us part. My personal advice to all youngsters who get married would be to do their best to make it work. When we could do it in our times, why can’t you?
“Do not be distracted… see the value of a home life, see the value of a good family, don’t think frivolously and while under the influence of alcohol or drugs...
“Divorce is a very heartbreaking exercise. I have never asked my daughter [Sussanne] the reason for her parting [with her husband Hrithik Roshan]. I love Hrithik still and I love my daughter. They must have their reasons. Fine. But the good part is, they’re still very good friends. And the children don’t feel the negative impact of their separation because of the combined efforts of both to keep it working. They holiday together, they take care of the children from time to time, babysitting and stuff… When people say that Hrithik is no longer my son-in-law, I say I have a relationship with him: he is the father of my grandchildren, and that can never be erased!”
Then he pauses. And says, “So… umm…. I still hope they get back together…Umm… That’s it!”
Has Mr Sanjay Khan said too much to me today? Or too little?
I replay his parting words on my recording: “You asked me, Jamal, about the one quality of my wife Zarine that I truly admire. It’s her integrity to keep the family together. She has gone through a trial, and she has passed…!”
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From HT Brunch, November 4, 2018
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