Actor Saif Ali Khan gave a brief glimpse into his world when he visited <i>DNA</i> on Monday. Excerpts…
Q: Bebo came across as really liking the fact that you’re well-read. So do you think that it’s a chick-magnet thing?
A: It works for Salman Rushdie. There must be some girl who likes that kind of a thing. Marilyn Monroe too. Don’t know for how long that lasts. But I guess there must be a likable homely quality to someone who likes books rather than someone who likes fast cars, who can be little more adventurous. Like there must be so many female qualities that make a guy feel secure. Like knitting...
Q: What is it for you?
A: I feel someone who can be good with running the home. Is into flowers. I guess just like my mother (which is a bit scary too!). Eventually that’s a benchmark. So yes, she worked really hard even after having us — her children. She continued to do a lot of interesting work, but at the same time we never really felt a distraction in her mind. She compartmentalised her life so well.
When she was home, she was talking about water-proofing or planning a really nice dinner. So I believe someone, who’s house proud and knows how to host, or knows how to clean the carpet when the dog does wee-wee on it. Things like toothpaste cleans silver really well. If a girl doesn’t know that, then she should, maybe at some point, know that.
Q: Would you say that being a Bollywood star is what you do, not who you are?
A: Absolutely. Absolutely. I mean I love producing, planning and talking about movies, and then not talking about it anymore. And then there are so many influences in people that I listen to. Like my mother. In an interview I was talking about an area that was not my expertise, and she said, when you don’t know what you’re talking about, be conservative, and when you do know, be liberal, unless you want to come across as only a Bollywood star, at which point nobody will have an expectation of you. I thought that was really nicely put. If you want to be taken seriously, you should know what you’re talking about.
Q: You think you’re at a turning point now?
A: My biggest problem, I think, is self-discipline. I am good at my job, but there is a slight self-destructive streak. I know I should go to bed at 10, but then I’ll sleep at four. Some people have issues like ‘I wish my voice was better’, or ‘I wish I’d gotten that role’, but here I have everything, but the problem is just keeping it on track. I guess I’m getting better at it and I think 40 is the age. My father sent me a card on my 40th birthday saying, ‘the secret of Islam was revealed to the Prophet on his 40th birthday’. I think he meant …‘You’re on!’
Q: Are you spiritual?
A: I feel it’s bizarre to go out to pray for your movie — it doesn’t make sense when you have people starving on the streets and you go to pray ‘Can I have a billion dollars please?!’ You pray to thank for everything — for two eyes, two arms, success, failure…
Q: Which book are you reading now?
A: I am trying to read Don Quixote. I mean it's not an Archie comic. But I got this book called The Well Educated Mind. It's a guideline to being well-read, and I'd like to be well read. I've studied English literature in school.
Q: Were you always into reading or is it a cultivated habit?
A: No, I was always into reading ’cause I grew up in a crumbling old palace in Bhopal where we didn't even have a television. So the primary source of entertainment was to catch hold of a tailor or some aging member of the household, or usually the staff and tell them okay tell me stories — on Hindu mythology. The art of telling a story is almost gone. It's a film thing actually. Because to be able to tell someone a story while the kid is sleeping… like my maid used to do it, I don't know if I can do it myself. They'd tell it in Urdu or Hindi. They were usually about the jungle and shikaar. And then books that were lying around — my father's books. I mean in his later years he mostly was into the easy reads kind of books like John le Carre, Robert Ludlum — The Bourne Identity kind of novels. So I always enjoyed reading.
Q: Were they all precursors to Agent Vinod?
A: I guess, yes, they are all connected. But I just like to grab a good book and spend a couple of hours and I find it really peaceful. It's something that makes you feel really richer.
Q: You're talking about men knowing about guns and horses. Do you feel that in the times we live in, that the old world is slipping by?
A: Yes it is. In the span of a man's life, there comes a time where he's learning and feels he should know about history. You should know something a couple of generations back about a thing before you get interested in it. For e.g., when I was young, I'd know of every Wimbledon final from Billie Jean King right to Sharapova. But then soon that might become useless knowledge. So 'old world' is a factor that is a part of you and you cling on to it, nurture it. And that is why you should be private about it. There's always room for old world though — books, movies — nostalgia. You have to reserve your conversations or your passionate conversations for someone who actually understands what you're saying, rather than talking with people who are offended by it. For some, guns mean killing. But this gunsmith I knew, who'd look after my grand father's guns — they say things like ‘Take everything, take my wife, my children but leave my guns.’ They are works of art. ’Cause there is something really old about them. They are not just killing machines, they are beautifully crafted pieces of art.
(Later) I am lucky because in a place like Pataudi, I want to trap time. I want to make it into a family house with my father's pictures — there are so many beautiful pictures of the cricket days. They can be better looked after. So that's my mission, making a nice library there. A friend of mine is a publisher actually, he's going to help me build it.
Q: Do you see Pataudi more and more as The Source?
A: Yes. It is The Source. The idea is, you do it up — whether it is books, music everything that's there -- bring it together and then distill it into that place. Pataudi is a beautiful place. I want renovate the house and maybe do things in terms of… My father had started an eye hospital, there is a family polo tournament — maybe we can get some sponsorship behind that and do something else like there is a girl school there. You know when you go to places like these, you realise what your country is like and what your audiences are. We make romcoms where a guy is kissing a girl and he's kissing another girl… we think it's a modern scene but it instantly cuts you off from the bulk of the audience. They'll be like ‘Arey yeh kya ho raha hai’. It's interesting to understand that.
Q: There are so many versions of Brawlgate. Is it sorted now?
A: It'll be sorted. It's not such a big deal. The person who was involved in it… I haven't spoken to him but he will know…
Q: Tell us about Agent Vinod.
A: It was so refreshing to not talk about it up to now (laughs). I think it's a really nice movie. If it has to be criticised in any way it would be that it's a good story — that's the only criticism that I could come across. It's a very realistic kind of a plot; it's not a Bond rip-off at all 'cause he (director Sriram Raghavan) played against that a lot — by introducing the heroine in a deglam way, various things. Basically, nobody's made this kind of a movie in a while and I was wondering why, ’cause we used to make such movies a lot.
Q: It has Saif and Kareena…!
A: Saif and Kareena, I think the chemistry works really well, probably the best. There is a comfort level between people who know each other off-screen or love or like each other. Sometimes there is no tension, so it falls flat. I think you're intrigued by the chemistry between people who don't know each other. But here, because we are pretending to be people we are not, and it's not a typical situation, it might work. In fact, in this film it helps to know each other off-screen because the audience get a voyeuristic view of the relationship like ‘Oh, they talk to each other like that…?’