Swinging into action

Swinging into action

in production

In a career spanning over two decades, Saif Ali Khan has portrayed many characters. Rajiv Vijayakar speaks to the actor on his journey till date, his latest role as producer, and of course, Kareena Kapoor...

focussed Saif Ali Khan

Saif Ali Khan began shooting for his first two films — his debut Parampara, directed by Yash Chopra, and his first solo lead Aashik Aawara — in 1992. The 20 years that have passed by sit lightly on the new Nawab of Pataudi, who has had his share of ups and (major) downs in a chequered career, but incredibly looks fitter and younger than when we last met, three years ago.

His brand of gentle wit and straight-laced humour is evident in his candid one-liners, “Ask me about my worst films. They are easier to remember than my many favourites!” And he goes on to mention celluloid atrocities, whose existence GenY will not even be aware of: Ek Tha Raja, Surakshaa, Bambai Ka Babu, Sambandh and  Yaar Gaddar.

We could add a few more to this list, but prefer to focus on some of his better works, apart from his home production Love Aaj Kal and the recently-released Agent Vinod. The list spans from his playboy act in Yeh Dillagi and the nerdy actor in Jab Pyaar Kisise Hota Hai to the diverse blackguards of Ek Hasina Thi and Being Cyrus, the hilarious wannabe-casanova of Dil Chahta Hai, the manipulative Omkara, and other films like Kachche Dhaage and Salaam Namaste. From funny to menacing, rich NRI (Kal Ho Naa Ho) to the Dalit (Aarkashan), from his voice over act in Roadside Romeo to the terrorist in Kurbaan, this son of Sharmila Tagore has played them all.

With an unspectacular opening of Rs 28 to 30 crore in India, Saif Ali Khan’s second home production, Agent Vinod, may not have become a blockbuster, but the actor has his fundas clear, “I have made a film on an almost untouched genre, the spy-thriller. Agent Vinod has an intelligent and realistic plotline (with a nice twist) that also manages to become larger than life. It is not a typical Sriram Raghavan film, yet it retains some of his sensibilities.”

The complete lack of controversy over its storyline, which includes Pakistani outfit, Lashkar-E-Toiba, Russian mafia, MI 6, India’s RAW and so on, was pleasantly surprising, given the extra-legal censors that turned up on the eve of the film’s release. “I have tried not to ruffle any feathers,” he states. But he shrugs when we ask him what he thinks of the film being banned in Pakistan. “I have shown a good Pakistani in Kareena’s character and bad characters from India and elsewhere. There is no Pakistan bashing in my film,” he points out.

The only real controversy about the film was over an Iranian band, who, alleging that the song Pungi was a copy of their own music, sued the producers and composer Pritam. “I feel Pritam should have a legal department of his own by now,” he chortles, “I don’t think there’s much to it, though. I don’t understand why someone should wait for a song to become popular before waking up, and I don’t think Pungi is eating into the Iranian market!”

Agent Vinod has real action with very little VFX (computer graphics). “We have not cheated the audience. And mostly, I have done the stunts on my own,” he says earnestly. “Real action has an intimacy, an earthy feel. I always think violence that makes an impact can be sudden and swift and not necessarily elaborate or grand.”

Saif is a spy-thriller addict himself and is upbeat that his son Ebrahim loved the film and was vocal about it. “He makes for a good audience. He laughs at the right moments and likes everything he watches, though his mobile ring tone is from Don 2,” he quips. And why did he name the movie after the B-grade sleeper hit of 1977 that starred Mahendra Sandhu?

“That film was full of fun, with guns that fired backwards and so on,” he smiles. “Agent Vinod as a title was definitely to attract the single-screen audience. It has a nice pulp and comic-strip feel to it. I want my film to work with everyone because after my last two films, Kurbaan and Aarakshan, collapsed, I am lucky to even have one fan out there,” he says with a grin.

Incidentally, Saif had come out with a comic book on the film, before its release, as a marketing ploy. “The comic’s plot is like a prequel that shows where Agent Vinod came from before this adventure,” he says, admitting that he is game for a sequel or a franchise if the economics and box-office results were for it.

Future missions

Saif declares that he will never turn director, but would love to keep producing films. “I am one of the most creative producers,” he insists. “I take a keen interest in production design, sound design and so on. Turning producer has made me think in a less selfish and more competitive way as an actor. For example, I wanted Ram Kapoor, Adil Hussein and my other actors to be appreciated as well. As a producer who is also an actor, I can see the talent in others better.”

The production bug has bitten him in a big way. Two films coming up under his Illuminati Films banner are Homi Adajania’s love story Cocktail with Deepika Padukone, and the zombie comedy (zom-com) Go Goa Gone, a movie about two idiots, directed by Krishna D K and Raj Nidimoru. “They are the only two who do not take drugs at a rave party and the only ones to land in trouble! And I play a cameo of a Delhi guy who pretends to be from the Russian mafia,” he smiles.

Also coming up are two sequels in spirit, one of which had him in the original too — Abbas-Mustan’s Race 2. Saif adds, “It is a twist-and-turn franchise and a smart, sexy thriller as already you know. When you make a sequel, you have to get bigger and better.” The other is Judwaa 2. “I asked the producers how I could step into Salman Khan’s shoes, because I can never do what he can, but they said that they have changed the characters to suit me,” the actor states. The sequel mania has him reflect, “There are some films that lend themselves well to sequels. I was keen to make one for my 1994 film Main Khiladi Tu Anari. But at that time I was wisely informed — ‘In India, we do not make sequels’. ”

We finally get around to Kareena Kapoor. “She’s a super person and a great actor besides being India’s biggest female star,” he says. “She has a great screen presence and is very professional. As a London-based Pakistani agent, I have made her come out of her comfort zone. And she looks good in the film, even in action sequences.” The script may not have  exactly brought them together in reel life, but when I ask him about any impending marriage plans in real life, he quips, “I will revert!”

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