Nawab of comedy

Nawab of comedy

Known for his very ‘British’ style of comedy, Saif Ali Khan is back to tickle the funny bone with his new film ‘Happy Ending’. RAJIV VIJAYAKAR talks to the actor about making people laugh...

He is a shade more at ease conversing in English — a tangy remnant of his education abroad though his profession is, ironically, that of an actor in Hindi cinema. Saif Ali Khan’s firm belief in certain key fundamentals has kept him ticking for over 21 years now, and even today, when so many newer faces have faded, he has withstood the superstars and the young brigade to sell in solo lead films with major filmmakers, besides the few ensemble cast movies he has starred in — which, in the last six years, have been only with smaller heroes than him.

The man who started out with Yash Chopra’s 1993 multi-star action drama Parampara (1993), got his first success in the same year in the solo film Aashik Aawara, and moved on to be noticed in Yeh Dillagi and Main Khiladi Tu Anari the following year, really began to make a mark only after his diverse roles like Kya Kehna and Dil Chahta Hai in the early millennium. 

Light & dark

Applauded more for his comic timing, he suddenly wowed everyone with his dark turns in Being Cyrus, Ek Hasina Thi and Omkara, exuding menace like few of his contemporaries have done. After this, he went on to do an array of roles like the Race franchise, Love Aaj Kal, Go Goa Gone, Agent Vinod and even the Salman Khan-esque Bullett Raja and is still charged with doing various kinds of roles, “because people may love me most for one department, but they will get bored if I keep doing the same thing.” 

But Saif also has a ‘Conditions Apply’ tag on this. Asked when he will again do another vicious turn, he makes a dismissive gesture and says eloquently, “No, no, I don’t want to do those dark and negative roles again. I would rather explore comedy and other shades that people like me to do.”

Also a successful producer, Saif is now set to release his latest venture in that capacity, Happy Ending, in which he essays a dual role. So, is it a real double role or just another get-up for a part of the story? “Well, Yogi is my alter-ego, and I have his looks inspired by my friend and composer Pritam’s persona,” he smiles. “Otherwise, I played a writer based in Los Angeles, who is lazy and has not written a book for five years and has many problems — like his money is running out. And he is this bechara (mild) type.”  

Saif is happy with Raj and DK, his director duo, who also directed Go Goa Gone for him earlier, and have now been signed for one more movie. “Happy Ending is a good story. It is a romantic comedy, but more of a man’s tale than a chick flick. It’s different from the usual movies in this genre,” he says.

He lavishes immense praise on co-actor Govinda, who plays a super-star in the film. “I am lucky to have worked with him — Govinda has world-class comic timing and dances like a dream. Plus, he is such a fine human being,” he declares.

How did their sense of humour gel in the film, because Saif’s comedy has always been subtle and almost British? “Actually, Govinda is also subtle, and if Raj-DK, who have a great sense of comedy, thought that he was the perfect man for the role, it is because the humour matched, right?”

The last Raj-DK film, Go Goa Gone, has almost become a cult movie, but did not do all that well in 2013. Did he not think it risky repeating his directors who are not exactly of a mainstream or successful bent? “Go Goa Gone was a zombie film, and quite experimental, like Raj-DK’s earlier movies, and it made money because I as a co-producer and actor did not take my fees for it,” he explains with a smile. “But the audience liked its humour and the normal parts of the film, like the characters of the three friends. Happy Ending is a modern love story, and almost mainstream in that sense.”

We ask him about his mother Sharmila Tagore expressing displeasure at the liberal dose of expletives mouthed by him in Go Goa Gone. He gives a broad smile and replies, “I guess it’s normal. Which mother would tell her son, ‘Aur gaali de (Use more cuss-words)’? But you will not find anything like that in Happy Ending. It is funny in a more mainstream way.”

Turn to direction

Does he plan to turn director at any point? “No, that is too much of hard work that starts months or years before a film takes off,” he says instantly. “Directors have a lot of things to do and look after. And compared to the hard work they put in, paisa utna nahin milta (they are not paid enough). Maybe in the future, if I am not getting work as an actor, I may start thinking along those lines.”

How does he look at his long career — past, present and future? “I am enjoying my life and work all through and I am enjoying the different films that I am doing now in this great phase for our movies. I have signed Raj and DK for one more movie, and I am proud that Kabir Khan, who has directed one of the biggest hits in Indian cinema, Ek Tha Tiger, and who could have signed just about any huge star, has chosen me for Phantom, in which I am hired to hunt out and kill those responsible for 26/11 and are hiding in different parts of the world.” The actor is also doing Sujoy Ghosh’s film for Balaji Telefilms and returning to Farhan Akhtar’s banner for Reema Kagti’s new movie. 

And why did he drop the film he was planning on his cricket legend father Mansoor Ali Pataudi’s life? “I think that such a film will make sense only 50 years from now, when none of dad’s associates are alive,” he replies seriously. “Look, who will play my father and have his commanding presence and persona and lion-like walk? Who will play his famous associates and opponents, like Gary Sobers, for example? The biopic of my father would need expert cricket players. Without intending to run anyone down, a Farhan Akhtar can build his body and run, but who can play a convincing square cut?”

Saif also regrets the fact that he cannot even make a documentary on the Nawab of Pataudi. “My father stopped playing just about three or four years before the media proliferated and colour footage came in. There are not too many photographs of good resolution that are available either. But we are making a cricket museum in our house,” he reveals.

Kareena Kapoor Khan, his wife, is doing the cameo of a girlfriend who dumps him in Happy Ending. But, when will they do another film together again? “Honestly, we are not in a hurry to work together. If a wife who is at home also is with you all day on the sets, I do think that it is a bit too much.” 

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