A royal flush

A royal flush
It’s an important film for Saif Ali Khan’s career, which of late has been bogged down by flops. Filmmaker Kabir Khan’s Phantom, co-starring Katrina Kaif, who is considered a kind of guarantee for success, is a crucial film for the current Nawab of Pataudi, who completes 22 years in his career as an actor.

In a gung-ho mood (you’ve got to hand it to the guy — he thinks 22 years younger too!), Saif gets in candid mode, even about dissecting his chequered career and the recent spate of flops.

We meet a day after a press conference in which Saif had openly expressed his views on Pakistan’s objections to the release of Phantom, saying, “I am happy to be a part of this patriotic film made by Indian Muslims — producer Sajid Nadiadwala, director Kabir Khan, Katrina Kaif and me, besides writer Hussain Zaidi, on whose book it is based. This story is realistic and such films, which are fiction based on fact, must be made. Why should we be expected to focus only on foreign subjects or fictitious action subjects? We all know the reality that there are many enemies of the Indian state in Pakistan, even as we continue to share interests in sports and cultural events, right? Or, am I the only person who knows that?”

Politics aside
But that is not the reason why Saif signed the film. “Honestly, it was nothing to do with politics,” he smiles. “Phantom is the kind of film one loves to act in — a dream combination of the producer who is so passionate about cinema that he dreams of and actually works with Sylvester Stallone (in Kambakkht Ishq), mounts the film on an outstanding platform and realises that an exciting thriller cannot be a boring, polemic documentary.”

The other reason — his director — also came in, with a script that was “a great page-turner.” Grins Saif, “Kabir approached me for Kabul Express and it did not work out. Then he asked me to do New York but I chose Kurbaan instead, which went nowhere! Also, when he signed Ek Tha Tiger, I produced Agent Vinod on the same topic. So I think we like the same kind of films and it was great that he could direct and I could act in one movie. And his telling me that I alone suited the role made me completely confident about pulling it off.”

His character, the actor says, is of a disgraced army soldier whose father does not talk to him. Obviously there is angst within, and when he gets the chance to go on a fairly suicidal secret mission against the 26/11 terrorists, he grabs the chance. “I had to look like a desperate and disturbed killer without losing his cool, someone who could never look happy, fresh or relaxed,” says Saif. “This balance was not at all easy to maintain, so it was not a regular hero’s role.”

He refers to first-time co-star Katrina as “a strong screen presence” and adds, “She is a nice, intelligent girl, someone who works hard, including on her dialogues. Her commitment to work is exceptional and she is a loyal and kind person.”

Un‘Saif’ zones
Analysing the recent bad streak in his career, Saif candidly says, “The kind of romantic films I have done were roles for young, confused boys, and not right for me. I guess I needed to portray more mature and suitable characters, as I am 44 now. As for Bullett Raja or Humshakals, these were all attempts on my part to find some other kind of space. I expected Tigmanshu Dhulia to make something as exciting as Paan Singh Tomar, and Sajid Khan to make a movie as funny as Housefull, but that did not happen.”

Saif shrugs and adds, “I guess when you are brave, things can go wrong, and in my case, they did go wrong. I guess I was looking for something beyond those romantic comedy parts. But at least my search is on and I think that one day I will find such roles. It’s all about understanding my own strengths and not being afraid of doing anything niche as long as the money is okay.”

Saif admits that the quality of offers he gets is a shade limited. “Most of them have flaws, but I am happy to take the blame. No, actually I am not,” he says and suddenly grins mischievously.

Having done capers like Main Khiladi Tu Anari in the past, Saif admits that it would be really good fun to do an action comedy too, and he would also like to get involved with a performance-oriented role like Omkara again. “When I watch amazing American television shows that are out there, I start hoping that I get one or two films that are as well-conceived,” he says.

Saif is proud of his children, and calls daughter Sara wiser beyond her years — she will also have a prestigious degree by next year. His son Ibrahim has just come on Twitter and Saif hopes that he realises its “double-edged sword” nature soon and is circumspect on it. “People are interested in him because of his lineage and parents as well,” he points out.

But the actor will encourage his kids if they want to take up acting. “It’s a great job and I owe everything I have to it,” he smiles. “But sometimes I feel that they would be better off in a more secure profession. They talk of actors ageing at a time when lawyers and doctors, for example, are just coming into their prime. And of course, education is a must and gives you the confidence to face anything.”

Saif’s only forthcoming film is Vishal Bhardwaj’s Rangoon, but talks are on with filmmaker Vipul Shah for an interesting subject. As of now, all other buzz is just that — empty rumours.

As we meet on the eve of Independence Day, Saif also analyses the state of the nation. “As Phantom proves, we value our freedom even more when we realise how the army and our secret services help keep us secure in a big way. But I wish for a more secular India, rather than a country that thinks how divided it could be. With freedom, we must be more tolerant and accepting of each other, and think as Indians rather than people belonging to different states and religions.”

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