Interview By: ANKITA R. KANABAR

Saif Ali Khan is cool, calm and pretty candid! He talks serious business but never forgets to add some bit of humour as well. Not many adapt so well with changing circumstances, but he has and only gotten better with time – that depicts in his journey, growth and how he looks. Just as his latest release ‘Chef’ has hit the marquee, the actor settles down for a chat in a pretty casual mode. Donning a pair of shorts and t-shirt, sipping over coffee, Khan talks all about cinema and acting!

Has your perspective towards food or chefs changed a bit while doing ‘Chef’? I’ve always understood the importance of food, that’s one of the things I liked about the story and the film. I think my understanding of what a ‘Chef’ does has changed. The respect has increased for the high pressure kind of job it is and how difficult it is to cater to what people want. People want to eat well, it takes a lot to make a good meal but we don’t want any excuses. On all levels, even set workers in film units, actors also, don’t mind working hard but they all want to be well fed. That’s the mark of a good production – good food. So, I’ve developed more respect for the chef. I’ve always loved food and cooking.

Are you also particular about the food you eat?

I think I’m quite particular about my food. I like home food which is light and healthy. I don’t like rich food. There are some Chinese restaurants in Bandra also. One or two are really good, the others are not. The difference is really huge, so if you get used to one, you can’t eat the other, better not to eat it. So, in that sense, it’s quite particular. But I went to boarding school so I can eat bad food (laughs).

You played a chef earlier in ‘Salaam Namaste’. How different was it this time around considering of course, it’s a different film all together? Plus one evolves as well…
This is a completely different kind of film. Times change. That was really good fun, colourful and more about relationships and so is this. But here this is a divorced couple and trying to make friends with the son, who doesn’t really know his father a lot. I think my approach has also become a bit deeper over the years. One has grown up a little bit and you understand a little more about life so it shows. Also, for this one, lots of training was needed. A lot of knife work and chopping, and just being comfortable in the kitchen.

Since the film primarily also deals with a father-son relationship…does that further help when you’ve experienced fatherhood in your real life?
I think you do understand a lot better when you are a father. It’s just a vibe that you get. You just understand the energy. And the important thing is that you don’t overdo it. But sometimes if you don’t have children, or sometimes you don’t know what it’s like to do something, even if it’s action for example – If you don’t know how it’s like to hold a gun or hit something, you will overdo it. Same way it’s with relationships. If you have children, you’ll speak to them normally, like adults. You can also be a bit irritated at times. But if you’re pretending, you try and be too nice I think. Like mothers in movies, have this image of being too kind. Most people are not too kind to their children in real life. You talk to them normally. So, that understanding came in naturally because I am a father.

What is it that you liked the most about this experience?
I think it’s just the acting. I am enjoying my work and it’s a different school of acting with each director. Some are little more commercial and exciting. Some a little more urban but the kind of communication in this one was nice because I understand the character well. You can reflect what the character is thinking. I really enjoyed acting the part because, it’s well-written, it’s urban and something I relate to. So, it’s a job well done and that’s what you like about it.

Now that you’ve completed 25 years in the industry, how much do you think the scenario has changed?
I think there are some wider angles to it. Some small films are able to find a release, digital content is flourishing in terms of something like Netflix. So a lot of interesting work is happening. Some young actors who I wouldn’t have met before in the mainstream world, I’m meeting them now, which is nice I think. The standard of acting is improving, we’re being more natural. The ease of making films is there. You don’t need a big set up now. These are big changes. Apart from that, I don’t think many things will really change. It’s like Hollywood in many ways. There’ll be blockbusters, there’ll be indie movies, small things. Content is important; not always. It’s the same.

And what about you?
I think I’m getting better. I understand it more. I am more in sync with all the elements which go on to make a film. I think earlier I was very edgy or impatient. Slowly, over the years I learnt. Now you’re more in sync with other things like, what the background music will be like. It’s the director’s medium. You should put your own feelings or ego aside and just do what they want for that much time. It’s easier that way and you learn that with time.

The fact that you’re doing a ‘Chef’ or ‘Kaalakandi’ or some of the films you’ve done in the past – do these reflect that fact that it’s not always about portraying yourself as a Hindi cinema hero? Does that also have to do with your wider range of experiences and exposure?

That’s the thing. We’re all a product of our thoughts and experiences. The constructs we make or the values in our life are based on things that resonate with us and things that we feel. So, yes, my view of things is because of my experiences. My take on ‘Kaalakandi’ is very different. I don’t see it as a niche film that normal people shouldn’t do. I feel that it’s the most honest film I’ve been a part of. If you look at Mumbai, it’s a huge city and there are many things going on. The cook is speaking something else, the driver speaks some other language, the boss is on a different trip, it’s crazy. No other country in the world has that. Here, this is six different worlds and he shows that, which I think is really exciting. Sometimes in our films, we don’t know who the characters are, usually. We all speak Hindi in our film, but would we be speaking Hindi in that situation? In this film, everyone speaks the right language which is very interesting to me. I think that’s something I want to try and concentrate on, in the future that what’s the language. I think it alienates people. But, the point is, yes, I think my thoughts are reflecting in the work I’m doing. Be it ‘Kaalakandi’ or a show on Netflix, we see American stars doing incredible stuff, so you feel enriched that way. I’m very happy where I am in life. I like everything about it – my children, my wife, my holidays, everything but what’s important is to have a nice role to be playing in a film at every given time.

“First I need to solidify my ground as an actor, and I would like to refresh my relationship with people in the industry, as an actor and then concentrate on production”

And also developing films?
Yes, as a person, definitely. That developing also comes when you’re in contact with people who are working on things like that. I have met some actors on the Netflix show or even during ‘Kaalakandi’ who I wouldn’t have met in the mainstream world and I think my acting has improved as a result.

Tell us about the Netflix show.
They call is a streaming series I believe. Because web-series can be on any platform, this is on Netflix only. They have certain standards and it all comes outtogether, so it’s not a series even. You can watch the whole program at one go and it’s important because people like to watch it as one big movie. It’s great, it has some great talent coming in together and working on it. Sometimes, the smaller the screen gets, the smaller the idea gets but now it’s not the case. So, if it’s the other case, then I’d always like to do it.

Amidst all this, does it matter when a film probably doesn’t meet expectations at the box-office?
Sometimes you get upset because you feel you could have made a better film. Depends on how I feel about the film. If you love the movie, then you just feel okay. ‘Kaalakandi’ is really good but people say it’s a little niche so it should run according to its numbers. You don’t expect it to be a 100-crore film. And a film like ‘Rangoon’, it was a cinematic experience for me, so I don’t regret it. I loved it. This is what I think an actor is – he should be that. An actor should be getting a chance to be RusiBillimoria, with one hand gone, smoking a cigar and doing a great scene for Vishal, is a lovely experience. I can keep doing that, if it fails also, that’s someone else’s problem. I hope the financer doesn’t lose a lot, but I would love to work with Vishal again and again. It’s a creative experience. I never regret that. I think you would feel bad if you try and make a hit, bring all the elements that you need to keep it intact and then you feel bad. According to me, most of the times there’s something wrong about the film if it doesn’t run. People have never rejected the film on the idea, but it’s because somewhere we failed I think. So then you try and learn from that.

Howfair is it that usually a directorgets blamed when a film doesn’t work?
It’s pretty fair, but everyone gets flak. Even actors get that because it’s the films we green light that make us. So, it’s nice to bring in a little mix. Like my mother did commercial cinema, a bit of Bengali cinema, artistic cinema, so in my mind, that’s the way to go. So, I’d like to do a ‘Kaalakandi’, ‘Being Cyrus’, as well as do ‘Race’. You should not be known by one type. But it’s a director’s medium so we let them call all the shots. It’s our fault as much as someone else’s for getting involved sometimes. But I think people sense an intention. In India, films are a reflection of our society and we’re at a stage where I think we are looking forward. We’re fed up of backward stuff. People like cinema also which is new. So, working with Vishal was really good. People thought at least we were trying to make cinema. So, as long as we’re trying to take a step forward, it’s nice. The idea is not to make something regressive I think.

And what when sometimes the film doesn’t reflect what the script had?
You feel a little disappointed sometimes, we sell ideas to each other. Most of the times, people try their best, and sometimes something goes wrong and we understand why it is. We were always taught back in the 90s that if someone narrates to you that a Ferrari stops outside the palace and the hero gets out, you should say, ‘okay the Fiat stops outside Nadiadwalabunglow in Juhu and the hero gets out’ (laughs). But does it still work? Don’t do films for the look, do it for the content. That’s what we learnt. Film-making is a complex process and a lot of people have to do their jobs perfectly. Nobody goes out of the way to hurt a film, but sometimes the edit goes a little different, length gets out of control, various things happen. But I’ve learnt that, not to take all that personally. Nobody is out there to hurt themselves or to hurt you. I feel you come across many ceilings in your career. ‘EkHaseenaThi’ was the best film of its kind, ‘Hum Tum’ is the best of its kind, and then ‘Omkara’ is the best of its kind. So after that what do you do? You flatten out or end up doing some bad movies. We’ve all been a part of the same industry, there’s growth and now there seems to be a break in that where we can go beyond, where you play slightly more grown up characters in grown up situations like a divorced couple in ‘Chef’.

Why aren’t you producing at the moment?
I think the energy behind production was my being an interesting actor. Somewhere because of that, I was losing touch with makers and other producers because I was becoming very insular. And I wasn’t really enjoying the feeling that I was getting as a producer, even though I was really enjoying that. But first I need to solidify my ground as an actor, and I would like to refresh my relationship with people in the industry, as an actor and then concentrate on production.

How do you unwind?
Ideally a good life is do a film, work hard and then take off for a holiday, don’t see any of them for a while. Then it’s family time, go to Pataudi, just cut off for a little bit. If it’s well-planned, that’s the way to do it. One film and a break. It’s nice to do a film from start to finish, 40-50 days ideally and then take off.

Tell us about ‘Bazaar’.
I think it was a good chance. The role is that of a Gujarati businessman and it was challenging. I had many long lines to learn. But it’s a strong powerful character. It’s always nice to play strong characters with some good solid Hindi film drama.

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