His peers in Bol­ly­wood agree— Saif Ali Khan can­not be pi­geon­holed

India Today - - CONTENTS - —Suhani Singh

In the race for Bol­ly­wood’s most pop­u­lar Saif, Saif Ali Saif has al­ways fin­ished fourth. Even so, he has made an im­pres­sion with roles that have been varied and of­ten chal­leng­ing. He was Langda Tyagi in Omkara (2006), and again a ma­nip­u­la­tor in

Be­ing Cyrus (2006). Later, in Go Goa Gone (2013), he played a Pun­jabi zom­bie hunter who thought he was Rus­sian. This year, we are see­ing him again as Sar­taj Singh in Net­flix’s Sa­cred Games, an emo­tion­ally vul­ner­a­ble po­lice of­fi­cer who strug­gles to save Mumbai. Later this year, in Navdeep Singh’s next, Laal Kap­taan, he will be seen play­ing a lone wolf who goes out on a hunt­ing spree in 18th cen­tury In­dia. Look­ing at his re­cent choices—Chef (2017) and Kaalakaand­i (2017) in­cluded—it seems ob­vi­ous that Saif is slowly grow­ing im­per­vi­ous to staid for­mu­las and box of­fice col­lec­tions.

“Some­times when we work, we have to work for money, which means we have to fol­low the dik­tats of the mar­ket. But be­fore

Sa­cred Games, there was a time when I was sur­ren­der­ing more to the job than wor­ry­ing about how it will be per­ceived,” says Saif. “You fol­low that and things fall into place.” Sa­cred Games is Saif ’s way of treat­ing his work more as an “artis­tic ef­fort”, less an obli­ga­tion. It’s this facet that made Kr­ishna D.K., one half of the writer-di­rec­tor duo Raj & D.K., take the script of zom­bie com­edy Go Goa Gone to him. On hear­ing the script, Saif called it “chu ****** and crazy”. He agreed not just to star in the project but also pro­duce it. “He has this child­like en­thu­si­asm and cu­rios­ity. He also has a ba­sic in­stinct to do some­thing spe­cial,” says D.K.. “There’s a drive in him—some­times it works, some­times it fails.”

De­spite his share of fail­ures, Saif has man­aged to keep his head above wa­ter. De­trac­tors, of course, at­tribute it to his lin­eage—he is the son of Sharmila Tagore and crick­eter Man­soor Ali Khan Pataudi—but Saif has stead­fastly cho­sen the lesstrod­den path, never play­ing it safe. By agree­ing to play the pro­tag­o­nist in Raj & D.K.’s Happy End­ing (2014), for in­stance, Saif showed he was one of the few ac­tors who un­der­stood what ‘meta’ meant. A satire on ro­man­tic come­dies, the film forced Saif to sub­vert the tropes and clichés of the very films that had made him pop­u­lar.

Two of those films— Imi­tiaz Ali’s Love Aaj Kal (2009) and Homi Ad­ja­nia’s Cock­tail (2012)—are still con­sid­ered his big­gest hits. Ali, for his part, knows Saif enough to of­fer some in­sight: “Peo­ple don’t know how to cat­e­gorise him. He is com­fort­able with that be­cause he can be dif­fer­ent peo­ple. He is very truth­ful and yet full of con­tra­dic­tions, like


a post-mod­ern poet. He can be pro­found and silly at the same time, mod­ern and old-fash­ioned. His mind jumps across var­i­ous boundaries that usual minds do not. His per­spec­tive, there­fore, is ex­tremely broad and ac­cept­ing.”

Saif will turn over an even newer leaf with Laal Kap­taan, a his­tor­i­cal ac­tion drama. “We wanted a charis­matic, cool guy for this char­ac­ter, and [Saif] epit­o­mises that,” says Singh. His job was made eas­ier by the fact that Saif got his cin­e­matic ref­er­ences, some of which were Hol­ly­wood west­erns. “He is well-read and in­formed, so the con­ver­sa­tions be­come much eas­ier.” The writer-di­rec­tor also makes it a point to men­tion Saif ’s “wicked, yet un­der­stated sense of hu­mour, which finds its way into a lot of his per­for­mances,” thereby el­e­vat­ing them.

For now, though, there’s

Sa­cred Games. The char­ac­ters in the show’s first sea­son were all colour­ful, but Saif’s Sar­taj, with his many frail­ties, stood out. Though Sar­taj is doggedly com­mit­ted to the truth, Saif says, “he’s not a typ­i­cal Bol­ly­wood hero”. The ac­tor in­stead sug­gests he is the “moral ful­crum” around whom the show is bal­anced.

Sa­cred Games does in­deed find much of its con­ti­nu­ity in Sar­taj’s tra­jec­tory that sees him progress from bum­bling to brave. Saif says, “Sar­taj is a nat­u­ral sucker for ma­nip­u­lated guid­ance and tries to find it in religion, or the ashram where Gu­ruji (Pankaj Tripathi) re­sides.” For the ac­tor, this sec­ond sea­son of the web has “res­o­lu­tion, twists and turns, re­ally good writ­ing and some of the best artis­tic stuff com­ing out of In­dia”. Given the hon­esty with which he has fash­ioned his ca­reer, you feel tempted to take his word for it. ■

A SAIF BET Khan and Kalki Koech­lin in Sa­cred Games (above); and a still from the show

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