Spotlight: Saif Ali Khan

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“Acting is not always about success and failure. I get satisfaction at the end of a hard day’s work. But the ultimate satisfaction is when the audience appreciates it.” ~ Saif Ali Khan

With his piercing eyes, good looks and dynamic screen presence, Saif Ali Khan is one of Bollywood’s most enduring and finest actors. In dramatic roles he has an intensity about him that exudes off the screen, he excels in both comedy and in romantic roles and he is the one every girl would love to be in love with. His career has had its share of eclectic performances and in the last few years he has taken on roles that have ultimately proven what an incredible actor he truly is stepping away from chocolate-boy-hero image. With the release of Race this Friday we thought we would shine the spotlight on one of Bollywood’s best actors.

In 1970, Mansoor Ali Khan Nawab of Pataudi and former captain of the Indian cricket team and Sharmila Tagore, a Bengali film actress welcomed to the world their son Saif Ali Khan. The family also had two girls Soha and Saba. He grew up in Bhopal and Patudi and attended Lawrence School, Sanawar. He was then sent to Lockers Park Prep School in England and for his college days attended Winchester College, like his father.

Coming from a performing arts and sporty family, it was natural that Saif follow in the footsteps of one of his parents, making acting his calling. In 1992, he almost got his first break, his debut film was to be Bekhudi, directed by Rahul Rawail, starring opposite Kajol. However, it seems that he was let go by the director and the film went on without him.

In 1993, Saif appeared in two films, Parampara and Aashiq Awara. While both films were released in May of 1993, Aashiq Awara is considered his debut film. Aashiq Awara was directed by Umesh Mehra and Saif co-starred with Mamta Kulkarni, Mohnish Bahl and his mother Sharmila Tagore. For his role as Jimmy/Rakesh Rampal, Saif was awarded the Filmfare Best Male Debut Award, and his career was up and running.

The year 1994 saw his first major hit with Yeh Dillagi. Produced by Yash Raj, the film co-starred Kajol and Akshay Kumar. In this charming film, along the same story line as the Hollywood classic Sabrina, Saif played the young rich playboy, a character he would portray many times in the future. It was breakthrough role for him and and many filmgoers until this day remember his performance in the song ‘Ole Ole’! Junior Nawab then went on to star in Main Khiladi Tu Anari for which he was nominated for the Filmfare Best Supporting Actor category. The film did exceptionally well at the box office.

Over the next several years he starred in many films, sadly though, many did not set the box office on fire. In an interview in 1997 regarding his flops, Saif said “One does get affected by these things but I don’t really beat myself up if a film doesn’t do well. I know that a hit or a flop makes a world of difference in the film industry but can anyone guarantee a hit out here? All one can do is see to it that one chooses good projects and execute it to the best of their abilities. Beyond that… I’ve been seeing the rushes of my future films and I’m pretty happy with them. So as long as I keep getting better it’s okay. But I have a long way to go before I’m really satisfied with a film that I’ve done. The problem is that the number of chances you get out here are directly proportionate to the number of hits you give. But I’m fairly optimistic because the quality of films that I have in hand are much better than the ones I had last year. I made some wrong decisions in the past. Hits and flops are part of everybody’s career. You should do your best and learn from them.”

Things started to turn around in 1999. He starred in Kachche Dhaage as Dhananjay Pandit ‘Jai’ and again was Nominated for the Filmfare Best Supporting Actor Award. Additionally in 1999, he was in the hit film Hum Saath Saath Hain along with Salman Khan, Karisma Kapoor, Sonali Bendre, Mohnish Behl and Tabu. Saif proclaimed his happiness regarding the project, “But I am happy and privileged that I got the part and I hope I’ve done justice to it. And the film is amazing in itself. Everyone has done a great job.”

2000 was also a good year for Saif. He starred in Kya Kehna opposite Preity Zinta and the film – with a rather bold topic of pre-marital pregnancy – was a surprise hit.

Also in 2000, he began work on the film that would show that he was becoming one of Bollywood’s best actors. That film, Dil Chata Hai, released in 2001 and became a tremendous hit. Directed by Farhan Akhtar, the film also starred Aamir Khan and Akshaye Khanna. About making the film Saif said, “Yeah. I’ve never had so much fun making a film. The cast was perfect. Aamir and Akshaye are exceptional actors. It was a learning experience. They’re both eccentric in their own way. The atmosphere on the sets was so cool — we all vibed well. We are all in the same age group so there was some hilarious event almost every day.”

Saif’s performance as Sameer was lauded by all and he won the Filmfare Best Comedian Award. One reviewer said of his performance, “Yet it is Saif Ali Khan who is the surprise packet of the film. Dil Chahta Hai sees the actor’s finest performance yet – he is spot on with his sense of comic timing and is equally at ease in the more dramatic moments of the film. It is a remarkable performance coming from totally unexpected quarters.” Saif also won the Screen Weekly Award for Best Supporting Actor and the Zee Cine Awards Popular Award for Best Supporting Actor.

Though not a hit, 2002’s Na Tum Jaano Na Hum co-starring Hrithik Roshan and Esha Deol is one of my favorite Saif performances. He was wonderful in his role as Akshay, playing the comedic as well as dramatic scenes with skill.

2003 brought Saif’s next huge hit, Kal Ho Na Ho. The film also starred Shah Rukh Khan and Preity Zinta and was marked by power packed performances by all three. About his portrayal of Rohit one reviewer said, “This is easily Saif’s best performance since Dil Chahta Hai. No one can play such a role with such ease, it’s almost uncanny. Only Saif can portray a character that is quite comical for the most part but always has a place for love in his heart.” Saif was nominated for many awards for Kal Ho Na Ho . He won not only the Filmfare Best Support Actor Award but also the Moto Look of the Year, the Star Screen Awards for Best Supporting Actor and the IIFA Award for Best Supporting Actor.

2004 was to be another banner year for the star and a year were he portrayed two totally different characters. For Ek Hasina Thi, Saif put on the villain avatar for the first time and was brilliant in his performance as Karan Singh Rathod. “One has never seen Saif Ali Khan in such an avatar. Khan matches Matondkar scene for scene with his villainous act, spewing venom in the latter half of the film. Khan has never been so captivating on screen before, mastering the art of looking slimily disgusting and appealing at the same time. Truly an award-worthy turn for him after a strong supporting turn in Karan Johar’s Kal Ho Naa Ho,” said one review.

On the entire opposite spectrum Saif again filled the romantic lead in the wonderful Hum Tum co-starring Rani Mukerji. It follows the path of two people and their meetings over many years until they finally fall in love a’ la Harry Met Sally. Saif is brilliant in his role as Karan and he and Rani play off each other beautifully. Many believe his role as Karan was tailor-made for him and really showed off his acting abilities. “In terms of performances, Saif reprises his urbane self from DCH and KHNH, peppering it with occasional fits of introspection and angst, and marking himself as an actor whose time has come” said on review. Rani said of her co-star, “Saif is highly professional. Beneath all the comic exterior, there is a person who takes his career seriously. Hum Tum is not an out and out comedy, there are many serious situations, and Saif is really good in these.” Saif won the National Award for Best Actor and the Filmfare Best Comedian Award for Hum Tum.

Next came the role that showcased the next level of this young actor’s potential. The film was Parineeta. Directed by Pradeep Sarkar and produced by Vidhu Vinod Chopra, it co-starred newcomer Vidya Balan. “I am doing Parineeta to prove myself as an actor. If I only do Hum Tum kind of roles, it is not good for me as an actor. Those types of roles are bread and butter for me, but I also need to do different things as an actor,” he said. Adding, “It is an interesting type of acting. After all, acting is just expression; sometimes, even an eye movement can be acting. That is what the Parineeta school of acting is all about.”

Every review praised Saif for his sensitive handling of a very complex character. “Saif’s willingness to undermine his heroism– he is palpably jealous and insanely insecure, a picture of stubborn rage– elevates his performance. It’s the best in his career so far,” said one review. While another praised him saying, “Saif Ali Khan deserves no less praise for his sensitive, underplayed performance. The character Shekhar that he plays is a very complex man – he is passionate, possessive, jealous, pampered, egoistic, father-dominated, musically inclined and more. And Saif captures it all with finesse.” The film was hit not only in India but overseas as well. Saif was nominated for a Best Actor award at the Filmfare awards that year. This performance is one of my favorite of all of Saif’s films he is just outstanding.

While his career was on a high, he continued starring in big banner films. His film Salaam Namaste released in 2005 with co-star was Preity Zinta and the two lit up the screen in the offbeat romance. Saif explained, “ Well, the film is a romantic comedy. It’s about two Indians who have left their houses to make a life on their own, and how they meet and how they tackle their own relationships and problems and overcome them without the help of their families. The film is directed by debutante Siddharth Anand. Preity Zinta is my co-star and the film also stars Arshad Warsi and John Abraham. It’s a great film and the audience will love it.” Salaam Namaste was shot entirely in Australia and was one of the biggest hits of 2005.

Continuing on his path of taking challenging roles he then appeared in the English film, Being Cyrus. The art film was a big departure role for the actor and his performance was appreciated.

However in 2006, his role as Langda Tyagi in Vishal Bharadwaj’s Omkara became the role that firmly established Saif as one of the finest actors in Bollywood. Saif not only transformed himself physically, so much so that if this was the first movie you ever saw of him you would never believe he was the same actor from Yeh Dillagi, he also transformed himself as an actor. He got into the skin of Langda and it is one of the most outstanding performances ever seen in a Bollywood film.

Regarding the role of Langda, Saif said, “It required homework to get into a different language and body language. Everything I did so far and came naturally to me, was Westernised. With a little bit of preparation and with Vishal’s help and the whole atmosphere he creates, and also with the help of a cast that completely believes in the project, it was easy to find the truth about my duplicitous character. In another interview he said, “Getting my hair cut and preparing for the role in Omkara really appealed to the actor in me. I actually felt like a real actor. It was absorbing and rewarding. But a role like Omkara doesn’t happen every day.”

The reviews for Saif’s Langda were all raves: “Saif Ali Khan is the soul of Omkara. Langda Tyagi weaves every character into a web of emotional entrapment all in the name of revenge and Khan’s portrayal is impeccable. Every aspect of his characterisation – the look, limp, and language oozes evil. Be it in English or Hindi, Iago (the name of Saif’s character in Othello) is immensely difficult to underplay, but Khan does so with amazing ease. His comfort with villainy is most impressive. This is a performance that will be hard to beat this year!” Taran Adarsh said in his review, “OMKARA is embellished with great performances, but the one who steals the show is, without a shred of doubt, Saif Ali Khan, who plays the evil Langda Tyagi brilliantly. His looks, his mannerisms, his body language, his overall behavioral pattern takes you by complete surprise. The actor deserves distinction marks for portraying the role with such realism that you start hating him after a point. Sure, the actor deserves the highest award for this role!” For his transformation to Langda Saif was honored with many awards for the Best Actor in a Negative Vole including Filmfare, Star Screen and Zee Cine Awards.

Again 2007 had Saif taking on two eclectic characters and both were very far from Langda. Eklavya: The Royal Guard, was his first release of the year and this film also had mother and son appearing together in a film. Though Eklavya: The Royal Guard was not well received at the box office, it was India’s entry to the Oscars. His second release was Siddharth Anand’s Tara Rum Pum where we saw him once again team up with co-star Rani Mukerji. The film was average hit at the box office and Saif’s performance was yet again appreciated.

This Friday will see the release of yet another Saif avatar in the film Race. Directed by Abbas Mustan, the film boasts an all-star cast along with Saif including Akshaye Khanna, Bipasha Basu, Katrina Kaif, Sameera Reddy and Anil Kapoor. Saif plays a very cool businessman and as he says, “He is the good guy but can be a little bit dangerous.” He performed a lot of dangerous stunts for the role and it is said that his daughter had to double check the safety cables before he could perform the action sequences.

Next to release is Tashan which opens on April 25th, co-starring Kareena Kapoor and Akshay Kumar. He is working on Kuanl Kohil’s next with Rani and in the pipeline is Rensil D’Silva first as a director with Kareena Kapoor and Vivek Oberoi and Farhan Akhtar’s Voice from the Sky with Priyanka Chopra. We will also hear but not see Saif in the animated film Roadside Romeo which is scheduled to release in October of this year.

Looking over his body of work and seeing how he has grown as an actor one cannot wait to see what this mesmerizing actor has in store for us. He can be funny, he can be serious, he can be scary and he can be romantic. We look forward to many more new avatars and surprising performances from one of our favorite actors.

Fun Facts:
Nickname: Chote Nawab. He comes from a royal family and his father is the Nawab of Pataudi so he is called the Little Prince.

He along with Rani Mukerji and Aishwarya Rai performed at the Closing Ceremony of the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, Australia.

To help raise funds to support victims of the Indian Ocean Earthquake, Saif performed and the Help! Telethon concert in 2005.

In 2004 he was part of the Temptations World tour and appeared with Shahrukh Khan, Rani Mukerji, Preity Zinta, Arjun Rampal and Priyanka Chopra. 2006 saw him on tour again with the Heat Concert along with Akshay Kumar, Preity Zinta, Sushmita Sen and Celina Jaitley.

He is a musician as well as actor. He is a classically trained pianist and can also play a mean rock guitar. He has performed with the rock band Parikrama in several concerts.

He married Amrita Singh in October 1991 and they have two children Sarah and Ibrahim. They divorced in 2004.

Currently dating Kareena Kapoor.

Turns-ons: “Ajanta-Ellora sculptures as well as humility in people who are successful.”

Turns-offs: “Pretentious people trapped by the transient things in life.”

Favorite Drink: “I’ve been brainwashed by TV. It’s only Coca Cola for me.”

Favorite Book: “Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead. It’s the only book I’ve read more than twice.”

His secret ambition is “Though it’s not so secret, not many are aware that I yearn to be a successful movie star.”

Terrified of: “Premature aging, paralysis death…losing my family…being poor and unhappy. Actually I make a brave attempt not to be afraid because fear intensifies when you try to drive it away. If you accept it, it dissolves.”

Once answered that on a blind date he would go out with: “Any playboy centre spread in last 75 years. Ideally, Raquel Welch or Ursula Andress.”

Regret: “And I sometimes wish I had taken up the role of Salman Khan in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai.”

He is listed as a Playback Singer for Hum Saath Saath Hain.

Revealed in an interview that Parineeta might have been set in modern times: “That’s true, we did a trial of Parineeta where the film was created in modern settings; among the scenes that were shot was the song ‘Piyu Bole’. But I along with everyone else were convinced that it wasn’t working out. The soul was somewhere lost. Parineeta comes alive only when it is told from its age. So sixties it had to be!”

It has also been reported that originally Saif was offered the role of Girish but he fought for and won the role of Shekhar.

Once said, “I operate on instinct. I need to be excited about a project. One can’t predict what will run and what won’t, so the best way to go about it is to do films that you yourself would enjoy watching.

If you’re getting off on it, giving it your all, then people will enjoy watching it. You should work in films you want to. I look at it this way. If I was a member of the audience and if I liked Saif, I would be, like, okay, I want to go and see his film because I think he’s going to do something different. So it’s my responsibility to live up to that expectation.”

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