That moment, I felt very justified, but looking back, I’m sorry for the scuffle; it’s another thing to learn from, says Saif, as he opens up on the Taj brawl for the first time
Not very popular, are we, these days?
(Laughs) People are fine about treating you as an old-world person with a nawabi background and all that, so long as you don’t behave as if you think you can get away with being above the law – at which point it brings out anger. Which is the way it should be…
But have the recent spats had anything to do with the nawabi profile?
Well, people are getting on to that track – do you think you’re above the law, you’re behaving like this, you know, guy making this raucous noise and when this bechaara guy objects, you snarl and say, don’t you know who I am (laughs) – comments which can’t be made in a million years!
What’s actually quite amazing is that an argument among two guys, about the same age – tu tu main main ho jaati hai kabhi – and I’m not saying it’s the smartest thing to do, I’m deeply apologetic – but let’s maintain a lid on how far we are going to let this blow up. If you want to drag it to the levels of suggesting psychotic behavior and beating up old pensioners, then it’s just not on. Because had that happened, we’d all have been in prison! It was a scuffle, it was distasteful – but look at the amount of attention it’s garnered. Maybe there’s something to be learnt for me.
There have been other scuffles involving people more (SRK) or less (Mika) important in showbiz than you, but you got the maximum flak… That ‘library’ remark was so you, though; surely you said that?
I did make that, I shouldn’t have… Yes, I did say that (laughs). I meant it! I was saying, we’re not making noise, we’re just talking normally, and if you want complete silence, you should perhaps go to a library… half in jest. It didn’t obviously smooth things over, though (laughs).
Now, since it’s been a while, the way I feel is – I do react sometimes in a way that I shouldn’t. Maybe I will, again, maybe I won’t; I’m not sure. If I had handled it differently, nobody would have even heard of it, and there’s a lesson in there for me. I’d rather stay cool.I feel like a different person when I’m relaxed. It’s always a great thing if you can
be cool. It’s much slicker to be able to dismiss the situation with a joke even if somebody is saying something obnoxious to you, you know, the Oscar Wilde way. This library comment, if it had ended there, that would have been it.
This will probably trivialize the whole thing, but I remember a Bond film where someone’s saying to him, what about this that the British did, this bombing and that, and he listens, and just says, ‘Yes, not our finest hour’. You can also be honest about yourself and say, yes, not my finest hour – and hopefully never again. That’s how I feel about it.
People like to tabulate your life’s omissions and commissions in great detail.
It’s a fact. I’ve understood this. At our age, it’s not cool to be involved in scuffles and all that. But actually it’s a little confusing. I felt, at that time, tremendously justified. But now, in retrospect, I am sorry for the entire incident, I really am. If it wasn’t about ego, and media, and perception, I’m very sure the two of us could simply have shaken hands and let it be, that’s exactly how much offence was caused. I bet I’m as much to blame as he was, though.
What was the Bhopal protest all about?
Well, I was supposedly black-flagged. Before I got there, my mother called me and said, ‘be careful while talking to the press, there are some things you need to know.’ I said, ‘nobody’s interested in any of these old things, I know what I’m doing!’ And later, I sent her a text saying, ‘Mummys know best!’ See, my father was a very private person, and in his professional life, he was even more so. We were never told what he is doing in Bhopal. All he told me was that ‘the only thing you’ll inherit, my son, (from Bhopal) is a lawsuit.’ Which was prophetically said, because that’s pretty much it, really. I paid my first lawyer’s fees yesterday, in Bhopal, we’re involved in all sorts of cases. There’s a lot of litigation. Amma’s trying to sort all that out.
So Bhopal equals legal battles?
Yes, but everytime I go to Bhopal, it’s such an amazing place that I really don’t feel like severing all ties. I feel like we should have a little house there, maybe. It’s one of the most relaxing places; the weather is great, the view is lovely. I went to so many cities recently (to promote my movie) but, and I don’t know if it’s the childhood association, I felt the most relaxed in Bhopal.
The way things have been in the past couple of years, audiences tend to wonder if anything that gets a star talked about when his movie is about to release is simply a publicity stunt. People asked that question about the Taj episode too.
Well, as far I am concerned, I am very happy if they think that I was creating a stunt, rather than think that I am very badly behaved!
When someone comes up to meet you for the first time, what do you think they think about you?
Oh, that’s, umm – I think, with stars, and I don’t want to bring Kareena into this, but she’s got that sort of face – she looks aloof, so you’re incredibly pleasantly surprised if she smiles at you and asks you for a cup of tea. And they go, arrey yaar, yeh toh… and they start worshipping her! At a time, the Poo character defined her, and that didn’t help. So when she would display behaviour like that of a more gharelu character, people would be shell-shocked. People are sometimes wary of me, but I guess there is an expectation of civility as well.
Have you changed much from 25 to 40? Youth – or the behavior of youth – hasn’t quite gone, has it?
I believe that unless you believe something from inside, there’s no good reading it or being told it or things like that. I was told years ago, that if you don’t think like a main lead, you’ll never be a main lead. You have to think like a leading man, you’re being a little vella about things, you’ll then also get secondary roles only. And I was like, really, is there really a connection like that? And there is! Then I didn’t get it, but now I do. So you keep on evolving, in a sense, forever.
Very soon, somebody will say, no, Saif, not you for this love story, not you for a film like ” Agent Vinod”, and by that time I want to have no regrets, to know that I gave it my best shot while I could. For 80% of that film’s shooting I was at my peak level of fitness. Once you’ve done it, you can look back and say, I did do it. Not say, yaar, I never had a six pack, I never had a physique though I had the time, the opportunity.
The Taj drama, the Bhopal episode, movie promos – do friends in Bollywood call you, react, give feedback?
I’m not too good a friend myself, I don’t call many people myself, so… But most have been quite gracious about the Taj episode by simply not mentioning it. As far as films go, Aamir sent a text saying, ‘I’m liking the promos’. He’s the only actor… He’s also the only one I had a chat with after my father passed away. It’s not like we’re best friends, but I gave my first shot with him while he was hysterically laughing away at me, so we sort of go back a long way.
How did that first shot go?
It was “Parampara”, my first movie. I had to look over his shoulder while talking to him, a very difficult, technical shot (laughs). I was talking to him, and then I had to look over his shoulder and go, ‘arre, Papa!’ Yashji was trying to explain it to me for some time. After a time, Aamir took me aside and said, Yashji is not used to explaining to people, he’s usually worked with Amitabh Bachchan and such names, the biggest stars in the country. It was quite a fuddy moment, because I was trying to actually ask Yashji, yes, I understand what I am supposed to do, but how am I supposed to do it?
Then Aamir was teaching me to avoid the crowds. But there were 4-5 pretty girls waiting to take autographs. So I said to Aamir, no, no, I don’t want to avoid the crowds, let’s go this way only! We had some hysterical moments, we did!
One actor as a friend after these many years? Loner?
Yes, I am becoming one. I like the movie world, I really do. I like working there. But I also have a slight distrust of the human relations within that, because I feel they’re governed by the Box Office. I don’t know how seriously beyond a point. To me, a relationship should be about friendship and love, not fear and expectations…
I anyways was never looking to make friends. In your 20s, you have more time and more steam to blow off and you spend more time having drinks with buddies… I got along with everybody. I have had friends in movies, but then I have eventually been more successful in movies than them, and that has strained our relationship. While having dinner I couldn’t talk about something exciting that happened at work…
Leave them feeling odd?
Leave them feeling a little odd, yeah. So then you realize it’s better to not talk about that at all. Of course, it’s not as if you can’t make friends in the industry, but most people are too caught up in themselves… I don’t even see it as an industry, as this cohesive body. I see separate production houses that fall under this term, but the ‘fraternity’ I’m a little cynical about. I’ve always found it to be primarily supportive of the seniors.
When a leading actress recently nearly left “Race”, I was happy that there was some kind of control in not allowing that to happen. Yes, there’s an industry, but I’ve always found the price of membership to be – let me say, it’s not my idea of hanging out. It’s a pecking order of sorts; the big star talks, the junior star listens, the character artist doesn’t do anything. What kind of social scenario is that? (Laughs) If you’re a big star, it’ll be great fun – till a bigger one walks in, at which point you have to keep quiet, you know, that’s how it goes.
All too often, I find it a little fake, let’s be honest, so there are occasions when I don’t want to waste my time.
Are you growing sharper with age?
No, I don’t think so.
It looks that way – from what we read about you, your interviews, arguments, a decade back, to now…
I want to be well read. I bought this book, “The Well Educated Mind”, and it’s given me a list of books you should read before you can call yourself decently educated. I’ve been in the company of really intelligent people, but I’m not very intelligent, which is not to say I’m dumb either. You can make out if someone’s intelligent, or at least if someone’s not. An actor can make that out quicker. Long before they have spoken, dumb guys give themselves away in other ways, even the way they’re sitting. The clothes are also dumb. The whole approach is dumb; people are consistent. Whereas there’s an alacrity in the eyes of a trained person, in reverse.
As Pataudi junior, you’d have surely heard of the advice given to wicket-keepers; don’t go for the ball, let the ball come to you. Through your 20s you seemed to be rushing for the ball; now it’s a more elegant gathering of it.
It was also a question of focus and what’s important to you then. I was like a kid in a candy store! Ok, I’ll be a movie star – and I didn’t even know what it was all about. One day I need to thank the guys I learnt from, from the examples they set – definitely Aamir, Salman, Shahrukh and Ajay Devgn. For sure. I would work with them, and I’d say, yaar, wow!