Exclusive by Devansh Patel
"Let's name some of Saif's films - Dil Chahta Hai, Kal Ho Na Ho, Hum Tum, Parineeta, Being Cyrus, Omkara, Race, Thoda Pyaar Thoda Magic. You pick up a photograph of his from any of these films and you cannot put it in any other film because they are such different characters." So as director Kunal Kohli starts off the Press Meet in London by lavishing praise on his actor and friend Saif Ali Khan who happens to be sitting next to him in his green jumper and blue jeans, one wonders what else was going to be so different from this media event for Thoda Pyaar Thoda Magic? For starters, let me tell you that Yash Raj Films UK very rarely organise Press Conferences. I remember the last time they invited the media was for SRK's Chak De India premiere here in London. Having said that, I wasn't surprised that the drinks were on the house. What took me by surprise was that the Bentley Hotel staff served us some mouth watering starters,Makki di roti aur sarson da saag and pani puri (go gappa). Now where in a 4 star hotel in London will you be pampered so much? So while many of us from the Asian media thought that the chit chat will be all so cliched with the same old chairs and tables with glasses full of water kept for the stars and directors in case they feel the heat of the questions, we were also surprised to see two arm chairs kept on either side of Saif and Kunal Kohli where they began their very casual and an informal one to one with the media while sipping a cup of tea. And talking of surprises, the biggest one came from nobody. I mean, media weren't allowed to ask question on Kareena. What followed next was one of the best press junkets I've been to, for it was all so laid back, cool, funny and ofcourse, full of surprises.
Do you prefer working with the children than the adults?
Saif - It's hard to say really. Some adults can be difficult and some children can be too. But there is a saying that talks about working with animals and children and it's like something you can get in trouble with. The children have weird working patterns. They want to go to sleep, sometimes they have to work till four in the morning. But Kunal stuck to his thought of casting kids who wouldn't look filmi. They should be nothing rehearsed or perfect about them. They should look real, and they were. All four kids brought in a lot of positive energy to the set. Whether it was the freezing water or the early mornings, it was never a problem to work with these kids.
You and Rani have worked so good together. Who's your favourite actress to work with? Is it Rani or somebody else?
Saif - I don't know how to answer that one. I've enjoyed working with Kareena Kapoor as well. I've had a lot of fun working with Preity Zinta too. My co producer for this film, Adi Chopra, thinks that I make Rani cool and he thinks she grounds me. So we both have facets in strength that the other lacks a little bit which is what makes our pair so interesting. Chemistry on screen has nothing to do with real life. I was talking to my father the other day and he was telling me that often in the past, apart from very few examples, real life lovers don't make for great screen partners because there is no expectation or tension. Rani and I did not get along well in Hum Tum but people thought we made an excellent onscreen pair. My favourite personal costar would be Kareena. But working with Rani has been the most effective on screen. While most of the time we were discussing my private life off the sets, I think she is one of the most real and down to earth people in real life and certainly one of the most talented actresses in our film industry.
You've done loads of different parts in your films and the general view point is that Omkara has been the strongest you've ever been as an actor. Do you agree with me?
Saif - Let's deal with this from the very begining. There is this cafe in Bandra near the sea side. I was doing one of the many crap films I've done in the past like a lot of the films I did for the first ten years of my career. So instead of concentrating on the lines for the shot, I was looking at the wall of the coffee shop. I saw fifteen pictures of Brad Pitt and in each picture he was looking different. And I just happened to think that it's really bad that I am looking the same in every film that I've done. As an actor, if you see, Brad Pitt has really long hair in Seven Years in Tibet, he has got no hair in Seven, etc. That thought stayed with me for long. We should approach each film like a different person and try and look and act differently. Little things challenge me. I've been a very lazy and a protective kind of guy all my life. That does not mean that my father did not give me any money while I was seventeen years old (laughs). Nobody's going to buy that because I think I have a spoilt face and on top of that I'm a nawab (laughs). The fact of the matter is that I was in a pretty self made kind of an experience. While playing Omkara, everything is put on. A limp is put on when I walk, a hair cut is put on, there is one gold tooth, a red nail and an accent. It was a performance that was learnt and created. That's easy. But it's equally difficult to do Hum Tum too which is like series of conversations. There is no drama but a mere argument between a guy and a girl for two hours. It was more burden to carry Hum Tum than Omkara because you had to be charming, looking fresh, not too loud and at the same time a bit engaging so that the people would love to watch you talk to a girl. Why would any actor want to do that? I mean it's so much easier to kill a guy entertainingly (laughs). A film like When Harry met Sally is harder to make and act in than Rambo. I'd say that without offending either Slyvester Stallone or the directors of Rambo. I hope that answers your question.
We want to cover your films but we cant write about what we have not seen. When are we going to get a proper advance press preview of TPTM?
Kunal - That's a very good question.
Saif - At Yash Raj, even we don't get to see the movie weeks in advance. (everyone laughs)
Kunal - I think that's a very valid point and I will discuss that with Avtar Panesar from Yash Raj. But it definitely cant be a month in advance like how you watch previews of Hollywood films. That's very dangerous. We all love our films and we're very scared of getting two star or one star reviews. Though personally speaking, I don't believe that reviews make a difference without offending any critics sitting here because I got two stars for Hum Tum all over and the same for Fanaa and Mujhse Dosti Karoge. For a second, I thought that I am a two star film maker. That's fine. Business of each film was varied. Mujhse Dosti Karoge worked big time in the U.K and flopped in India but Hum Tum was a big hit. It got a National Award. Fanaa was a huge success too inspite of the review. But sometimes what happens is that you tend to spread the negative vibe about a film. We Indians like to protect our films a bit. I don't think there should be any problem to try and show the film on a Wednesday or a Thursday before the release on Friday. But a couple of weeks or months in advance is really difficult. I don't see it happening with anyone from India.
Saif - I think Kunal is being a bit too kind here. I'd rather prefer critics not writing any review (laughs). On a serious note, I think you and everyone present here have the right to review our films a day or two in advance before it releases because if the review comes out two months before the film, and if it's like an impersonal or a damaging review, I don't think it makes a good marketing sense. Indian films function on different levels. But having said that, the Press is important to us.
How much of a real dad do we see you on screen and have your kids seen the film yet?
Saif - I don't know how relevant it is. I suppose if I didn't have any children, I'd go mad doing this role. People generally talk to children like they are adults. I mean, you don't talk with them like they are some animated creatures. Yes, you are kind, warm and sometimes having to explain things that are really difficult. Like if there is a God, why is there so much of suffering in the world? Why did Granny die? Where is she? But I still try to answer these questions. I think it's easy and you don't have to be a father figure to fit the role. But when Kunal offered me this role, many said that TPTM is a Marry Poppins copy and inspired. And why is it that even if we can't get inspired from a Hollywood movie? Just because it's an American movie, it's a problem, but if it was a very little on japanese take, it would've been even more exotic to copy. But anyways, here I am playing the daddy. Sharp businessman, almost like a Yash Raj equivalent of Bruce Wayne. There are many parallels between Ranbeer's character which I play and Bruce Wayne. He has also got a butler like Alfred. He is highly succesful, brilliant at what he does and hasn't got time to sort out his life. So when I am put in a situation to handle these four kids, that brings out the best in him.
Kunal - There is also a certain reason why the kids hate Saif in the film, which I can't give out. Saif too is very uncomfortable with the kids. That was something which was difficult because if you happen to see Saif with his kids, he is very warm and loving and caring like most parents are. That was a challenge for Saif because he had to be aloof from them.
Do you associate yourself with the character you play in TPTM?
Saif - Apart from a certain amount of compassion, not at all. Ranbeer Talwar is like a sharp businessman an no interest what so ever in worldly pleasures. I am far more indisciplined (laughs). If you gave me that kind of money and the lifestyle, I'd make a definite mess of it (everyone laughs). Also, I did associate myself with late Sanjeev Kumar saab. I certainly realised that I am playing a little bit older than my age in those waist coats and suits. I felt a bit like an uncle. I was worried.
Let's talk about the critical acclaim which Saif has very rarely shown on screen for Ek Hasina Thi, Being Cyrus, Dil Chahta Hai and Omkara. Do you wish to cast Saif the next time you direct him in roles completely different like the ones just mentioned or is it just going to the same Yash Raj type of roles?
Kunal - Well, he has got a lot of criticall acclaim for Hum Tum and has won the national award for it too. I find it very strange when people say the word 'typical Yash Raj kind of role' because all my four films were different from each other. You can't call Fanaa a typical Yash Raj film because it's a terrorist who falls in love. When did that happen last in a Yash Raj Film? I don't want to make Saif look or do roles like the ones you've mentioned because he has already done those before. I want to show him different each time I cast him. TPTM is a Saif you've never seen before.
Saif - The cocept of Yash Raj Films have surely changed ever since Yashji has stopped directing. Shimit Amin's Chak De India is too a Yash Raj Film. In my experience, Kunal is a very varied film maker because otherwise, many start telling the same kind of stories. Look at Hollywood also. M.Night Shyamalan would be interested in his scientific thrillers. Tim Burton, Martin Scorsese, etc will make the same genre films. Nothing new. Likewise, authors who write books will follow the same kind of theme. Kundan Shah was telling me once that directors like these make the same kind of films over and over again in many ways. Like Steven Speilbergs Jaws and Schindlers List has a lot in common. One is about a ferocious shark all alone in water and the other is about a man alone in the army. Our audiences are also quite lucky because they've got a chance to see Ek Hasina Thi on Friday, see DDLJ on a Saturday and Parineeta on a Sunday. Kunal sometimes tells me that his next film should be different and I reciprocate and tell him - Why? But he says - No. But then there's Sriram Raghavan who will make another dark thriller one day with me. So it's lucky for me. Vishal Bhardwaj won't come to me and say that I want to make Hum Tum. As an actor, we are lucky that we've got to work with all kinds of directors who explore your hidden talent.
What more can we expect from you?
Saif - There was a time when I actually knew that. I was doing such bad work four years ago that I was really frustrated. Somethings got to change. I didn't come in this industry as a super-hated or a cult figure overnight. Yes, it has happened to many and it's one of the ways to enter the industry. Mine is a very unique case. I've just learnt how to cope up and survive in the last five to six years with hitting a reasonable amount of success. There is a lack of fear in me which I like. I'd like to be a big star and earn crores of ruppees and then go and do a film like Being Cyrus. Someone would then question - What the hell? and I'd then answer - Well, that's what I wanted to do this summer because it's just a movie at the end of the day and why should it matter. I don't want to be a slave at the box office. You often get confused just like how I am now (laughs). Right now I again feel like going back because Omkara and Being Cyrus didn't run so much at the box office. I don't think it's a great idea to be too clever in your choices also. But it will be a balance. One day I'm in Melbourne with my hair spiked and dancing in my shorts with Preity Zinta, the next month 'm on this huge set with my hair shaved off going rustic and then I'm in Mahabaleshwar and it's awful because we could have been in New York making a feel goog entertainer, but No. We are in a thrid rate hotel drinking some crap whiskey at two in the morning. But that's the way I see my life. It's good. But you know what I mean?
What was your most favourite magical moment while filming this magical film? and did you play any pranks on or off the set?
Saif - You know, I've got such short term memory. I can hardly remember anything. Yes, I do remember turning up for work on the sets. I think I've become quite boring now-a-days. Somebody just told me that it's the often asked question like did you play any pranks on the sets and I think I should start now so that I have an interesting answer to this question (everyone laughs). It makes it sound awful if I say that there wasn't anything outstanding while filming. The only thing I was up to was to annoy Rani. I know what you mean, I should've asked Iqbal, the small kid who plays the sardar to poison someones coffee or something (laughs).
Kunal - For me, the most magical moment will be for the film to open up with house full boards and faring well by doing good business at the box office (laughs).
You just mentioned that you've done not so great acting when you started off your career in acting. Now you look great and have excelled. Given a choice, whom would you choose as a director or producer who would project you the best now?
Saif - Yeah,, Kunal's definitely up there. He is good because Hum Tum was a big success for me personally. Omkara was a performance in its own league. Even if he wasn't sitting next to me, I'd take his name. Also Sriram Raghavan because it's a completely different school. I enjoyed Ek Hasina Thi a lot. Kunal and I may have a lot in common like talking about the same subject, drinking the same drink, eating the same kind of food, but when you take it to another level like what happened to me with Pradeep Sarkar who directed me in Parineeta. He wanted to work with me again but didn't work out. I was really amazed.
All four films you've produced are with Yash Raj - TPTM being your first production jointly produced by both. But have you thought of producing your fifth film as a solo producer?
Kunal - I hope Adi Chopra is not hearing this (laughs). No. I haven't thought of it yet. But I really cannot think of producing any of my films without Yash Raj Films because of the rapport and understanding I've shared with them since my first film. Not to forget, all our films have done decent business and some even more. And it's not about investing money individually. I can do that but why make a solo production when you've got a family backing you? Yash Raj is family for me.