‘I Recently Got An MRI Done’
Most interviews with Saif Ali Khan feature Kareena Kapoor, quite prominently. But Saif’s journey from the geek in glasses to 90s’ Bollywood star kid, to ‘hey, he can act!’ to producer and father of two, is a fascinating story, rarely discussed. After this candid chat, Saif laughingly issued something of a disclaimer, “Just because you’re good at being an actor, it doesn’t qualify you to be an expert on anything else. But we tend to wax eloquent often, on life and politics, and people listen, because we’re successful sometimes, and they won’t contradict it unless there’s a bigger star who’ll tell you to shut up! It’s very important to remember that.” Excerpts…
You’re wearing glasses (huge tortoiseshell ones). Are they for effect, or are they real?
I find it amusing to wear spectacles for effect. The effect, in my case, is the required effect of magnifying my vision, it’s not cosmetic. I’ve had glasses since perhaps I was 12 or something. I wore them during my films as well, just not on camera. I look very intelligent when I wear specs, I got voted into all the societies in school when they had those orientation things. I looked like a brainy Indian scientist, and it took them a couple of days to realise that I’m academically challenged! I had these National Health glasses that the English government gives you for free, but they’re not very attractive.
You were apparently into literature in school? Yes, yes, it was my favourite subject, that and history and art history. I was completely uninterested in Maths. I have an aversion to figures of that sort. Thank God it’s over! I look at Sara (his daughter) working sometimes, and I shudder. In Aarakshan, I have to write these equations on the board and I was getting annoyed just doing it! I had to learn them and explain them. I teach Maths in the film!
At school and later, you’re also rumoured to have been somewhat of a wild guy?
That’s probably true. Actually, if you go back a little bit, we’re an extremely traditional Muslim family. We’re very secular, cosmopolitan and easygoing because my father is, and my mother has also brought us up like that. Even they have an inter-religious marriage. I think they just look at it as a marriage, nothing else comes into it. But it’s exposure to England early that led to me being a little rebellious and doing the sort of thing that nobody in my family had done, really, because most of the family was brought up in this traditional academically Islamic environment. Soha also has been exposed to England, but Saba’s very religious. But that’s how young people are. I’m not regretful. After living that life, how did you take fatherhood?
I think it was the greatest thing in the world to see Sara being born, and Ibrahim. I think it comes naturally to human beings — when you see a little baby that’s yours — to take to it. But the most beautiful thing about it is, when they grow up to share the same values as you. Like, Ibrahim doesn’t agree with the death penalty. He discusses it with me. He’d like to have one girlfriend only. I’m not sure if he’s going to manage that last one, though. But I admire his purity.
Do you work at keeping your children away from all pressures of your life?
I’m sure we would all have preferred it had life been more disciplined —one imagines like a family unit where there isn’t this kind of separation for children — but I’m quite comfortable with myself, in the sense that my kids have all my love and attention. And that’s what’s most important — a connection with my children. To laugh with Ibrahim or to talk to Sara, and have her come and visit me on the sets in Bhopal. She wants to go to New York.
She’s 16 now. Worried about boyfriends?
No, she talks to me about them. We talk a lot. It’s very important to make time, and the most important thing is that connection. When I’ve given a proportionate amount of time to my children, my work, my parents, and my relationship. When there’s an imbalance, I feel a discomfort, and sometimes I attain this magical balance. Most of the time I’m struggling to attain it while I’m working, and I think that’s my life. I think I’ve explained it beautifully to you.
Your 90s films make some cringe.
(Chuckles) It makes me cringe also a little bit sometimes, but only up to a point. I watch it and I think I worked very hard. I was laboriously dancing away. The high jeans, the hair… I think cinema, particularly with changing trends and (thanks a lot) cable TV and satellite rights that pay us now (I’m saying sarcastically), serves as a reminder of our fashion bloopers. They’ll always come back to haunt us.
But that’s changed now.
I think it’s only very recently that Hindi films have become quite cool. Earlier, there was a class divide among people who watched Hindi cinema, it wasn’t considered for everybody. That was when people were associated with white-suit producers. Now we’re the producers, and we’re quite hip (grins).
After your health trouble, you’ve become pretty fit.
In fact, I recently got this MRI done. I wanted to because I was watching Charlie Sheen in Two And A Half Men (there’s a series where his fastliving character has a heart attack, and fears that he doesn’t have much time left), and he was doing a battery of tests. My doctor says I have the lungs of a nonsmoking athlete. I haven’t smoked for the past two years since that terrible scare, which was the best thing that happened to me, and
with yoga and diet. I don’t eat much red meat, since I’m trying to be fit. My doctor says there are no heart issues, the arteries are rocking.
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