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In the UAE Friday to be honoured by a luxury watch company, Bollywood heartthrob Saif Ali Khan opens up about his lineage, his career and ‘Saifeena’

It calls for a certain amount of class and breeding to be gracious while grappling with a personal loss. And Saif Ali Khan, just coming to terms with the death of his father, legendary cricketer Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi, on September 22, has that in spades.
Graciously accepting my condolences with a polite “thank you, ma’am”, the award-winning actor — whose royal lineage is well-documented, with his ancestors ruling Pataudi, an erstwhile princely state near Delhi — spoke haltingly as he talked about the rich legacy left behind by his famous father.
“I looked up to my father tremendously — in almost every way. He was a remarkable man,” said Khan in an exclusive interview with tabloid! as he waited to board a flight to Mumbai.
Often referred to as the Chhote Nawab (junior prince) by the Indian press, the Aarakshan star is aware of his rich inheritance — more so than before. India, a nation full of cricket lovers, was plunged into grief when its beloved “Tiger” — a nickname his father earned for his aggressive sporting prowess — died.
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“He was so dignified and inspired so much respect in all of us. I will not emulate him, but I will try and absorb the very special qualities that made him the man that he is. I would like to carry on the good work that he was doing. I don’t know how to word it, but in whatever way I can I will take his legacy forward,” said Khan, adding that his father supported several charities.
Perhaps it’s this quality that made the Delhi-born, UK-educated star the ideal ambassador for Swiss luxury watch brand Jaeger-LeCoultre. Friday at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival, Jaeger-LeCoultre will decorate Khan with the inaugural Glory To The Actor Award in a nod to his sizeable contribution to Bollywood. But when you ask the recipient whether it was his pedigree that won him this account, he demurs. Khan believes it was a healthy mix of Bollywood and blue blood.
“I think it’s hard to differentiate one from the other. If it’s just my family background, I don’t think they [Jaeger-LeCoultre] would have ever heard of me. The fact that I am an actor in Indian films has advertised my name and made it known to the world. My job and my profession is obviously something that I am proud of. I am equally proud of my family background. I think one complements the other in a way. It’s hard for me to separate the two.”
The 41-year-old, who made his debut in the family drama Parampara in 1992, found Bollywood the best leveller. Film folklore has it that showbiz did not mete out the royal treatment to Khan — whose mother is legendary actress Sharmila Tagore — as he struggled to gain a place in the highly competitive industry. In the early ’90s, he was panned for his effeminate voice and was mostly a part of ensemble films such as Yeh Dillagi and Main Khiladi Tu Anari, which had far more established stars leading the projects.
Cinematic coups
But the 2001 box office hit Dil Chahta Hai — a coming-of-age film about three friends — put him firmly on the Bollywood map. In recent years, he has topped up his account with several cinematic coups. Be it playing the jealous Langda Tyagi in Omkara, Bollywood’s answer to Othello, the commitment-phobe Jai Vardhan Singh in Love Aaj Kal or cold-blooded murderer Karan in Ek Hasina Thi, Khan has aced the acting game.
“It’s been 19 years and I am very happy that I found something that I love and it’s wonderful to be loved so much in return. I feel I am better at [acting] now than I was before. But, I have a strong feeling that the coming months will be my best phase in my career, starting with Agent Vinod.”
The highly anticipated spy-thriller is the next film from his production house Illuminati Films, which he started in 2009 with the blockbuster Love Aaj Kal. Khan plays the title role along with Kareena Kapoor, his longtime girlfriend. Shot on a massive scale, his magnum opus has been in the works for the last two years.
“Agent Vinod, as my director Sriram Raghavan puts it, is a little bit Bond and a little bit Tin-Tin. It’s ultimately an action adventure. This guy is not a copy of James [Bond] or Jason [Bourne]. I am amazed that Sriram has come up with an original character, because it’s so easy to ape a Western spy considering the number of Hollywood films that have been made in that genre.”
Though the plot is intriguing to industry insiders and Bollywood buffs, it’s the on-screen pairing with Kapoor that’s grabbing headlines. The divorced father-of-two began dating the Bollywood A-lister in 2007 and has been attempting to stoke some on-screen chemistry with thrillers like the terrorism drama Kurbaan.
Though it didn’t ring any bells at the box-office, the Saifeena (the tabloid title bestowed on the power couple) chemistry in the film was much applauded. And as expected, the impending marriage plans of this dynamic-duo are debated, scrutinised and analysed to great lengths. Khan is a tad irked by it all.
“At the right time next year, we can comment on our future plans,” said Khan, adding that working together on Agent Vinod would naturally put the spotlight on their personal lives.
“People generally tend to be more interested in our personal life than our professional lives. And that one question in a long-drawn interview ends up grabbing headlines. It negates everything you are trying to put across or talk about. While I understand it, I hope people also realise that I respect my relationship tremendously. Therefore, I try and avoid answering certain questions. There’s so much more going on.”
Dutiful son
The rough cut of Agent Vinod has already been submitted to the Berlin Film Festival programmers. Khan is convinced that it will make the cut.
“Agent Vinod is a very special film. And I know it has been stretched over two years, which could have been avoided, but it’s got some superb action sequences. Though it’s a bit premature to speak about it, I have a good feeling about it,” said Khan.
He will be flying straight to London after the Jaeger-LeCoultre awards ceremony in the capital on Friday, to shoot the last leg of his epic. Apart from Agent Vinod, which is tipped to release in February, he’s also planning a zombie comedy (yet to be titled), plus Cocktail, a romantic comedy with Deepika Padukone.
Surprisingly, his professional commitments have not forced him to turn his back on his personal life. Khan was on his way back to Mumbai after visiting his mother Tagore in Delhi when tabloid! caught up with him over the phone on Tuesday. As he put it, it’s all about striking a fine balance.
“When your father is alive, you can afford to be a bit negligent, even careless. But after he’s gone, I have to take care of my mother and my sisters as well.”
Saif on…
His watch collection: “I love watches. In fact, I collect them and I have a fair amount of them. But I have only limited myself to buying one watch a year and I look forward to it. Also, Jaeger-LeCoultre have very kindly given me a personalised edition of Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Reverso Grand Taille with the Pataudi family crest engraved on the reverse of the case.”
On the term Bollywood: “I am not massively proud of the name. I know, I am nobody to complain. But it really doesn’t do much for our international image. There are certain people who make very corny movies and have notorious dealings with people. They generally colour the reputation of everybody. But the people I have worked with are well-organised and in touch with the world cinema.”
On marketing blitzkrieg that has become the Bollywood norm, such as the RA.One promotions headed by Shah Rukh Khan or Aamir Khan for his rural drama Peepli Live: “Aamir [Khan] has the best cinematic mind in the business. He’s an inspiration and I would love to follow some of his clever strategies for Agent Vinod.”

Prosthetics is in vogue in Bollywood right now. Amitabh Bachchan used it to perfection in Paa (2009), Vidya Balan is likely to employ cosmetic effects in The Dirty Picture, and if all goes well, Saif Ali Khan will also join the prosthetics bandwagon in Go Goa Gone. For his upcoming zom-com (zombie ).

For the uninitiated, Shor In The City directors, Raj Nidimoru-Krishna DK, are set to direct Go Goa Gone for Saif’s Illuminati Films. Also starring Kunal Khemu, the film is apparently about a bunch of youngsters who are out to have fun but get attacked by zombies. “Saif plays a central character and he will be required to look like a zombie in some of the fun sequences. So, the makers have decided to use prosthetics on him,” says a source.

The makers aren’t willing to divulge details yet but don’t deny the use of prosthetics. “Yes, all our actors will surely look their part with the help of VFX, make-up and prosthetics. We aren’t going to stop short of anything to make a good film,” says Krishna. Interestingly, Go Goa Gone’s crew is going to be completely foreign with technicians including stylists, make-up men, action director, editor and cameraman.

“All the technicians come from different countries like Australia, USA, Canada and UK. It’s not a conscious decision to keep out Indian crew. But zom-com is a new genre in India. So an experienced crew will be a big help,” says Krishna DK. “Plus, we have known a lot of technicians (roped in for Go Goa Gone) for some time now. And others came in through references. And since we have the right film to rope them in, why not?” says the director, adding they have agreed to work on relationship basis and will be paid in accordance with what Indian experts are paid. Interestingly, a fresh face has been cast for the female lead.

“We can’t disclose her identity right now, but she is an US-based actor. All of us, including Saif, felt a new girl would fit the part perfectly,” says Krsihna, adding Soha Ali Khan isn’t a part of the film.

Actor Deepika Padukone has started shooting with Saif Ali Khan in Hyderabad, for his next production, which is being directed by Homi Adajania.

And, if the buzz is to be believed, the shooting for the film has started on a secret note. The film has been tentatively titled ‘Production Number 22’. Sources also claim that the ‘Love Aaj Kal’ pair is bonding big time on the sets of their film.

Besides Deepika and Saif, Boman Irani has also joined the party. Boman and Saif are seen having intent discussions about the film, the leading lady Deepika joins only when she is in the mood. The shooting is said to take place in two shifts, to make up for some lost time (was it because Saif took a few days off with Bebo?).

Saif and Bebo recently returned from their Paris sojourn, where they painted the town red with their appearances at many high profile events. Currently, Bebo is busy with her other assignments which include, ‘Ra.One’ with Shahrukh Khan and ‘Bodyguard’ with Salman Khan.

With all the buzz recently about actor Saif Ali Khan working on projects such as Agent Vinod, and Aarakshan and all the news about him being at Cannes film festival this year, we thought we would reflect at the actors past and his road to success.
It took Saif Ali Khan many years to perfect the art of Bollywood acting; we wonder whether it was the bad chose of roles played or simply the British sense of humour that the Indian audiences did just not understand. Saif seemed to have left the audience think twice as to whether he would ever be true Bollywood material.

Son of yester year’s well renowned actress, Sharmila Tagore and famous cricketer Mansoor Ali Khan Patodi, success had definitely come the hard way for this actor, who recently stated that he felt weird watching his earlier films; high waist jeans and the long hair cut. Though a trend setter, Saif was never quite the actor known to deliver solo hero films.
However, all changed with the block buster hit, Kal Ho Na Ho, though the movie starred Shah Rukh Khan and Preity Zinta who were already established at the time, Saif’s performance did not go unnoticed. The film boosted his profile as a Bollywood actor, and thereafter he starred in many successful films like; Parineeta, Hum Tum, Omkara and Love Aaj Kal to name a few.
Nevertheless being successful in Bollywood comes with a price, his personal life was on the rocks, married to Amrita Singh at the tender age of 21 years, Saif began dating Italian dancer Rosa Catalano and ended his 13 year marriage with Amrita. However, that wasn’t the end of his love story, in 2007 he started dating one of Bollywood’s most successful actresses, Kareena Kapoor who he lovingly calls, Bebo.
With the constant media interference as to when will he drop the big question to Kareena, Saif feels that less concentration is given to him as an actor and more as a lover. Well, that’s another price to pay in Bollywood; once you start dating a popular celebrity, the media will follow you everywhere. Keeping it all hush hush about his plans to wed Kareena, the actor has been focusing on his up coming projects, Agent Vinod and Aarakshan.
Now with daughter Sara growing up so fast, and having the aspiration to become an actress already, Saif is one B-town celeb who will always remain in the limelight.
We wish him wel

Actor Saif Ali Khan, who made his debut at the ongoing Cannes International Film Festival, wore a dinner jacket designed by Tom Ford for his red carpet appearance.

A good combination of elegance and style, we must say that the actor represents class and panache effortlessly.

Speaking from the French Riviera, Khan says, “I was at the festival to represent a brand but I felt like I am representing the Indian film industry too. And I feel proud to do so. Yesterday, I hosted a party and truly enjoyed meeting some interesting people from global cinema and understanding their approach towards film making.”

Khan says that what struck him the most was the difference in the taste for cinema between the two cultures.

“It’s amazing how different their taste and palette towards cinema is compared to ours! For me, the ideal reason for coming back to Cannes would be to showcase a movie. I hope I come back representing a film we produce in the near future. For now it’s been a great experience to be here at the French Riviera,” he signs off.

Saif This year is particularly important for all of us because Bollywood will be present in full force at Cannes and I must say that I am proud to be a part of the fraternity that has now evolved as one of the strongest industries in the world. People from Bollywood (like Anil Kapoor, Aishwarya Rai-Bachchan) who are walking the red carpet have made a great mark at the international level.

In my opinion, the ideal reason for going to Cannes would be to showcase a movie, but you can rent space also. The best way to be here is to have a film competing in the festival. According to me these international film festivals are about different members and stars from various countries getting together. I am told that only one Indian film by a Bangladeshi filmmaker, is in the competitive category and that Mr Rakeysh OmPrakash Mehra’s documentary will be in the sponsored showcase. I have been asked whether I find this as a contrast where five Indian celebrities will be walking the red carpet. I feel that, generally speaking, we make different kinds of films, there are commercial movies and there are also a lot of filmmakers who make arty movies and they should be competing here.

Coming back to the red carpet, I know that there’s a lot of excitement. I will be there as a brand ambassador for Chivas Regal and I must say that I am ecstatic to walk the red carpet for them. I know that red carpet looks of stars are discussed by fashion critics around the world, but if you ask me how I am styling myself for my maiden appearance at Cannes, then I must point out that I don’t take the red carpet fashion seriously at all. On one hand, it’s an honour to be there and I’m very respectful of the event, I’m also clear these are part of my duties as a brand ambassador. Nevertheless, I have decided to wear a Tom Ford dinner jacket when I walk down the carpet. As a part of my duties of being brand ambassador, I would be hosting a couple of parties with them for various guests and stars there. My mother has been on the Cannes jury once and when I told her that I am going there, she asked me to have fun and enjoy myself. Kareena, however, won’t be there with me as she is shooting in Mumbai.
I have also been asked time and again whether this is an opportunity to build inroads in Hollywood and who is that one actor or filmmaker I would like to meet at the festival… To which my answer is: I really don’t know and no, there isn’t anybody in particular I can imagine.