A star eager to embrace change, Saif Ali Khan is now trying a cocktail of macho and comic

Once upon a time, the name Saif Ali Khan spelt suave sophistication on screen. These days, however, the Khan is reinventing himself in the lanes of Lucknow. Camping in the city of Nawabs for two months for the shooting of “Bullet Raja”, this is his latest outing in the hinterland after “Omkara” and a far cry from the cocktail of urban legends that he is known to bring alive. “When I shoot in North India, particularly in smaller centres, I feel rooted. I don’t get such a feeling while shooting in Mumbai. I have brought my books and guitar but now I am missing my dog and want to head back to Mumbai,” says Saif with trademark wit.

Some years ago a Tigmanshu Dhulia production would not have sounded like a Saif film, but equations have changed. “We both are fans of Deep Purple, so we bond somewhere at the creative level,” he once again tries to subtly remind you not to brand people as this or that.

Talking about the plot, Saif says it is the story of a Brahmin boy who is forced into the crime world because of the system. “It is a larger-than-life story with tracks of friendship and romance intertwined with the central plot, but it is treated in Tigmanshu’s signature style, which means a lot of rustic humour and a sense of believability. I found the milieu tough to adjust to for a few days but, believe me, by the end of the shoot everybody on the sets will become a UP ka bhaiyya.” At this point we have to give our conversation a break because Tigmanshu is going for an explosion. “That’s Bullet Raja for you,” Saif thunders.

Meanwhile, the trailer of “Go Goa Gone” has gone viral and people now know that Boris, the zombie killer that Saif is playing, is not Russian and is actually from Delhi. It seems like a strange mix of macho and comic which the actor has not tried before. “What gives me hope is that my sense of humour is matching the sense of humour of the prospective audience. It feels very bad if only I get the joke,” says Saif with a sigh of relief.

In hindsight, it seems if he had worn the mantle of “Agent Vinod” too a little more lightly the film could have appealed more. “We decided to make it in a certain way and I know it became a little too Western in its approach, but I agree ‘Agent Vinod’ could have been very funny as well.”

Did the film’s limited box office success affect his selection of roles? “Not quite, you could see it from my selection of films,” he points to Boris and Bullet Raja. “I believe the only image that a true star is going to have is that of one who loves to experiment with his image.”

With stars creating their own banners, old camps have given way to new. “Out of the old camps only the Yash Raj banner is regularly making films. The industry is changing and will continue to change, and I have created a small corner. I can’t speak for others and I am not the smartest guy around when it comes to business but one thing is clear; as an audience I love to watch different kinds of films, so as a producer I try to make some. With the proliferation of multiplexes, there is not much difference left between niche and mainstream.”

And perhaps that’s why he backed Raj and Krishna, the directors of “Go Goa Gone”, who come from the ‘independent’ space. “I found the concept progressive both in terms of content and technique and that’s why I decided to produce it.”

But not everybody agrees with him. The film is set in Goa and has scenes of smoking and drugs. As expected, it came under the scanner of some NGOs and politicians.

“Isn’t Goa the party capital of the country?” he counters. “These days every other film sends somebody in this country in a schizophrenic mode. I don’t think people who show that that they care really care. They are actually hypocrites. A section of politicians does not seem to be aware that the country is changing, and if they continue with their regressive thoughts, thinking their vote bank is ignorant, they will be left in the cold soon.”

Zombie films are known for their subversive element but Saif says the underlying message is if you overdo drugs you will become a zombie. “Zombies are human beings, after all. They don’t become invisible or start to fly. It is their relentlessness that makes them scary.” He says censorship is an outdated idea. “I don’t think item songs lead to rapes, and even if they do punish the culprit so hard that nobody dares to get such ideas. Because the danger is if you ban one thing it will lead to a cycle. Then what about guns?” He goes on to add that he doesn’t smoke in real life. “I am going to make it clear through a video that will be shown before the film that I don’t support smoking and it is just a character that I am playing.” Is it required? “It is required, for many in this country feel that people who are smoking away to death listen to a star. I am even ready to tell them, ‘Don’t jump off the windows, that’s unsafe.’” That’s Saif!

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