Saif Ali Khan tells Harshikaa Udasi what it was like playing a gangster in Bullett Raja and how he worked on the look and body language of the character

At his candid best before the release of Bullett Raja, Saif Ali Khan talks to us over a plate of chips and ketchup about playing a glam gangster and director Tigmanshu Dhulia’s positive attitude. “I believe in moderation in whatever I do,” he says. A plate of chips (his brand, of course!) is kept close to him and he picks up one as politely as can be and pops it in. After three dips, he decides, “No more now.” His dark glares make it impossible to read his eyes, but his sense of humour more than makes up for it. “It doesn’t help to deny oneself. It’s also hypocritical. Best to strike a balance,” says the actor when asked about his dietary restrictions.

Saif has had a rather busy year. Beginning with the blockbuster Race 2, he followed it up with producing and acting in Go Goa Gone and is now the lead in Tigmanshu Dhulia’s Bullett Raja, also starring Sonakshi Sinha and Jimmy Shergill. “I feel I have grown as an actor. I have had a very busy year and enjoyed it too, especially considering I have had not-so-busy years too and that’s a very difficult phase to handle,” he says. “I’ve decided that some work needs to be done that’s non-boring, non-you. I have realised that instead of worrying about the fate of my choice of films, I should just go ahead and do what I feel right about.” That was why Saif opted to work with Dhulia whose films have been ‘non-commercial’.

Aware of competition

Bullett Raja is the director’s first film pandering to the masses as well — which means it has a liberal dose of action, dialoguebaazi and even an item number. Did it deter Saif that he was going down a path filled with stiff competition in recent times — right from Dabangg to Singham to Rowdy Rathore to Boss? “I appreciate this thing about myself that I don’t think of others when I am acting. I believe I have something unique that makes me likeable and I should focus on that. Most of us who are successful have that something unique. The way I have played Raja Mishra (his character in the film) no one else could’ve. In fact, because he is played by me, Raja has an edge. So if you ask me whether I was aware of the competition, then, yes, I was. But getting ruffled by it, no, that’s not me.”

When asked if it was a challenging role, Saif says, “Look, Bullett Raja had its challenges but no extremes. I worked on the look of the character — vest and jeans when he is a roadside ruffian and silk shirts and garish trousers when he becomes an established gangster. We got the body language right along with the diction. He had to have an animalistic charisma. I had heard childhood stories about people in the villages and, of course, no story would be complete without the dialect and local flavour thrown in. So those came back to me.”

Films of the action genre find quick favour with the audiences and, more often than not, touch or surpass the coveted Rs. 100-crore figure. Does he think Bullett Raja will do so too? “I thought that figure had shifted to Rs. 200 crore, hadn’t it?” he laughs.

“Don’t get me wrong. I’d love it if Bullett Raja makes that mark. It has thought behind it; not the leave-your-brains-behind variety.” Remind him that his director has been saying that the film will redefine commercial cinema in the country and the answer is quick, “You know I admire that man’s attitude. Let’s await the response. My next film Happy Ending could be (a Rs. 100-crore film), Hamshakals definitely might. Bullett Raja is by no means a small film but it’s differently handled.”

When asked about the glorification of crime in Hindi cinema and whether filmmakers should exercise self-restraint, Saif responds in the negative. “No, and I’ll tell you why. If we ban films and try to curb the way they are made, then one day this curbing will infiltrate into areas where we will feel stifled. Cinema is not a moral policing ground. Having said that, I admit that audiences in India get influenced, but hopefully people realise that it’s only a movie and nothing more.”

Saif says that getting a Friday to release your film is becoming the biggest challenge for filmmakers. “Small films face the problem of getting nudged out by the bigger ones. The bigger ones have a bigger problem of managing that. I think the audience has the biggest problem — of choosing which film to go given the ticket price nowadays. I hope they’ve saved enough for my film!”