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Time for course correction: Saif Ali Khan on his new movie 'Chef'

In a challenging terrain: Saif Ali Khan and Svar Kamble in “Chef”   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

After playing myriad shades of Sameer, the guy confused about love in Dil Chahta Hai, Saif Ali Khan seems to be struggling to create a new niche for himself. One of the few stars, who are open to criticism, Saif, during the course of conversation, says he is not desperately looking for a hit. In fact, he doesn’t like the word desperate, which was apparently put in his mouth by a journalist recently. “I am keen for a hit for it is not just about me. There are 100 other people involved in a project and when the film is successful, everybody gets a share of it.”

As for a new space, Saif says he is not looking for one. “What happens is you hit the ceiling somewhere. After Hum Tum, I don’t think any romantic comedy has been able to add to that space. After Omkara, did Vishal Bhardwaj make another film of that calibre?” he asks, and after a pause answers, “It is a combination of factors. ‘Those’ films are not working any more and the new ones have still not started being made regularly. So realistically that is the situation. Sometimes we blame ourselves and get all worried. This year I have chosen correct directors and I have felt artistic on the sets.” Having said that, he quickly adds, “However, I don’t want to pretend that everything is okay. Film have to run also. But these films have more of a chance because they are good films. They have not been made as star vehicles.”

Time to surrender

He is referring to Raja Krishna Menon’s Chef, the official remake of Jon Favreau’s film, Sacred Games, the adaptation of Vikram Chandra’s novel by Anurag Kashyap and Vikram Motawane for an eight-part Netflix series, Akshat Verma’s black comedy, Kaalakaandi and Baazaar, newcomer Gauravv Chawla’s thriller set in the cut-throat business world.

Saif likes the word surrender now, yielding to these young filmmakers. “That is my new philosophy. My director (Vikram) of Sacred Games told me that he wants me to calm down. He felt that I am too hyper. I felt, may be, it is good thing to do in life also. If he wants to block the scene for six hours, that’s fine. It’s his time. Why should I be in a rush. Aap karo... This process started with Rangoon, which didn’t work but I got good reviews. I need to define myself with my work. I have to prove that this is what I stand for and in the last few months I have done some of the best work of my life.”

Saif reveals he is working on his acting process. It is not like doing the same starry turn with Tigmanshu Dhulia’s supposedly earthy Bullett Raja. “The acting is becoming more international now where you can convey an emotion just with an eye movement. Now you don’t need the louder style. I am watching a lot of Al Pacino movies. He is the greatest. Every performance is different.” An avid reader, he is now reading books on acting as well. “I am understanding how to break down a scene and not to ham. It is so easy to play to the gallery. Once you understand what the emotion is, half the battle is own. The real challenge is in not showing it and just feeling it.”

Serious urban issue

Coming to the latest recipe, Saif says apart from respect for Menon’s craft, he liked the script of Chef. “It deals with a serious urban issue — divorce not because of another woman but because of bad time management and priorities in life. It asks whether paying child’s fees is more important or spending time with him. It is all about work-life balance. I don’t know whether it is only this generation’s issue but this is an issue with people in cities. Time management is an issue with me also. I want to spend time with kids but it is not always possible. So I can relate with it.”

Immune to box office

All this experimentation is fine but can stars be immune to box office collections for even when they attempt realistic stuff, they are still expected to bring in the numbers that one would expect from potboilers. “I think they can. At least in my case it is true. It depends on project to project. Certain films are meant to make ₹100 crore. For instance, Judwa 2 or Race for that matter. If they don’t, there is a problem. However, if Chef earns ₹40 crores, it is great. I don’t want to make a niche film, massy. And if somebody wants to do that, I tell him, let’s get the budget and the PR right.”

Talking of wrong choices, he reminds Humshakals for which he got a lot of bad press made ₹60 crores at the box office. “Box office wise Agent Vinod was also a bad decision but people don’t consider it a wrong choice. But I think there is a certain responsibility not to act like an idiot,” laughs Saif.

Right now, it is the nepotism joke that he cracked at an event that continues to haunt him. “I should not have made that joke. I didn’t realise it was such a big deal. I thought I was making fun of myself. I do understand our country is unfairly balanced. There are lot of people who don’t get as many chances or as much privilege as some others do. So we should not make stupid comments like that. I am against nepotism as I have been a victim as well.” Really? “I was replaced in a couple of films in the past even when I was doing very well for all the wrong reasons. Filmmakers called me to say that they replaced me because of pressure. But still the point is I am privileged and it was a stupid joke,” he underlines his intent.

His comments on his daughter Sara’s entry in Bollywood also drew sharp reactions on social media. Saif says his honest reactions are often misunderstood. “It was a father’s reaction. She is a humble, hard working girl, very passionate and has a great spirit. I wish her success.”

Saif has often commented on the socio-political environment of the country. “I keep hearing that Haryana has become like this and India has become like that but there are many things to be happy about as well. The media also creates a lot of stress. Now I am reading it is not a great time for economy. The rumblings have started....” Perhaps Baazaar will reflect on that. “We have made couple of comments but the thriller is set in pre-demonetisation period. It is about greed and I am playing more of an antagonist. It is good fun.”

Bonding over food

“I do love food but I can’t eat what I want to eat. So I don’t love food. Does it make sense,” quips Saif as we talk about his culinary choices. “When I am hungry, I start thinking of burgers and chips – junk food. So the idea is not to be very hungry. I am on pretty sensible diet usually.”

Saif says he is pretty comfortable in the kitchen. “I like to be in kitchen with nice music and a glass of  wine. I can make Italian stuff besides basic Indian items as dal, kababs. bhurji and yes, tomato chutney. Raja wanted me to do lot of fast cutting and chopping of onions and garlic. I didn’t want to cheat. Time has changed. You have to look what you are doing on screen.”

Reflecting on his childhood, Saif recalls, “May be it is not politically correct to say but I spent most of my time in staff quarters because we had the most fun there. When I would wake up, father was invariably not there, mother would be busy in the afternoon, so I would walk down where our dhobi (washerman) used to live. It is the warmth that attracted me. Although people perceive me in a certain way, I am more grounded than most city people because I have lived in places like Bhopal and Pataudi.”

Saif admits some of the bonding was out of respect for the Nawab’s son. “I think there was a little bit of that but I used to eat with them as their food was much more delicious than what I used to have. My food was very boring. It was about chicken cutlets and cheese sandwiches – very dull food. These people had fried bhindi, dal, chawal in big thaalis! My love for Indian food took shape there. Once when the maid threatened to complain to my mother, I remained worried the whole day.”

“I went to school in Bal Bhawan and I would carry bananas, cheese and tomato sandwiches. Once this guy next to me had paranthas with aam ka aachar. I requested him to share and he said he was not interested in my sandwiches. I said even I was not interested, what to do. We both laughed.”

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Printable version | Apr 18, 2021 8:28:57 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/movies/time-for-course-correction-saif-ali-khan-on-his-new-movie-chef/article19783857.ece

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