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Saif Ali Khan and multi-starrers: Ahead of Vikram Vedha, how the actor made a successful career from playing 2nd lead

As Vikram Vedha gets ready to hit cinema halls, here's looking back at Saif Ali Khan's career that has been dotted by multi-starrers, which not only got him meatier roles but also awards.

Saif Ali Khan has shone in films like Main Khiladi Tu Anari, Kal Ho Na Ho and is set to now star in Vikram Vedha.

During his visit to Koffee with Karan 7, Akshay Kumar candidly confessed how Bollywood heroes are scared of doing multi-starrer films. Given how hero-worshipping is common in the country, his statement didn’t come as a surprise to many. Most leading men in films want to shoulder their project and often spend sleepless nights when they have to share screen space with another big star. However, we have seen a shift as a few stars, confident in their skin, have picked up multi-cast projects. Vikram Vedha, that’s set to release on Friday, is one such example. While the original too had stars Vijay Sethupathi and R Madhavan in the leads, the Hindi adaptation has Hrithik Roshan and Saif Ali Khan taking charge.

Recently, at a press meet, Hrithik opened up about signing multi-hero films stating that it makes ‘work easier’ for him. Citing examples of his outings Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara and War, he said, “My first instinct is to say, ‘It just makes your work so much easier and better.’ You get to see more. So I don’t think an actor should be opposed to it. I would love to do an ensemble, the more the merrier. Because working in those equations where you’re not standing by yourself, but you have to relate and give and take with other important, or more important characters in the same film, are your access points to growing. I did ZNMD, War and now with Saif, it really pushes you to be better because you’re seeing wonderful acting in front of you. And for me, it has been an incredible experience, every time I’ve done a two-hero film or an ensemble. It’s been way better and fun for me.”

Saif Ali Khan, Raveena Tandon and Akshay Kumar in Keemat. (Express Archive)

While Hrithik has made these choices in the last few years, his co-star Saif Ali Khan has never shied away from working on multi-starrer. Ever since the start of his career, the Nawab has worked with other stars, sometimes to an equal extent and sometimes, even as a second fiddle. Interestingly, most of his biggest hits, critical and box office wise, have been films where he has starred with another hero. Even Saif’s choices on the OTT have been likewise, be it Sacred Games or Tandav.

Saif started on a high starring alongside Aamir Khan with Yash Chopra’s Parampara in 1993 but it seemed like the eldest child of Sharmila Tagore, wasn’t quite ready to blossom into films. After a series of flops, Saif was roped in to pair up with Akshay Kumar in two films — Yeh Dillagi and Main Khiladi Tu Anari, and he stuck gold. Both emerged as the highest-grossing films in the year and helped the actor find a strong footing in Bollywood. He was noticed for his comic timing and dance moves, and it looked like the actor was set to finally live his dream. However, his hopes came crashing down as his next set of films like Suraksha, Ek Tha Raja, Dil Tera Diwana, Keemat and Humse Badhkar Kaun, among more, tanked at the box office.

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Saif Ali Khan, Ajay Devgn, Manisha Koirala and Namrata Shirodkar in Kacche Dhaage. (Express Archive)

It was soon assumed that his career was over, and rightly so, as for four consecutive years, the actor did not see any success. And then, in 1999, the actor appeared in Kachche Dhaage, Aarzoo, and Hum Saath-Saath Hain, all of which hit the right notes at the box office. All of these films had him working with other stars — Ajay Devgn, Akshay Kumar, and Salman Khan, respectively, and gave him a chance to showcase his many aspects. While it might have been frightful to be looked upon as the ‘supporting actor’, Saif found comfort and some good roles on the way.

In 2001, after a lukewarm Love Ke Liye Kuch Bhi Karega with Fardeen Khan and Aftab Shivdasani, Saif Ali Khan starred in Farhan Akhtar’s debut directorial Dil Chahta Hai. The coming-of-age film for the first time celebrated bromance and gave equal weightage to its actors Saif, Aamir Khan and Akshaye Khanna. Now a cult classic, Dil Chahta Hai won a National Award for the best film, and also a series of awards for Saif.

Akshay Khanna, Saif Ali Khan and Aamir Khan in a still from Dil Chahta Hai. (Express Archive)

His career, no less than a roller-coaster ride, went through a dip again, until Saif Ali Khan signed up for Kal Ho Na Ho in 2003. Pitted against Shah Rukh Khan, Saif played a charming young man trying to win the love of his best friend, played by Priety Zinta. In an interview, the actor mentioned how the success of the film led him to bag his ‘first solo lead’ Hum Tum. “I was the last of the second leads. I felt a coming of age. I was working with the very best in the industry. Director, co-stars, DOP — and I held my own. I felt Shah Rukh taught me so much — mainly the responsibility of the main lead, but keeping up with him was a real challenge. This role led to me getting my first solo lead,” BollywoodLife quoted him.


While Hum Tum won him a National Award, it also gave filmmakers the confidence to get Saif to headline projects, from Parineeta, Ek Hasina Thi to Salaam Namaste. However, even then the 52-year-old chose to be part of a number of multi-starrers. Starting with Being Cyrus with Naseeruddin Shah, Omkara with Ajay Devgn, Eklavya and Aarakshan with Amitabh Bachchan, Race with Anil Kapoor and Akshay Khanna and even Tashan with Akshay Kumar. In the meantime, Saif Ali Khan also topped his filmography with a few solo films like Love Aaj Kal, Agent Vinod, Tara Rum Pum and Cocktail.

In 2013, he featured in the thriller Race 2 and zombie-comedy Goa Goa Gone, and the next year in comedy-drama Humshakals, all being multi-starrers. After playing the lead in Phantom, Saif found himself again sharing space with another hero (Shahid Kapoor) in Rangoon. Then came Chef and Kaalaakandi, before he signed up for Netflix India’s first original Sacred Games. Even though he played the lead, the show had some outstanding character roles, who stood out, plus Nawazuddin Siddiqui as the antagonist, who took up equal screen space. However, it did him real good as he instantly gained a massive global audience.

His next films Bazaar and Laal Kaptain failed making the buzz of him being jinxed as a solo hero growing louder. Then came Tanhaji (2020) with Ajay Devgn, that reinstated industry and fans’ faith in him as an actor.  The actor, however. failed again as a hero in Jawaani Jaaneman, only to garner praise in Tandav, Ali Abbas Zafar’s ensemble web show on Amazon Prime Video.

Akshay Kumar, Madhuri Dixit, Saif Ali Khan, Lawrence D’Souza and Amrish Puri at the mahurat of Aarzoo. (Express Archive photo by RD Rai)

His last two films — Bunty Aur Babli 2 and Bhoot Police, even though multi-starrers, however, failed at the box office. While Vikram Vedha with Hrithik Roshan is now up for public viewing, Saif is also gearing up for the release of Adipurush with Telugu star Prabhas and the sequel of Go Goa Gone with Kunal Kemmu and co.

Well, as they say, to each his own, Saif Ali Khan may have found his calling in multi-hero films. May be as Hrithik rightly mentioned, it makes work ‘easier and better’. It could also be pushing your limits to match up to your co-stars or just working at ease without the onus of the film’s future entirely on you. Saif is not only getting better roles, the opportunity to shine but also awards. That sounds to us way better than being the face of a project, only to have it rejected by the audience. And well, till the time his fans are getting to see him mesmerize on screen, they too have no complaints. Isn’t it?

First published on: 29-09-2022 at 05:48:33 pm
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