‘My father wasn’t much of a nawab in my eyes’https://indianexpress.com/article/news-archive/web/my-father-wasnt-much-of-a-nawab-in-my-eyes/

‘My father wasn’t much of a nawab in my eyes’

As you can figure out from the noise in the background,this is a very eventful day,and my guest today is none other than Saif Ali Khan.

On the sidelines of his coronation as the nawab of Pataudi,Saif Ali Khan chats with The Indian Express Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta on NDTV 24×7’s Walk the Talk. The actor remembers his father,and looks forward to his marriage,and his new film

As you can figure out from the noise in the background,this is a very eventful day,and my guest today is none other than Saif Ali Khan.…

Thank you,Shekhar,for having me.

Though this had to be set up in such awful circumstances,it is also a day when you take over as nawab.

Yes,but it is nothing compared to the sadness of the day.

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It is saddest that a human being as fine as your father had to get such a rough deal. It was like he was hit by a truck.

Yes,it was possibly one of the most disturbing and painful ways to go.

Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. One of the rarest diseases,with no cause.

The disease seemed to have a mind of its own. The most painful thing for us was his tremendous will to fight it. He wanted to get out of the hospital as soon as possible. At no point did he succumb to the idea of it being what it was. That was sad,because the doctors had told us that it was fatal.

All these people gathered here today speak for his popularity. He was such a benign nawab. Contrary to what that word would mean.

My father was not much of a nawab in my eyes. Of course,he had his lungi and kurta and liking for classical music,but he did not seem so much like a nawab. Even films have a strange,negative connotation regarding nawabs. I was dubbing for the film,Kya Kehna,in which there was a dialogue where a chap catches me because I am not being nice to his sister,and says,“Haraamzaade,something something…” The Censor Board had problems with that word,and they had to dub over that. So the director said: “Just say nawabzaada,it means the same thing…” I said,“Really?” It was quite funny,I think.

Did your father find it funny?

I think he must have.

He was a funny character. I hear stories from people who played with him.

There was this story when he dislocated his shoulder,and he was in hospital,and they were trying to put it back. He was shouting in pain,and the doctor said,“Tiger,there’s a woman who has given birth to twins next door,and she’s not making as much noise as you are.” And he said: “Tell her to try putting them back.”

I have also heard the story of how he took a bunch of cricketers — Gundappa Viswanath and Erapalli Prasanna — to a jungle. And he scared the daylights out of them.

It was with the complicity of Madhavrao Scindiaji,unless I am mistaken. I think it was in Gwalior. They dressed up like dacoits,on horseback. They kidnapped these guys,tied them to trees,took their watches and money. When one of them intervened,he got shot. He fell down (as if) dead. The rest of them got very worried. Apparently.

We can talk about his life and laugh and laugh,because he gave us so much joy. But now,symbolically,the mantle is on you.

It’s more than that. This is our ancestral home,my grandparents and my father are buried at the end of that garden. But today,when the ceremony was happening,I thought about the villagers and the village heads in India — they are so honest and simple. And when they look at you and give you respect — even if symbolically — I find that a very humbling experience. You feel conscious of some kind of responsibility…

You said,in some place,that it’s a bit anachronistic.

Well,it is. Neither my father nor I would like to think of ourselves as anything like that. Your family is the background,it’s not the foreground. It’s not what you do… you must have a job,a profession aside from that. Added to that,it’s lovely if you can come home to something like this.

Who would you describe as more wild – you or your father?

I can never imagine him as wild. It would have to be me. He was like these school prefects in public schools. They were also kind of naughty at times,but they had this uncanny sense of sensing trouble and getting away from there before anything became public. I tended to put my foot straight in it,and then get caught — like in a pub or — you know — in the wrong places at the wrong time. So,I wouldn’t say he was wild,but he certainly knew how to have a good time in a discreet way.

Did you have to compete for your parents’ attention,or did they have to compete for your and your sister’s attention? Who wore the pants in the household?

Clearly,my father,but there was a division in a very healthy way. Recently,when I was in England,having dinner with my parents,I suddenly had this vision of both of them being such unique individuals. They were so different,and accomplished in their own field,and complemented each other so well. So,there were some things for which my father would say,“Ask your mother”,and there were things that we would ask him. When the court case happened with the black buck,he came home,with a sheepish look on his face. I asked him,“What happened?”,and he just said,“Don’t ask.” Then,my mother said,“Give me your mobile,and you won’t do this again.” And I watched him reassert himself,it took him a couple of hours,but he did it. And he said it was not like he didn’t know what he was doing.

Is it tough living in a household so laden with talent?

Being in this ceremony,and being here,I have realised that I am a mix of both my parents. There is Pataudi,and this world where we grew up in,but there’s also films — which is a big part of my life. On this porch,my grandmother used to sit and air these trunks,which were full of his cricketing blazers. I had two blazers in my entire cricketing career. I was a batsman. I would try and bowl very quickly,but it wasn’t that quick. So,his cricketing blazers covered this entire chabutra — he had 60 to 70 of them.

Did you ever try a pull shot or a pull drive like him?

I was a rubbish cricket player compared to him. I was playing for the Senior Colts in Winchester,and had been promoted to number three because my house master felt that if he gave me great responsibility,I would perform. This judgment was a mistake. I was at the non-striker’s end,and this guy bowled an incredibly great bouncer at the other guy,so I said that if he bowls that at me,I am just going to close my eyes and pull it. Sure enough,when I went over to the other end,he bowled it. I just saw it pitching somewhere on the middle stump and coming at me. I closed my eyes and pulled it as far as I could. It crossed square leg in about a second,and went for a four. The umpire said,my god,he’s just like his father. Of course,the next ball I was clean bowled.

Your father was not just a batsman. He was a package,a presence,because he gave India its pride in the late Sixties,and the sense that they could win.

He had the personality and talent to deal with the English,and all international teams,actually. See his interviews,so young,talking to the English commentators,and making remarks. When they asked him,“When did you first think you could play international cricket with one eye?”,he said,“Well,when I saw the quality of the English bowling.” That was quite cool.

Was he tough on you sometimes?

It may have been tough psychologically that I was not as good a cricketer as him. I really wanted to be a good cricketer,but any feeling of inferiority was outweighed by the massive positive attributes of ­being his son.

In the movies,people would see you as Sharmila’s son.

Somebody once asked me what I want to be called. Should it be Pataudi? But I said,let’s stick with Saif Ali Khan. ­Because if it happened to be a ­disaster,I did not want to involve the family name.

How do movies differ from cricket?

I love my job,it gives so many opportunities. We travel,we make money,we are very happy and exposed,and it’s creatively satisfying. But it doesn’t seem as elegant or heroic as being a cricketer like Abba.

In movies,you have had a complete makeover in the kind of roles you play. I remember your mother telling me,“You wait for Omkara,you watch Saif in it.” She knew that was the role that was going to change you.

It’s quite funny. She asked me,why don’t you play Othello? Do something like this. I was in Rajasthan,shooting for Eklavya. Vishal Bhardwaj said he wanted to talk to me,and he came over. So,I said,do I play Othello? He said,no,no,Othello is supposed to have a complex about his looks,and I don’t see you like that. Then he said I should play Iago. And I said what? Where did he get that from? But he said it would be a lot of fun,I would have to change my dialect and stuff,and he said that I could do it.

You inaugurated the ch-word in Hindi cinema. Now it has become quite commonplace.

Yes,that was the first among the respectable movies that used colourful language. But that’s how people talk.

One of my most favourite scenes is your one-way conversation in Dil Chahta Hai.

I think there was a connect between my personality at the time and this Samir character in DCH,who is a little confused about things.

You have had some knocks in your personal life as well.

I wouldn’t call it that,but perhaps it was not the smoothest of journeys. But there was no harm done,really. Sometimes,I look at my father’s life and wish that mine had been as simple,but again,there are no regrets.

So what are your plans after the ­coronation? Is there going to be a grand wedding?

I don’t know about grand,but most certainly,yes. You know,we are doing a movie together,and it’s my passion project. But if you start talking about our personal lives,it takes away from all the work we have done,and that’s disheartening. The wedding will definitely happen next year,and after the release of this movie. I look forward to it.

And is Agent Vinod your big statement?

I don’t think it’s my big statement,but I think that after spending 20 years doing movies,it is something that everybody will wait for and see what my word is worth.

There are three Khans,and there’s the fourth Khan. Are you getting round to being the fourth Khan?

I have great respect for the three Khans. I don’t think it’s fair to compare us. They are far more successful.

But you have done more diverse and difficult roles,some involving self-denial,like Langda Tyagi. He was the guy everybody had to hate. So,is Agent Vinod an effort to lift yourself?

It’s an effort to play a slightly more mature character,unlike the confused lover boy roles that one has been known for doing. When you are 40 years old,you try and play a role where you look young playing that role,rather than looking old playing that role. I think I make a fairly young RAW agent,and I make a slightly old confused lover,which I don’t want to do anymore.

You told me you don’t watch your mother’s movies.

When I was small,I saw Mausam,which was not the best movie to start with. Either she was getting raped,or playing an alcoholic who’s dying without the right medication. For a son,it was deeply disturbing. And a lot of movies were very emotional,in which she would be crying,and as her son,I did not want to see her crying. They were very traumatic for me,but nobody understands that. They say you are not watching these great performances but,for me,it was my mother.

Have you begun watching them?

No,but I should. I will.

Do you ever talk about you being shy to watch her movies?

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No,we have never spoken about that. But I think she knows that. If I were to share that with her now,I am sure she would appreciate it.

Tell me when you watch Aradhana,and we will exchange notes. Thank you very much.

Thank you.

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— Transcribed by Jimmy Jacob. For the full transcript,log on to www.indianexpress.com