Saif Ali Khan on Islamophobia, Taimur: Why Rangoon star's candour is so refreshing

Sandipan Sharma

Feb,22 2017 15:03 37 IST

A few years ago, Amitabh Bachchan appeared on Arnab Goswami's show and astounded the world with his zen-like disinterest in everything around him.

The interview was shot around the time governments were deciding what people should eat and the right wing loonies were spinning some cock-and-bull over why eating mutton was good but eating beef was both a sin and a sacrilege.

So, Goswami asked Bachchan, the man who is perennially on Twitter, what did he think of beef ban? This is how the conversation went:

Goswami: ...People are being told they can't eat beef, they can't consume beef, they can't bring beef into Maharashtra.

Bachchan: Is there a law? Is there a law that has been passed?

Goswami: Yes, there is a law which has been passed on that subject.

Bachchan: Really?

.................

Bachchan: I'm a vegetarian. So I won't be able to....

Goswami: Sir, don't avoid it.

Bachchan: Sorry?

Goswami: Don't avoid it.

Bachchan: No, no, seriously. I really don't know what the issue is.

I was reminded of the conversation after reading actor Saif Ali Khan's candid interviews that have appeared on various media during the past few days. Khan is on a PR marathon these days, something that is de rigueur in the entertainment industry ahead of a big event. Since his film Rangoon is about to hit screens (Friday, 24 February),  Khan has been active on the PR circuit.

Saif Ali Khan. News 18 image

Saif Ali Khan. News 18 image

Though a lot of PR spin around the upcoming film is expected, Khan's interviews are refreshing because of a simple reason: Unlike most Bollywood stars (Bachchan et al), Khan doesn't play it Saif — err, safe — or tends to get banal and modest to the point of being boring. He comes across as a philosophical man who can handle complex issues with candour and ease; someone who can look deep into himself to come up with beautiful insights.

And he is not afraid to speak his mind. Consider his gem on Islam and the deepening divide across the world on religious line. "Whether Islamophobia helps — I mean, the Nazis were against the Jews to develop a national identity against a shadow of themselves, which is the Jew. The Christian has done that historically with the Muslim. That's been done since the first Crusade, right? And it unified Europe, the first time it happened," he tells Delhi Times.

Then he talks about how he instinctively wants to stand up for his own culture and be an ambassador of Islam. If you don't stand for something then you're nobody, he says — a thought that may perhaps inspire politically correct actors like Mr Bachchan someday.

In other interviews he goes on to narrate his vulnerabilities, failures and decisions he regrets — long hair, glass-of-wine-in-hand characters he played in his early years. He candidly talks about how he was inspired and helped by the other Khans in choosing some of the roles that now define his cinematic oeuvre. He talks about life at 46, calling it a good age because "there is a sense of history and yet you are young enough to be connected to the present".

And then confesses how he had almost decided to change his son's name from Taimur but backed out of a statement at the last minute. Tim Khan, he jokes, is stuck with the name. Even if the name is changed, he would  always be known as that boy who was called Taimur and then attacked on social media for it.

Saif's openness is refreshing because Indian actors and entertainers almost always think a million times before speaking on anything except their work, that too in worn out cliches. Sometimes when they do, like Aamir Khan did during the debate on intolerance, they are shut down by the rabid noise on social media. Unlike a Meryl Streep ripping apart bigotry and intolerance on a public platform, Indian stars almost always refrain from revealing their thoughts on life around them.

It is a shame because fear of speaking up doesn't reveal the person in a star. They remain just extensions of their screen persona, a mask that hides the real face, an image that is rarely the man. For instance, an angry young man who, ironically, is too scared to even speak his mind.