Saif Ali Khan on his challenging role in Laal Kaptaan: 'It was the hardest thing I've ever done so far'
Saif Ali Khan talks about doing Laal Kaptaan, the 'first neo-Western film of India', for selfish reasons, and comparison of his look to Jack Sparrow.
After Kaalakandi and Netflix series Sacred Games, Saif Ali Khan is taking us on a wild ride yet again, with Laal Kaptaan. Touted as a neo-Western, the film written and directed by Anushka Sharma-starrer NH10 fame Navdeep Singh, is set in the 18th century, and features Saif as a Naga Sadhu with revenge on his mind. The actor is unlike we have ever seen him before with kohl eyes, dread-locked hair, and an unkempt beard as he smears vibhuti (ash) on his face. In an exclusive chat with Firstpost, the actor talks about the film.
You took on a role which might have thrown off many. What made you don this unique avatar in Laal Kaptaan? It looks quite intriguing.
It depends upon the kind of cinema you like. Certain scripts that jump up to you irrespective of commercial appeal. There is something about them, and that is just everything about why I wanted to be an actor. In terms of the period, the costumes, the energy of the movie, the story, all those elements, and just to be part of something like India’s first neo-Western was a cool cinematic experience. It was exhausting because given the budgets, and to pull off something like this, you really need a lot of commitment that is beyond normal because there is very few people trying to get something big done. The first time I heard the narration, and got to know it's a Western, I was super excited. I always wanted to play something like this... a man riding on a street, dragging a dead body behind kind of a thing.
Getting into the head space was really quite difficult. Luckily, we were on an outdoor and there was lot of time away from home because it is quite a wild kind of character, and quite a strong feral and animal-like, so it took some time in the wilderness, and then being on location in that costume, you fit into the whole thing. But it was by far the toughest shoot for me. We were shooting in the summers in Rajasthan. It was rough but all that helped.
But it took some doing. You work at it from different angles. You work at it from within and from outside with the costume. It took about two hours to get into the make-up, and it took us about two hours to get to the location. We would take really hard to find some beautiful locations and now that those locations are on film, which is forever, I am really happy about it. The most difficult part was figuring out who this person is.
Actors have often gone beyond their comfort zone in your director Navdeep’s films in the past. He usually presents his actors differently. Take, for example, Anushka Sharma in NH10 or Abhay Deol in Manorama Six Feet Under. What is your take on his process?
I don’t know about his process. But he has made a fairly accurate, historical, and romantic kind of a film. There is something about the script that is a cross between an action historical and a kind of supernatural romantic drama. It had all the elements that I really love about cinema. I still really don’t know how commercial it is in today’s times and everyday Indian audiences. It is probably not. I am sure Tanhaji is much more the tone that people would lap up. But this is something maybe a little selfish but I think it is just too good, and it is everything that will probably not be popular. So let’s see what happens.
You have often said that the movies that you may like might not be the most commercial but doing such cinema gives you lot of satisfaction. Does that come from your orientation, cinema, and books you are exposed to?
That is the problem, and that’s the result of a lot of reasons, the way my mind is. But in the future projects, like Jawaani Jaaneman or Bhoot Police, I am changing tracks. I would look at trying to do more commercial stuff, more comedy and horror comedy. I would like to do a blend of both.
I don’t know if Laal Kaptaan is commercial or not, it might be but I think it is going to be something that I have always been really proud of. I want to own it. I can’t believe that we went through this. It is the hardest thing we have ever done, and one of the nicest stories and just to be part of something that has created a world like that is an attempt I am really happy about.
I am told there is lot of anticipation building up to its release which I wonder, and I don’t how much it is being marketed.
What do you have to say about the comparisons being made to Jack Sparrow and Pirates of Caribbean?
I think anyone anytime has dreadlocks or wears a jacket is compared to Pirates of Caribbean. It will be quite stupid of us to copy a Hollywood film. I think both Pirates of the Caribbean and this are set during the same time but this is a very authentic kind of movie set during the fascinating historical period, and is quite original. It is during the decline of (the) Mughal (Empire) and rise of East India Company. Jacket is an integral part of the script as the title is Laal Kaptaan... the East India Company Sepoy jacket. I am seen in those dreadlocks because he is a sadhu. It is very organic kind of dressing. It is very Indian. We never realised we were doing Jack Sparrow.
What kind of preparation went into it?
There was sword fighting and horse-riding and dialogue, diction, then trying to understand motivations for the character. The usual kind of preparations. Here, the action is quite raw, and the action director choreographed some really good sword fight scenes and horses galloping in small battle, which was quite difficult to coordinate. I knew little bit of horse-riding but more than ever was required in this movie.
What was the takeaway for you after you had done the film?
There has been a lot of personal and professional growth as an actor to be able to bring this character alive. After playing this character, part of my nature changed, and I could push some boundaries and became more patient. Also, it did take some time to get out of the character because living out in a jungle, and being in this look for so long it took some time to adjust to the city life.
It appears you are not too obsessed about your image or the box office collections all the time, like many others in the industry?
It depends what you are trying to do. Sometimes, if you are trying to make a hit film then you are really worried about box office figures. Sometimes, you know that this is not done because of box office, something like Laal Kaptaan for example, I will understand if people don’t get too excited. If it is only box office then I wouldn’t have done this film. It is a little crazy and bit dangerous to do such films but if Aanand L Rai (producer) wants to make it, he told me when he narrated the script to me that it was crazy. But I loved it. It was crazy good, you know (chuckles). You have to love it if you are going to do it for six months and really commit so much. I guess the reward will be watching it for the rest of my life on and off sometimes. Sometimes, as an actor, you are tempted to just do it because it is really good work, and an exciting role. It was so difficult to do the make-up. It was really exhausting. Why would you do that? I guess you have to love something about the role, the character. Box office as well as passion, I love the combination of both.
Talking about image, I quite like the image of being an actor. I don’t know what kind of image within that but somebody who does all kinds of interesting roles. It is a lovely time for actors, lovely time for films with more and more exciting work happening. I will be happy to work with anybody who offers me something interesting.
You have started work on another web series. Would you like to talk about it?
Yes, but I don’t want to do too many web series also. It should be a nice mix of movies and web series. I don’t want to commit. I am open to anything interesting as long as it is interesting. But I shoot one at a time. At present, I am shooting for Ali Abbas Zafar’s web series, and Bhoot Police starts in January next. I am going to make sure that it is a nice mix of commerce as well as something that is fun to watch. There will be lot of comedy (in Bhoot Police), and that content is something keeping audience reaction in mind.
Which is your most favourite genre?
I think after being tortured for so long in this movie (Laal Kaptaan), shooting in the sun, I would love to do a comedy. It is the right time for me to start Bhoot Police (laughs heartily).
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