Saif Ali Khan on reunting with Ajay Devgn on Tanhaji: He's one of the most confident and generous actors today
'Ajay is one of the most confident and generous actors in the industry. You can be relaxed about having a nice part in a film with him,' says Saif Ali Khan.
Saif Ali Khan’s last few movies may have tanked at the box office but the actor tasted success with Sacred Games on Netflix. But 2020 is going to be a very busy year for Saif. He will continue dabbling between movies and web series. Next, Saif will battle it out with his Omkara co-star Ajay Devgn in his first outing of this year, Tanhaji : The Unsung Warrior (releases on 10 January).
In Tanhaji, Saif plays the antagonist, who fights against Shivaji and his army during the Battle of Sinhagad. It was the difficult, crazy, and theatrical character that attracted him to the role, he says. “I play Udaybhan Rathod, who is a crazy baddie. The only thing I had read about him was in Amar Chitra Katha but we have made quite a few departures from that. He is a brave warrior in the comic but there is no back story. It is quite interesting that there was a Rajput, an Indian employee of a Mughal emperor. I don’t think those days things were defined by religion as they are today. They were usually defined by money. We created a background for him, which is quite nuts. I don’t want to spoil it but it is very colourful, and he is a little unhinged in the film. He is mad. It is fun to play someone difficult and mad. Also, it's a bit theatrical kind of a performance. The film is made on a huge scale. It is larger-than-life, and a family experience. There is history and politics of it all,” says Saif.
Wearing a spotless white kurta-pyjama, Saif is seen relaxing on a plush sofa in the massive library, a highlight of Saif and Kareena Kapoor Khan’s home, which boasts of a robust collection of classics by literary heavyweights, besides a slew of artworks, paintings, and striking antiques. Along with the books, the study also hosts an iMac, and a guitar that Saif picks up and keeps strumming lightly throughout the chat.
When the trailer came out, Saif’s bearded look and kohled eyes reminded many of Ranveer Singh’s epic portrayal as Allaudin Khilji in Padmaavat. A huge admirer of Ranveer, Saif says, “I think right now the bar is set by Ranveer Singh in historicals, and I am quite looking forward to challenging that because that is my benchmark, and this is how it should be. He is the only one I can think of when it comes to historicals. He is super-talented, he is brilliant. I love what he does.”
Saif has done quite a few off-beat films in the recent past. The latest in a series of unconventional roles was his previous release Laal Kaptaan, which he says was the hardest thing he has ever done. “But unfortunately it didn’t find the appreciation one would have hoped. It was the most exhausting commitment demanding experience in terms of make-up, costume, and travel, and the kind of logistics that go into filmmaking because we shot in some mind-blowing places. After that rehearsal, I was ready for Tanhaji very quickly. What was the prep for Tanhaji, and I say it is Laal Kaptaan,” says Saif, who personally loves historicals.
“But you got to be very clever with historicals. It has to have many angles to the story. The bar is constantly being set by somebody — in action, in costume design, in story. So we have to be aware what other people are doing. And if it is a trend to do historicals it is great. We tend to follow trends until people get fed up. But it is nice for an actor to do a role in historical settings because it looks grand. I want to do more of those because costumes and acting is fun. Also with 3D and CG (computer graphics), the whole production gets lifted. The camera work, the action choreography, and the way this film is shot is most artistic. It was like being in Avengers. People who were training us were telling us your foot should be here, your hand should be there, and then the heavy duty sword fighting scenes made it physically taxing," he says.
Tanhaji director Om Raut has said he cast Saif for his acting abilities, to which the actor says, “I never thought of myself to be a good actor until recently (laughs). Actually, I have always been struggling to learn but Om must have seen something. A director told me once that Hindi film scenes should be items. It should be packaged and dressed up well, and Om has done that very well. So when I signed the film, I told him to give me four-item scenes but I think he gave me 10! I was like, ‘Wow!’ (laughs heartily) I have the tendency to underplay but Om wanted me to go over-the-top, which is not my comfort zone. But I felt very enriched, and I am really proud of my performance. I think this is the best job I have done so far.”
Ajay and Saif are coming together after a gap of 13 years (they were last seen in Omkara). Saif is happy to reunite with the “generous, confident, and competitive” actor-filmmaker.
“Ajay was as relaxed and casual as ever, and I didn’t realise that this film is such an epic and work of art. His understanding of CG and VFX is so deep that he doesn’t stress much. He What has changed is now he has more responsibility on his shoulders. When we were younger, we used to talk a lot of rubbish but we always liked each other. We both see as it is and call as it is, and we don’t really get carried away with too much of the frilly stuff as we know there is a lot of bullshit that goes on in our profession. He doesn’t get affected by all that. He knows how to treat other actors. He is very passionate about cinema, and he has always been."
Further, Saif says he missed having scenes with Kajol, who plays a pivotal part in Tanhaji, and is also his co-star of films like Yeh Dillagi and Hameshaa. “Sadly, I have no scenes with Kajol. That is someone I have shared nice screen chemistry with,” he adds.
This brings us to his other favourite co-actor Rani Mukerji. After 11 years, Saif will reunite with his Hum Tum heroine in the sequel of 2005 heist comedy Bunty Aur Babli, which was recently announced by Yash Raj Films. “I am very happy about working with Aditya Chopra again. He is the finest mind in movies. Rani and I share a very interesting energy on screen, and I am really excited to work with her. She always reminded me of my working energy with Shah Rukh Khan. I remember she didn’t cut a shot once. I think I was sorting a mosquito. She can react. She doesn’t let it go. But yes, times have changed. We are doing something age-appropriate, relevant, and contemporary, set in a small town, and there is much more to it. We are not trying to do Hum Tum. Aditya is not going to make us do that now,” says Saif.
Does Saif ever look back at his previous work? “Actually, I try not to do that. Sometimes, I think, ‘My God! What was I looking like, and what was I doing?’ There was a time when you were not being your creative best. You were just doing things. I sometimes wish I knew what I know now then. I could have done much better. But it isn’t possible, and such is life. But some of them were nice opportunities. They were great songs, and perhaps good music saved me though I could have performed it better if you kind of connected more, and that took me a long time to learn as an actor,” he says candidly.
Post Tanhaji, Saif will have his next release in Jawaani Jaaneman, a romantic comedy with Tabu and Alaia Furniturewala, on 31 January. Then, Bhoot Police, a horror comedy with Fatima Sana Sheikh and Ali Fazal may come out sometime later this year. There is Ali Abbas Zafar-directed web series Taandav for Amazon Prime Video India, and the sequel to horror comedy, Go Goa Gone, may also go on floors this year besides Bunty Aur Babli 2. “2020 is already packed. Somebody offered me a movie, and I said we can do it in 2021, and they were wondering what I was saying (laughs). It sounded as if I was making it up but it is true. There is lots of work, and I have done lots of work. I am really quite tired, and I don’t want to do anything for a while (laughs). I am nicely burnt out. Hope I am able to take a break soon,” sums up the witty actor.
All images from Twitter.
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