Saif Ali Khan on Sacred Games 2: Second season is quite twisted; it's more of a thriller now as we're at the climax
In an exclusive interview, Saif Ali Khan talks about bidding adieu to his Sacred Games character Sartaj Singh, and shooting season 2 with Neeraj Ghaywan.
This is an “amazing” time for Saif Ali Khan, in his words. A spate of films may have not managed to strike a chord with the audience but the actor, who has always looked at the brighter side of his choices, is quite excited about the fresh movie scripts coming his way.
But what is most thrilling for the 48-year-old actor at the moment is the Netflix India Original Sacred Games (based on Vikram Chandra’s book) that brought him a renewed lease of success off-late, coming back for a sophomore run. And as we await the second season, the actor, in an exclusive and candid chat from London, talks about the progress in his character, the troubled police officer Sartaj Singh, working with Masaan-fame director Neeraj Ghaywan, self-censorship for streaming platforms, his upcoming movies — Jawaani Jaaneman, a coming-of-age story alongside Tabu, and horror comedy Bhoot Police (with Fatima Sana Sheikh and Ali Fazal), and the one thing he is superstitious about.
Excerpts from the chat below.
A large section of audience after watching Sacred Games have felt that you are an underrated actor and the web show is probably your best after action thriller Race (2008). You are also praised for pulling off a sardar, Sartaj Singh, quite convincingly. How would you react?
As far as underrated goes, I don’t know what to say except that I suppose box office plays quite a major part in that. Being a good actor is not really enough. I think you have to be part of films and projects that people want to see, and idea that resonates with them. Earlier, it was easier when producers knew exactly what they were doing and now, with so many corporates coming and with so many ideas… of course, sometimes it is easy to make the wrong kind of movie, and it is linked to all that. But I am quite happy because I’m not much into past success or failure, and I have reacted quite positively in the sense that I have tried to do the best work I can. If people are noticing that then it is great. To me, environment, and how you choose to spend your time is also very important. So the environment on the Netflix set is creative and intelligent, and you hit the right zone sometimes. Lot of that is dependent on so many different factors and it can all boil down to good luck really.
Not just the nation but world over people have found Sacred Games to be a groundbreaking show. What do you think went in its favour?
It was something so special about the first season. I think the Indian filmmakers and a lot of us are kind of bursting to have the chance to show that we can do something international that is beyond the run-of-the-mill. Anything that we do, we need to know who the audience is. Regular Bollywood movie has its own particular requirements for it to be successful whereas something like Sacred Games frees you of those constraints. You can show a little more in terms of writing, shooting, and even acting. It was a good opportunity to do something in an international way, which has got tremendous appreciation, and that is really encouraging. It is the cleverest thing I have been part of.
And for anything to work, it has to be at the right time. It is also about the confluence of many energies, and luck. The whole idea of stardom and what makes a movie star, what makes a hit film is about the timing. It is no good being ahead of your time or behind the time, you have to be perfect for the time. But there is a kind renaissance, and it is really a good time for actors and movies, and ideas. There is a lot of money, there is a lot of talent, and there is a lot of respectability also. Just the fact that all our daughters are joining the industry, which probably wasn’t the case in the '90s, gives you a good idea about great times ahead. Now with lot more women on sets is an indication of a prospering environment.
How does your character progress and develop in the second season?
In the book, my character is quite lean and fit. We started off with him being quite out of shape. He looked like someone who doesn’t love himself much. Now we just kind of make him a little more fit, he has lost lot of blood, and he is under lot of pressure also, so we thought we could alter the physicality little bit. The second season is more twisted. It is more of a thriller now because things are reaching an end, it’s close to climax, and everyday is ticking by. We're literally a ticking bomb. There are lot of questions that are being answered and there is a lot of tension, and action. It's got a few daddy issues and psychological issues, use of drugs, kind of being out of physical and mental control. So in that sense, it is really demanding because you are playing someone who is really exhausted and strung out most of the time, and someone who is kind of paranoid. It is very tiring to be in the right frame of mind to pull that off.
Your co-star Nawazuddin Siddiqui recently said that he can see women reacting to him differently post Sacred Games. How are people reacting to you?
I can’t say that I have been getting different reactions from women, and I hope Nawaz's different means good (laughs out loud). But I am pleased for him (laughs heartily). I have been getting lot of lovely appreciation. I have really enjoyed playing a Sardar, and wearing a turban. It is something that I connected well. It is a great headgear. It actually keeps you cool, and I don’t like feeling hot, so I am very happy. Honestly, it is very light on the head, and it is something that looks regal. It will be sad to say goodbye to the character as you have been getting up and tying the turban for many days, and it was almost 16 hours of filming. People have appreciated the acting, the show, and it has added a feather in our cap.
How was your experience working with Masaan director Neeraj Ghaywan?
Vikram (Vikramaditya Motwane) is technically amazing. He is a wonderful mind, a really creative guy and passionate about films. He was under a lot of pressure being the showrunner as well as director. He always wanted Ghaywan on this project, and Ghaywan is not only intelligent and intense but also very easygoing as a director. He is capable of whistling and singing on set, and that is relaxing, so I react well to that kind of leadership. He’s utter joy to work with, and if I am in a zone where I am trying to impress my director then it is being in good space. Filmmakers like Ghaywan and Motwane, I don’t know how mainstream Bollywood their ideas are but India is quite a huge industry, and it is nice that these guys are winning awards at the Cannes Film Festival and bringing us respect internationally. It’s after a while that there is a generation of makers who are putting India on a global map again.
What difference did you find in the shooting process?
It is the same. Sometimes, this is faster, and it also depends upon which film and how much time you are taking to light things up, and what you are trying to achieve but the process is pretty much the same. Every film has a different tone or sur, as you call it in Hindi, so one has to get that energy level right. There are differences in performances but there is no difference in acting for a web show or a feature film.
Though you have repeatedly called the web a clever piece of art, isn’t there still an attraction for the big screen and feature films?
Big screen is obviously bigger, and it is quite impressive. Watching something on a big screen is hell of a thrill. When you give a big sort of million dollar close-up, that is something else. But now we have reached a point when films should be designed for the big screen, and very often, they are not, which is very sad. I remember Chris Carter (American film and television producer) talking about the X-Files movie compared to the X-Files television show, and he said that for the movie, he’s taken shots for the large format. But there is also a lot of power, and graphic ability and art in the streaming platforms. There’s enough money and enough control to make it a trippy experience, and also a very personal experience because the ideal target audience is somebody watching with headphones in a very intense way. You can be very creative and have amazing visuals.
It is like how we have different media for art, there is graphic novels and there are books, and comic book. The web thing can be treated as a graphic novel where you can have things that don’t happen in movies, something a little more trippy, little freaky, and little more off-beat.
You have signed quite a few movie projects. Would you like to talk about them?
It is an amazing time as I have received some good offers and exciting scripts, and I am very very happy. The ones I can talk about is Jawaani Jaaneman, which has been an amazing experience with Nitin Kakkar, who directed Filmistan. He is possibly the best director I have worked with. We have finished the whole film in 45 days. It has been an incredible experience. Then, I am very excited about Bhoot Police, a horror comedy. There are a few others which I have heard, and being talked about but until I sign the papers, I get a little superstitious about commenting.
Most online video streaming platforms have agreed to self-regulation. What is your view on self-censorship?
I have no idea. I am sure people are working on that. If your content is strong, you don’t really need to worry, and rely too much on being sensational. I guess they would like as many subscribers as possible, and India is a different market to probably anything they worked with before, so they will have to find their way around the Indian mentality, the Indian law, the Indian government, and if they get everything right then potentially they would hit a gold mine. But to do business in India, you need to understand the mindset.
Sacred Games season 2 is scheduled to premier on Netflix this Thursday on 15 August.
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