Thankfully, Saif Was Dropped From His First Film ‘Bekhudi’
As Chhote Nawab turns 46, we look back to his foray into filmdom.
He’s 46 and not out today. Sure, his career is in a state of flux. Whose isn’t except Salman Khan’s actually? And Saif Ali Khan and his begum Kareena Kapoor Khan are parents-to-be. Life’s cool.
Now, the Khan I’d like to recall on his birthday is essentially through some flashback vignettes, from the days he was Saifu - a pleasantly plump boy, skulking around the terrace-house apartment of Sharmila Tagore on Mumbai’s Altamount Road.
La Tagore was holding forth on how and why she thought there was nothing bipolar about doing a Satyajit Ray masterpiece and a Bollywood pout-boiler at the same time.
A late evening interview was on for a Filmfare cover story but Saifu craved mamma’s attention. At the age of eight or thereabouts, he also wanted a sip of the scotch which dad Pataudi was sipping, while reclining on a silver chair. No way. The unamused cricket legend instructed him to behave.
Saifu wouldn’t quit intervening in the Q & A with Sharmila ji, not exactly an endearing trait for a journo eager to complete the questions in his battered quiver. That was the last time I saw Saif in a restless mood though. A decade later, he fetched up in Mumbai from Winchester college, UK, sophisticated and courteous, into aadabs, salaams and duas. A statement ascribed to him maintains that he wasn’t academically inclined. He was aspiring for B-town fame.
Mum Sharmila entrusted him to the care and guardianship of Gulzar. From what I can recall, the patient lyricist-filmmaker’s hair thinned overnight. Saif would return home late, well beyond midnight, a no-no for Gulzar saab, who retires for the day shortly after 10 pm TV news (which meant Doordarshan).
Meanwhile, stories abounded that Pataudi Jr would get tipsy pretty often, was dating (gasp) Moon Moon Sen, had crashed a snazzy sports car into a wall. Quite expectedly, the England-returned boy also became Pali Hill-returned.
He would have to fend for himself, get serious, not hang around 24x7 with buddy Kamal Sadanah if he wanted to take his career seriously.
Disciplinarian director Rahul Rawail tossed Saif Ali Khan out of Bekhudi. Co-star Kajol and Saifu would initially travel together from their South Mumbai homes to the studios. Kajol was fond of him but couldn’t argue for his retention in the project.
No one can assuage a director bedevilled by a newcomer’s indiscipline. Seems after being dropped out of Bekhudi, Saif was untraceable for a week. Must have hurt.
Ironically, Kamal Sadanah was cast in Bekhudi, which alas turned out to be eminently forgettable, except for introducing Kajol. Saifu was noticed in Yash Chopra’s Parampara, co-starring Aamir Khan, and in the romcom Aashiq Awara in which he wooed Mamta Kulkarni (yeaaah).
Mum Sharmila would lament, “I’m worried about Saif. Do you think he can act?”
I gave one of those non-committal shakes of the head. The nawab boy would be polite (still is) and addressed me as, “Sir” which was a first, and last. No one calls me sir.
I bid other patrakar colleagues to ask him about his women – always great grist for the mill.
But I had to phone him and then his first biwi Amrita Singh to confirm the news that they’d married hush-hush. “OF COURSE NOT!” they yelled, “Such misleading gossip.” The next day, they apologised, “Errr, yes but we weren’t sure how our parents would take it.”
Life settled for Saif and Dingy in Belscott bungalow in Versova. Odd rumours bristled. He’d been spotted walking his dog wearing a pink nightie, a tabloid alleged.
Whatever. Dingy rubbished such tidbits and insisted that rumours were weird. She would get upset about the gossip vine connecting him to Zoya Akhtar and Smriti Mishra fleetingly.
The good news was that Saif Ali Khan was doing a decent job of his career. He was pretty neat in Yeh Dillagi, Main Khiladi Tu Anari, Kache Dhaage and Kya Kehna. He had a flair for comedy. He had snagged the Fimfare Award for the Best Male Debut for Aashiq Awara.
Subsequently, he didn’t like being awarded in the ‘inferior category’ of Best Comic Actor for Dil Chahta Hai. The trophy was accepted reluctantly. Thereon, no problems. He gladly took home trophies for the Best Supporting Actor For Kal Ho Naa Ho and the Best Villain for Omkara.
Eyebrows were raised he won the Best Actor National Award for Hum Tum defeating the favourite nominee Sachin Khedekar for portraying Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose in Shyam Benegal’s biopic Bose: The Forgotten Hero. How nice. Now mum Sharmila must have been assured that the Aashiq Awara boy can act, never mind those early days of carping Cassandras.
I haven’t collided into Saifu, save for a desultory interview or two over the last decade. Just as well. Because the Saif Ali Khan I’m still fond of, is that pleasantly plump boy who kept insisting on a sip of scotch, and wasn’t given one.
(The writer is a film critic, filmmaker, theatre director and a weekend painter.)
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