He is one man every man aspires to be. Royal, sophisticated, charming and a perfect Bond-like personality - suave and smooth. His looks are licensed to kill and built for battle in his latest offering, Kurbaan, where the byline reads 'Some love stories have blood on them'. Well, it's important that he bleeds like the rest of us too. Saif has bitten back at his critics ever since the Dil Chahta Hai days. He is a perfect synonym for the line - Return with the vengeance. He has an answer to all the questions in the world. What's good is that his answers inspire to talk like him, sound like him and be like him.
This Nawab has a presence off and on screen that one doesn't easily forget. On screen, he infuses each performance with authority (Ek Hasina Thi, Being Cyrus, Race). Off screen, he packs a punch too. "It's funny when you say that because on one hand you're calling me a Nawab and then I have to make sacrifices too. Does a Nawab make a sacrifice?", he questions, to which you are speechless and have no answer to give. There are hardly any false notes (except that he ain't that good a dancer) in the repertoire of this actor who recently was at the centre of a media frenzy over his love making scene with girl friend and actress Kareena Kapoor in Kurbaan. But this Khan is too level-headed to be distracted by all that. Instead, he channels his considerable energies and intelligence into creating intriguing characters.
When he talks, he doesn't command respect but gives it back to you. "I'm so sorry to disconnect you like that. Now that we are back, I hope I have answered your question and I hope you got what you were looking for", he says. His words and ideas tumble, and swirl so quickly that the room in which he is sitting for an interview practically starts humming. We're sure it did exactly that when the London press was interviewing the stylised actor in his hotel room. Talking to us, Saif reveals his sacrifices, how unpredictable his girlfriend and actor Kareena Kapoor can be, their poster frenzy and his new name: Antonio Banderas of the Indian Film Industry.
Was London a long and a strenuous journey for you?
Yes and No. The first day was pretty hectic but we had yesterday to relax and today has been quite quiet. We are off to Dubai for our second leg of Kurbaan promotions.
What sacrifices did the Nawab had to come while filming Kurbaan?
It's funny when you say that because on one hand you're calling me a Nawab and then I have to make sacrifices too. We work really hard in our profession and I don't mean to tom-tom about that. But this was a brilliant film shoot. We were shooting in minus eighteen degrees Celsius inside a tube train in Philadelphia. It was getting dark at two in the afternoon. It was like shooting night shifts (laughs). We were quite tortured. But as an actor, there are many sacrifices one makes anyway. Most importantly, you sacrifice your time. You devote everything to your profession and focus only on that and gain benefits later. Films have given me so much of everything I am, really.
Is Kurbaan an enlightenment in itself?
Is it an enlightenment in itself, I don't know. I think Kurbaan is an important movie because it looks at terrorism in a slightly different way. There is a voice of modest charm in it. Primarily it's a thriller with a love story in its core though. That's what is exciting about Kurbaan.
Haven't heard of a greater pathos than the soundtrack of Kurbaan.
Music will always remain our Indian Film Industry's greatest strengths. It's great to know that you are liking the music of Kurbaan. Salim-Sulaiman have done a fantastic job and have given one of their best albums to date. I love it too.
How unpredictable can Kareena Kapoor be as an actor and your co-star in the film?
I think she likes doing, clearly from her choices, very different types of roles and she is very adaptable to the different worlds our directors create for her. Kareena is spontaneous and the most surprising thing is how she manages to play diverse roles more than diverse films.
Films and posters in our Industry have gone through a significant change over the years, haven't they?
Yes, but there are two different things here. Firstly, we should all focus on making good films rather than thinking of international or national interest. It should be a good movie which makes sense. I also hate the word 'Bollywood' you know. We should start calling ourselves the Indian Film Industry and make films for ourselves than others rather than fall under the trap of being a cache type of cinema. Secondly, we produce films, right? I think one of the most interesting things about film production is the first poster you unveil of your film. Like Love Aaj Kal poster took us forever to make. But with Kurbaan I remember we were doing this bold scene and I told Rensil that this could be our poster and he agreed. That happened quite quickly. Posters have to give you the essence and the spirit of the movie.
Does Kurbaan have a backdrop of September 11?
No. It doesn't have a backdrop of September 11. I think the world has witnessed so many different acts of terrorism recently, be it Mumbai or London or the United States that the film has a semi fictitious backdrop based on reality events. Let's not get into what and where because Kurbaan is a fictional story.
Is Kurbaan giving out any kind of a social message?
Yes, there is an important message which Kurbaan gives out. But it's not a preachy movie. The idea is to put a message across in such a way that people think they haven't been preached. The message I think is about love. It is one of the most wonderful emotions in the world. It really does conquer all.
How do you take this compliment? Saif Ali Khan, the new Antonio Banderas of Bollywood?
(Laughs out loud) Again, I wish that people stop comparing us, with all due respect, with the West. I mean, Saif Ali Khan is doing well. We are still benchmarking Indian actors by looking to the West. First it was Sean Penn, then came Johnny Depp and you broke the news about Antonio Banderas.
You've worked in Dharma Productions in Kal Ho Na Ho which was a benchmark film five years ago. Now they are releasing Kurbaan. Times have changed, haven't they?
Yes they have. These are the same people who made Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham and Kal Ho Na Ho. They were working on melodrama and lot of emotions. Suddenly you see them venture in Wake Up Sid, Kurbaan and My Name is Khan. That's really wonderful to see that they are ready to experiment with different genres and knowing Karan Johar for so long, I am not surprised to see the change. For an audience, it may come across as one.
Anything you'd like to mention about Vivek Oberoi and Rensil D' Silva?
I think Vivek has done a tremendous job. He is a very good actor. His contribution to Kurbaan is immense. I really hope this film does good for him and as far as Rensil is concerned, I am really happy that he has made a film like this because he comes from the sensibilities of an ad-film world and international cinema. I'm sure he'll have something special to offer because he is very rooted with the Indian cinema. Rensil is very observant and a very loving human being.
Kurbaan is intense but let me say (after a pause) it is shocking too.