There are some who know what they want right from the outset but Saif Ali Khan believes he found his foothold late in life.
For someone whose childhood was spent with one leg in the hills of Himachal Pradesh and another in UK’s Hertfordshire countryside, the actor says he has spent a lot of time in introspection rather than focusing on the world outside.
“I think I’m a late bloomer in some ways. My acting is getting better and better today. And I think acting is something that grows with time – something as an understanding and maturity… To know what to do what not to do,” Saif in an interview here.
The eldest child from a high-profile interfaith marriage, the actor recalls spending his formative years with the Westerners, whose laid-back, outdoorsy lifestyle he identifies with.
But living in Bombay, the actor says being introspective has now become a way of life.
“When I’m abroad, I’m out all the time, running around Taimur or going out to lunch and dinner, not in a very touristy way, but quite chilled out,” Saif says.
“Living in Bombay, I don’t go out much. In Bombay, no matter how much money you have, it’s better to be inside, at least, for me. I’ve spent a lot of time inward looking rather than outward looking. So I read, I think and I read more. And I listen to music,” he adds.
Saif, who later enrolled in Winchester College, says it is only now that “the ancient halls of education” finally clicked something in him and he tries to understand what the teacher meant while talking about ‘Ring Cycle’ by German composer Richard Wagner.
“I’d listen to Wagner’s Ring and think let me read the translation while I’m listening to it and some ridiculous things like this, which I would never do normally. I have become more and more academic for some reason…
“I look up those things now and I read about them and I have a curious mind. A lot of looking inward has made me used to reading, thinking and sometimes I answer questions like what I’m feeling and it leads to at least the illusion of understanding,” he says.
The actor will next be seen in “Baazaar”, which is based in stock market with a mentor-protege relationship as its spine and he dubs the film as the rise of the anti-hero.
Saif plays a seasoned stock trader, Shakun Kothari, who unlike his previous suave-oozing roles, is a “bit crass in places”.
“There might be a little grace to the character. I think when I was a kid I used to watch Alain Delon movies. He was the best looking guy that’s ever been. This French actor used to play these slightly darker roles but he used to give it a little style and in my head I thought, that’s cool. I’ve always been slightly intrigued by darkness more than the light side of things.
“I find light to be misleading or boring. But as one gets old, even light needs strength to be reflected or to play Ram or to play a hero properly. You have to tap into different things. It’s just something I enjoy. I actually wouldn’t mind cornering the market (of anti-hero). It would be good fun to be known as that. Whereas earlier, people used to be like ‘Oh, you are playing negative roles’. Now, it’s becoming more grey.”
Besides “Baazaar”, the actor will also be seen in period drama “Tanaaji: The Unsung Hero” alongside Ajay Devgn, who plays the title role.
Saif is reportedly set to play Udaybhan Rathod, the Rajput officer and fortkeeper appointed by Jai Singh, chief of the Mughul army under Aurangzeb.
He says the kind of roles he has been finding are some negative roles, but he believes they are actually anti-heroes.
“‘Tanaaji’ director said, ‘You’re like Imran Khan or Shahid Afridi. It’s like you are the cricket captain of Pakistan. You’re amazing but you’re on the wrong side.”
And yet his filmography finds space for a struggling, good cop, Sartaj Singh in “Sacred Games”. The actor is floored by the reviews of the show and is excited for the second run of the Netflix India original.
The audience ate right out of Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s hands for channelling the Ganesh Gaitonde’s in-your-face assurance and notoriety and Saif remembers having an argument with director Vikramaditya Motwane on why was his Sartaj “so passive”?
“I felt like he’s getting slapped by everybody. What’s happening? Some second rate thug Bunty is jhaaping him. I got irritated. But it takes time. And if you see the show and I saw it much later… I asked him, ‘Are you sure you want me to do this role because this other guy has such a fun colour?’ and I was told that those things are true but we have seen that before.
“So I said to myself that ‘just be confident’. Sartaj is a fascinating character. He’s holding the show forward. Technically, the show is not moving forward without him. He is the soul and grounds it. And then, you need something to believe in otherwise everyone can be immoral,” he says.
The actor says it has been a different role for him in terms of responsibility.
“The idea was not to get tensed that the other guy is seeming to get all the attention but just more attention. And on a deeper level, and enough journalists have said it to me to get my justification — that it is Sartaj’s show.
“He could have easily been this gun-toting cop but he’s not. He’s screwed on every level in his personal life. He’s trying to commit suicide, maybe by drinking the drain cleaner. Everyone is hitting and punching him, he’s so down. Perhaps that’s what made us feel that he’s different. I think the fact that I did it and did it quite willing to get slapped made a difference.”
Saif also has projects such as Navdeep Singh’s “Hunter” in which he plays a Naga sadhu and family comedy “Jawaani Jaaneman”, which he will also co-produce.
Also starring debutante Rohan Mehra, Chintrangda Singh and Radhika Apte, “Baazaar” releases Friday.