“Nothing gives as healthy a return on investment as acting” — Saif Ali Khan
“I think I can somehow pass off as a Pakistani!” — Kareena Kapoor
After countless interviews, it’s only natural to think you’ve nailed the process down to where it could be done blindfolded. But all it takes is a super celebrity to turn those thoughts on their head.
After the censorship debacle that became Agent Vinod and Saif Ali Khan’s latest film, Cocktail, with Deepika Padukone and Diana Penty playing at cinemas across Pakistan, as well as Kareena Kapoor’s Heroine slated for a September 21 release, getting to interview both the stars on phone seemed too good to be true. Fortunately, Pakistan’s been seeing a flux of celebrities from across the border and the couple were recently featured sharing grooming advice on ads and billboards, which made it easier to arrange for their interviews.
Images on Sunday (IoS) tried but their schedules wouldn’t permit them being interviewed together — Saif was shooting an unnamed film with Shahrukh Khan while Kareena was being photographed, presumably for more commercials.
For the longest time, it seemed like the interviews wouldn’t happen. It took nearly two weeks to plan, and though the time slots were fixed, nearly a half-dozen delays (some veiled much too conspicuously as “We can’t hear you”) made it seem like the recorder would be going back to its drawer with only a bunch of ‘hellos’ on it. In the weirdest of scenarios, we had to conduct the first interview with Kareena Kapoor in someone’s car over a phone call that was routed to the vehicle’s blue tooth stereo so we could hear her loud and clear.
KK: Yes. Hi, it’s Kareena here.
(Oh my God! Then the phone line dropped and we had to resort to another round of hellos, can you hear us nows, etc, before she was back on line and we decided to jump right into it)
IoS: You’ve played Pakistani characters in two of your films. Is it something that interests you because it offers a complicated character or is it usually just another role?
KK: I played a Pakistani in Qurban, Agent Vinod, right to Refugee. I think that somehow I can pass off as a Pakistani because I think (laughs) I look the part. And I take it as a compliment. I’ve been offered those kinds of roles and obviously I like the part and the script.
IoS: You’re arguably the most popular Kapoor of the current generation, and considered one of the most successful actresses in Bollywood (if not the most). How do you deal with the pressure to deliver with each film?
KK: Honestly, I’ve never really looked at it like that. I’ve just continued with my work, never really measured how successful I am, even though it is very important. I think coming from a family that has a background in films, it’s always a little bit more about acting and performances. Fortunately, I enjoy acting. It’s something that I just love to do.
IoS: Do you ever feel overly scrutinised?
KK: Well, I don’t know. I’m sure everyone feels that way. But I guess yeah, nowadays everything is out there in your face, in the media. Professionally, personally, everything is under scrutiny but you just tend to ignore it after a point.
IoS: If you had the choice, which one of Raj Kapoor’s films would you want to be a part of?
KK: I have always been a fan of Prem Rog. I think the girl is a very strong character in the film. I’d love to be a part of that.
IoS: You’ve tried your hand at strong female roles with Chameli, Refugee, etc. But as of late there is a trend towards item numbers. Do you feel Bollywood actresses are now choosing item numbers over roles?
KK: Well, no. I think it’s fun to do that and I’m doing a song like that in Dabangg 2. Ideally, it depends on the film; sometimes we do songs for a friend, sometimes if we decide we like a particular song it should be a part of the film. As long as it moves the story forward or as long as the song is somewhere connected to the script, I think it’s fine.
IoS: Rishi Kapoor once said, ‘movies should sell dreams not reality’. Do you think Bollywood is going to begin moving away from its staple of romance and more towards action films such as Agent Vinod? Do you also think we’re ever going to see a Bollywood version of a female as a superhero, like Shahrukh Khan in Ra-One?
KK: Yes, absolutely! There have been a lot of action films in the past and I think we’ve been mixing it all up in the last few years, and not just romantic comedies. But you know, I’m not much into action. I hope we can someday (have women in lead action roles), there are so many actresses that are so fit, and I’m sure they can but I’m not very action-oriented.
IoS: How has your experience been working with Pakistanis such as Rahat Fateh Ali Khan?
KK: Rahat has sung for quite a few of my films, including Bodyguard. He’s absolutely amazing; I’m a huge fan of his.
IoS: When do you and Saif plan to tie the knot?
KK: (Laughs). I’m sure you guys will be the first to know when it happens!
IoS: How do you like being branded as Saifeena?
KK: Not really. I don’t think we both enjoy that. We try to be separate individuals, we’re both in separate films.
IoS: But you guys are going to be the biggest power couple the region has ever seen?
KK: I don’t think we ever even think about it like that (laughs).
IoS: You’ve been film royalty for so long because you’re part of the biggest film generation in Bollywood. And Saif is a nawab. How does it feel knowing you are destined for full-blown royalty?
KK: I can’t think of it like that. I don’t think the royalty rule exists. But like I said, I think I’ve been lucky to come from this family. I personally don’t look at Saif as a nawab, I don’t even treat him like one, though he’d like it if I did (laughs).
IoS: In your new film, Heroine, you play the character of a person who has to deal with the limelight and how overwhelming it can get. How close to reality is that?
KK: We tried to keep 70 per cent of reality in the film, but ultimately at the end of the day it is a film. It’s based on the life of a superstar actress and how she deals with it. It will be entertaining and fun, and as close to reality as what a woman can play.
IoS: Have you ever had fans that tried to sign love letters to you in their blood or stuff like that?
KK: (Laughs). No. Although I do have a lot of fans who come and meet me from far away. I wish I could meet all of them, but it’s just so difficult, you know.
IoS: You’ve modelled for a brand of lawn from Pakistan previously, and then you talked to your fans here through a video clip before the release of Eik Mein Aur Eik Tu here. Now you and Saif are on the billboards throughout Pakistan for the Head & Shoulders campaign. Isn’t it about time you came to Pakistan?
KK: I know and actually I really hope to be able to visit Pakistan in the coming years. But something always comes up at the last minute, you know. Still, I would love to come and meet all my fans there.
IoS: The food in Pakistan is awesome, you know.
KK: (Laughs) I know, I know, Saif tells me and we both really want to go. He has a lot of relatives there such as cousins and relatives and I’m quite sure — in fact pretty sure — that both of us will make the trip to Pakistan really soon.
“Nothing gives as healthy a return on investment as acting” — Saif Ali Khan
IoS: Salam from Pakistan.
SAK: Adaab and hello.
IoS: You’ve come from acting as a playboy singing Ole Ole, to playing the jealous catalyst in Omkara, to donning the mantle as a secret agent in Agent Vinod and now your role in Cocktail. Which role fascinated you the most and which was the toughest to play?
SAK: I don’t know, probably Langda Tyagi in Omkara. It was very different from the person that I am. It required a different accent, a different way of looking and speaking — everything.
IoS: It is said that your preferred characters are usually the ones in romantic comedies.
SAK: Not necessarily. I like to be able to play different kinds of roles than just picking one particular kind.
IoS: But you seem to be picking a lot of roles that are different from the ones that you picked back in the early days.
SAK: I don’t know if that’s true. I think it’s pretty much the same as back in the day. I think you choose whatever that appeals to you, no? You want to play things you find interesting based on what is being offered.
IoS: So is there a direction you want to explore further? What sort of roles would you really like to play in the future?
SAK: Maybe a period film, an action adventure set in the British Raj; something a little under worldly. Sajid Khan, Pabhudeva, these are the directors I’d like to work with.
IoS: Do you ever contemplate stepping behind the camera and directing a film?
SAK: Not really. Production is creative enough. Nothing gives, in my mind, as healthy a return on investment as acting.
IoS: How much of an influence do you think your mom (Sharmila Tagore) has had on your acting and the way you deal with the industry?
SAK: Well, I think it forms you. Parents form your thinking and what you do in life because of what they taught you. I think as a human being, your parents are very instrumental. I don’t think very much though as an actor. As a person, as opposed to an actor, there’s a huge difference.
IoS: We spoke to Kareena and she gave us some very interesting insight. You guys have worked together in a few films and ads previously. How is the experience of working together?
SAK: It’s very nice to get to spend some time with her, our work schedules don’t usually permit it. I enjoy working with her, I think it’s a lot of fun.
IoS: When are you and Kareena getting married?
SAK: Later this year.
IoS: That’s more than she was willing to let go.
SAK: Well, there you go (laughs)!
IoS: I asked Kareena what it was like being film royalty, and you are actual royalty. How do you find that adds to your status as a power couple?
SAK: I don’t know, I think the concept of royalty is a thing of the past. I’d like to keep my father’s memory healthy and happy and do whatever I can to make my parents proud. That’s all that it means to me. Of course it’s a lot of responsibility and I don’t think we live under any illusions or delusions. From the first time Kareena came to Pataudi, she fit right in. The people who work in Pataudi are extremely fond of her. I think it’s something that comes very naturally to her.
IoS: What is it like being a nawab?
SAK: Actually, I don’t really know. It’s not something that happens anymore because the whole idea of being a nawab is to get paid for it.
SAK: I mean the whole idea of being a nawab is to get paid for it. To be royal, you should get paid for it, you know? (Laughs). We don’t get paid for it anymore, so I don’t really know what it’s like. We have a lovely ancestral home, which I hope with my income as an actor that I’ll be able to restore and refurbish. That’s about all that it means to me. And it was something that my father used to do. So whenever possible, I try and behave with a certain amount of dignity in order to keep his memory.
IoS: A Pakistani artist, Arif Lohar, has sung a song on the Cocktail soundtrack. How was the experience working with him?
SAK: Unfortunately, we couldn’t record with him in India. Because of political tension between the two countries, things aren’t as free as we would like them to be. We had to go to Dubai to do it as there was no way around it. We have a great deal of respect for all Pakistani artists and Arif Lohar is certainly one of them. Meesha Shafi is another artist I’d love to work with in the future.
IoS: Both Pakistan and India are edging towards friendlier relations. Do you think there will ever come a time when Bollywood films will have scenes shot in Pakistan?
SAK: Of course! I think there are many things in life that you don’t expect would happen because of history, but this is something that one would expect. I hope it happens soon. There are too many restrictions in this world. I hope things get to a stage where they become much more free; when we’re only slowed down by death and disease, and not laws or silly things like that.
IoS: And you have a bunch of family here?
SAK: I have a cousin-brother who lives in Pakistan. When I was a kid, we used to pretend we were in the army and I didn’t like the idea of shooting him at all. Then we realised we didn’t have to join the army and that was a great relief. That’s actually the best way of putting it.
A lot of families have connections between the two countries. I think it happened because Bhopal was the second largest Muslim state in India before Partition, and that’s where my grandmother was from. Her elder sister moved to Pakistan because she thought India wasn’t a good place for her son, who was actually the Crown Prince of Bhopal. Maybe she was right because her son did end up becoming Pakistan’s foreign minister. But that’s how it is. We have a lot of respect and when you have family somewhere, you’re kind of beyond ‘politicalities’. That’s how I see it.
IoS: When are you going to visit Pakistan?
SAK: I’ve actually been to Pakistan quite a few times. I have some very close family there. Whenever things work out and I’m invited, I’d love to visit Pakistan