India’s Saif Ali Khan on Straddling Bollywood, Streaming and Producing
Khan was one of the stars of “Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior,” the highest Bollywood grosser of 2020 with $50 million before coronavirus devastated the theatrical business. He is the lead in Amazon Prime Video India’s original political drama series “Tandav,” where he plays Samar Pratap Singh, a suave, ruthless, yet vulnerable politician with an eye on the highest seat in the country. Having made his acting debut with Yash Chopra’s “Parampara” in 1993, Khan chose to draw upon his nearly three decades of experience to interpret the role.
“I think at 50, you kind of feel and experience a fair amount of life and it’s not too much of a stretch to draw from your imagination various influences from all kinds of things – it could be Roman history, it could be someone you’re seeing, it could be a historical or fictitious figure, it could be a guy playing some mafia don in some other movie,” Khan tells Variety. “It’s fascinating if you could actually trace an influence and you say aah there is some interaction with some Greek architecture, Turkish something and you end up with the Taj Mahal, I mean you don’t know where influences come from, its usually a mix of many things.”
After playing scores of romantic roles, notably in “Kal Ho Naa Ho” (2003) and “Hum Tum” (2004), for which he won India’s National Award for best actor, Khan changed gear with the plum role of Ishwar/Langda Tyagi in Vishal Bhardwaj’s acclaimed “Macbeth” adaptation “Omkara” (2006). He turned producer with romantic drama “Love Aaj Kal,” (2009) where he also starred alongside Deepika Padukone and the late Rishi Kapoor, and went on to produce several more films across genres.
From Fox’s costly misfire “Bullett Raja” (2013), Khan went through somewhat of a slump until his career roared back into life in 2018 playing a world-weary cop in Netflix original series “Sacred Games,” which went on to earn an Emmy nomination. “Tandav” is his next foray into long-form content.
“I think you get more time to get into your character in a long form,” says Khan. “It makes me wish I could prepare my film characters as well, but it also teaches me how to prepare a film character. They both are different forms of the same game.”
The actor is also the Nawab of Pataudi. The previous Nawabs, Khan’s father Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi and grandfather Iftkhar Ali Khan Pataudi, were both captains of the Indian cricket team. Unsurprisingly, Saif Ali Khan is also steeped in the sport and he bonded playing cricket with “Tandav” creator Ali Abbas Zafar while the latter was the first AD of “Tashan,” (2008) that Khan starred in.
“It is believed that if two people play cricket together, they are best of friends,” says Khan. “They were no hierarchical systems during the shoot working alongside him. Ali is the real Nawab in “Tandav” and not me. I am just an underpaid actor.”
Khan has a busy time ahead of him. As a producer his last project was “Jawaani Jaaneman” (2020) and discussions are on for more, with an announcement due later this year. As an actor Khan has comedy “Bhoot police” coming up, which he describes as his “passion project.” He reunites with “Tanhaji” director Om Raut on “Adipurush,” an interpretation of Indian mythological epic “Ramayana,” featuring “Baahubali” star Prabhas, and a Bollywood remake of Tamil-language blockbuster “Vikram Vedha.” “So I have got a frightening amount of responsibility ahead of me actually,” says Khan.
“Tandav” streams from Jan. 15, 2021.