Interviews Saif Ali Khan

Interview – Saif Ali Khan: “I was told to never play a cop”

Reliance Entertainment - UK Cinemas - VIKRAM VEDHA

Saif Alia Khan is coming back to UK cinemas from tomorrow, Thursday 29th September, in Reliance Entertainment’s Vikram Vedha. The much-awaited Hindi film also stars Hrithik Roshan, Radhika Apte and is directed by Pushkar and Gayatri. 

The story of Vikram Vedha is full of twists and turns, as a tough cop Vikram (Saif Ali Khan) sets out to track and chase a dreaded gangster Vedha (Hrithik Roshan). What unfolds is a cat-and-mouse chase, where Vedha – a master storyteller helps Vikram peel back layers through a series of stories leading to thought-provoking moral ambiguities. 

Khan feels confident about the film, considering the extreme buzz on social media and among audiences. “Some films have that buzz with audiences and some films don’t. There are different phases and different times. It’s almost like alchemy, you put people and ideas together, and you create a mix. The audience gets a whiff and its either hot or not. The original film is fabulous, the makers are really cool. I can’t say I’m surprised, I’m encouraged,” he said.

Saif Ali Khan - Vikram - First LookWith most Indian films struggling to make a mark at the Box Office, especially here in the UK, streaming services have been bidding for exclusive rights to release films directly on their platforms. Khan once told us, “In an ideal universe you would do certain films for the big screen and certain type of content knowing that its best served on a streaming service.”

So, how did he know that Vikram Vedha is the right film for a cinema release? Explaining his stance, he said, “It’s kind of selling the idea of two movie stars, going at each other, with mean looks, guns and stylish walks, which is better enhanced on a big screen. There is a collective energy when you watch a film at a cinema with other people, which really empowers a film like Vikram Vedha. When you watch a movie at home, the vibe is missing of that collective gasp or collective clap. This film runs on that energy. The big close-up shot of Hrithik Roshan works on the big screen and it isn’t same as watching it on a phone.”

“I’m very happy with Vikram Vedha releasing on the big screen and something like Sacred Games on a streaming platform. There is this conjecture about films now, whether they are more suited for streaming platforms or for cinemas. I think that’s always a business strategy to get the best deal, because everybody knows which platform is best suited for a film.”

Khan has often experienced commercial success , especially at the UK Box Office, with films such as Love Aaj Kal, Cocktail, Race2, Ta Ra Rum Pum, Hum Tum, Salam Namaste, all crossing the £500k mark here. He played the role of a quintessential rom-com hero over and over, in many of his films and each time, it worked with audiences. 

Saif Ali Khan (2)

With projects such as Tanhaji, and Sacred Games, Khan reinvented himself. But it wasn’t a conscious decision on his part. 

He said, “I’m conscious that the rom-com thing wears a little thin after a while, unless it’s really well-written. Otherwise it’s starts becoming about someone too old, to be in that situation. Romantic comedies are always best done by actors who are legitimately confused about life, it’s never really a heroic part. I think, after a certain age, being able to have an action-hero image or to play a tougher character is also appropriate. It adds a bit of range and it’s more age-appropriate for me at fifty, even though I love the idea of a good dialogue and acting in a rom-com film. I think, at the core I’m that actor.”

Khan also recollected when a director told him that he wouldn’t be able to play a cop on-screen. It happened back in 1994, when Khan had just started out as an actor but already had a couple of films under his belt. 

Recalling the conversation, he said, “I remember, 30-years ago, I was working on Main Khiladi Tu Anari with Akshay Kumar, who was playing this cool cop. I felt, he had these cool things to do and I  was basically playing this tool, which is something I was always worried about (laughs).  The director Sameer Malkan told me that I can’t play a cop. He told me to never play a cop on-screen because it would just be funny to see me in that role. I’m just happy that I have done it convincingly, which means obviously there has been some kind of growth, as an actor and change from that person. That’s what playing a role like in Vikram Vedha signifies for me, and I’m always happy about that.”

Saif Ali Khan (3)Vikram Vedha is based on the mythology of Vikram and Betaal, a collection of tales narrated from one person to another. As Khan describes, “The English author Geoffery Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales as well as The Decameronand by Italian author Giovanni Boccaccio had these plots of people telling each other stories. It’s the structure of how the story is told. Vikram Betaal stories in Sanskrit pre-date all the literature I’ve just mentioned, and have been translated by English professionals.”

Explaining the plot of Vikram Vedha, he tells us, “In our film, we have this cop that I’m playing, he has an outlook and thinks that bad guys should be shot like the dogs they are, which is a very dodgy outlook anyway, but that’s what he does. Then this bad guy one day walks into the police station and surrenders himself and asks the cop whether he can tell him a story. “

“He tell a few stories to Vikram, the character I’m playing, that really change the way he sees things. The film is a bang-bang, mafia, thriller – content wise, but it also has this murder mystery element to it, where you think, who did it? That’s what I like, it has this structure but it also has this suspense on who killed a guy, and you don’t figure it out until you’re at the last page. I was describing it to Ranbir Kapoor the other day. He asked me what the film was about. I told him that it’s unpretentious and a little surprising, and that is a good way of explaining it. It’s not pretending to be anything else.”

VIKRAM VEDHA releases in UK cinemas on 30th September 2002,
with all-day previews starting on Thursday, 29th September.

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