‘I Don’t Know What Kind Of Muslim I Am. My Rozas Are Nobody’s Business’

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Photo: Tarun Sehrawat

You’re the scion of a royal family. Your father and grandfather, Nawabs of Pataudi, were outstanding sportsmen. But while sports was never taboo for royalty, performing for the entertainment of the masses was. Wasn’t there resistance to you entering the film industry?

Not at all. Apart from anything else, my mother’s from the film industry. We’re a very open minded family. Also performing for the masses today, has very different ramifications as when it did perhaps in 1930. You know, when you had a guy with some kind of boot polish trying to entertain on stage. Today it’s not quite the same thing. I don’t think anybody’s family should have an issue with people being in the profession of cinema today. Or actually for anytime. But I can understand people having this view till the…

70s? Or 60s?
Perhaps… But I think it’ll go back even before the 70s or the 60s. I think maybe even before cinema. Even with a certain kind of stage play, people started developing this attitude. I don’t really know. Atleast in my lifetime I’ve never viewed cinema as taboo.

You didn’t go on to Oxford from Winchester – the English public school you read at – like, again, your father and grandfather… Wasn’t there pressure for you to?

By my own side. My own mind I mean. I wish I had and I should have. But I wasn’t very academically inclined. And I’m fortunate to have gotten away with it. I think I’m financially well set and looking forward to a bright future. But that’s lucky. The way I’ve been brought up I think not going to college is… not a good thing.

Was there a sense of rebellion?
I think I just wasn’t willing to work hard enough academically. I’m lucky I’ve sorted myself out now. Maybe my interest didn’t lie in that area, and I’m lucky to have found my interest in my calling. But, I wish I had.

When you began starring in films there was this whole disconnect. You, with your public school upbringing, English sense of humour. And the Hindi film industry – then at the height of it’s masalafication. An industry that you’re today an integral part of, and comfortable with. What were the things that helped you through then? Any words that stuck with you?

There were many people who helped me with my career. But I think the person I’d like to thank the most would be Amrita (Singh). Apart from her there were filmmakers who helped. Yash Chopraji stood by me. That made a difference to my career. Words… Mahesh Bhatt, Sooraj Barjatiya and my mother. Mahesh Bhatt told me, “You should aim your performances at your children, so that they understand them. Keep it simple.” My mother said, “Treat the camera as a beautiful woman who’s watching you, and you’d like to impress her. But you’d like to impress her with your virtues. So you do what you do, but you ‘like’ being watched.” Sooraj Barjatiya said, “When you’re in doubt. Don’t do anything. Let the background music do it.” So these were the major lessons. The rest I figured out on my own.

You had a whole lot of diverse performances Dil Chahta Hai onwards. Parineeta, Ek Haseena Thi, Being Cyrus… you’ve become less versatile since. Is it that you’re experimenting less now because you’re doing solo actor films with big budgets?

Experimenting is a great thing and should be done within the right budget. You shouldn’t make a 50 crore experiment. But a 5 or even 10 crore experiment can and should be made…

Are small budget, indie, filmmakers not able to approach you now because you’re too big a star? Because they can’t afford you?
I don’t know. In fact I’m talking to Vishal Bhardwaj right now about doing something fairly off-beat. So I’d like to. But the idea should be exciting. And we might well have one… Let’s see. It’s still early. But I am open, totally, to things like that. Because I like that kind of cinema. And I think not everything should be designed to be very a very big hit. Certain ideas have mass appeal and certain ones have niche appeal. But it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be willing to go there.

And you’re willing to go there?
Ya. Absolutely. Absolutely

So how do you decide on which film to do?
It depends on whether I like the whole world and the idea, on an instinctive level. Whether I like the concept. And whether I like the situations that the character’s in, and the world which he inhabits. Just a concept really. I think ultimately it’s just a story.There are some stories you want to hear, and some you don’t. You go through so many DVDs and choose one. Similarly, when some director narrates an idea, you just say “No, no, no…” and then “Yes.”

What about producing a film? Now that you’re a producer…
It’s a cross between what I’d like to do myself, and a story that should be told. That I’d like to tell. There’s a difference between how an actor and a producer decides. One looks for a story that he’d like to be a part of and that he’d like to be told. And one searches for a story that he’d like to tell and how. He might like to tell it for critical acclaim, or mass appeal or whatever.

Coming back to your performances, after acclaimed performances like those in Ek Haseena This, Omkara and Being Cyrus, there was a sort of steering clear of negative roles for you. Well, except for shades of negativity in Race. This brings to mind Shahrukh Khan, who did Baazigar, Darr and Anjaam, and then stayed away from negative roles till he did a Don, much later. Do you think negative roles affect a star’s image adversely?  
I think so, sure. It depends on how you see yourself. A certain amount is upto you to try and control. And a certain amount is out of your control. You can steer your image in a certain direction. But i haven’t really given it that much thought. I am starting to now. Like for example, I don’t want to play confused lover boys anymore. I wan’t to play stronger parts. In Race also, I would rather play the man’s role, than the scheming younger brother. With all due respect to Akshaye and his performance, which I think was the soul of race in many ways – we couldn’t have made the film without him. But, I’ve kind of been there. I was offered the scheming younger brother. But I preferred to play the other part. And I’m happy i played the other part, even though comparatively it’s a little wooden. But it’s still cooler, in my head. Because he’s more in control. And I don’t like to play negative parts. I’m not concerned about the image. But it reflects the way I feel about myself. Cinema should be larger than life. And it’s good fun to play heroic characters. I’d like to play ‘grey’ characters. But I’m not very interested in doing negative roles.

Many films from the Yash Raj banner have flopped recently. Some like Thoda Pyaar, Thoda Magic and Tashan you were a part of. Yash Raj always got their mass media tonality right. Has it become more difficult to gauge audience tastes?

There was a time when I invested blindly in Yash Raj also, because I owe much of my career to them, and I thought their ideas were very new and fresh. And films work or don’t work for various different reasons. Umm… But I do know that perhaps I was a little… I think we should constantly challenge each other – the audience and the producers. We should be pushing the envelope in some way or the other and telling the truth. I think, at least I had a tendency of playing it a little safeby doing Thoda Pyaar Thoda Magic, and Tararumpumpum. I felt protected. And it was an eye opener for me to realise there is no protection. I’m lucky that we managed to put a film together ourselves, which did very well, and one of the things to learn from there is…

Actually your performance in Love Aaj Kal was very appreciated. More Veer Singh, a Sikh from 30 or 40 odd years ago, than Jay, the contemporary character you played.
Ya but one isn’t independent of the other. Now, I wouldn’t have played just Veer Singh. Or just Jay. That would have been boring and repetitive. But the combination of the two is what makes the film. So people say they like the sardar more. But, that’s not fair because it’s Jay who makes you like the sardar – which is not always obvious.

How much of your stardom is a result of your personal life, as projected by the media. You know, besides your work and the hits you generate…
I think all that takes the stardom away, personally. It might contribute a certain amount of familiarity. But I think that works contrary to a star. A certain amount of mystery is important. People should identify with the roles you play. Not get to know you. It’s always been human tendency being voyeuristic. So from the cliche of the telescope that looked into neighbour’s apartments, now you have hidden cameras. Big Boss or Big Brother, which is the Orwellian concept. Which is interesting to some people, but not others. So the press is reporting Kareena’s SMS to me… they wan’t to look in and see what ‘reality’ is like. But I don’t think that contributes to stardom. In fact it takes it away. It’s much better to have an enigma as a star, I feel. Which is why I’m not on twitter. It’s good for a producer, maybe. But I don’t think it makes sense for a star.

If I discuss Mr Bachchan, purely as a phenomenon, rather than a human being who I have regard for, at the peak of his career he had no contact with the press. Which worked tremendously for him, because there was incredible mystery. He didn’t need to give an interview. But every film opened to packed houses. So I don’t think it’s essential. You need to market movies, promote films, and do a certain amount of advertising. But you don’t need to promote yourself. If you promote the film, you’ll promote yourself.

But there’s another way of looking at it, that if there’s going to be 20 stars in the paper, you feel maybe your face should also be there. But I don’t agree with that still. Maybe I’m actually at that age where I can call myself a little old school. Where I say that I think that’s an insecure game. I don’t think we need to be on page one, page two or page three for random reasons which stars today supply themselves, I feel, with their PRs who keep them in the news. That could be important. But for me, I’ve never really believed too much in it. And Love Aaj Kal still had a phenomenal opening. I don’t like talking any way… much. I’m discovering a reclusive side to my nature – which is not abnormal for someone who lives under arc lights actually. To want to dissappear. My priorities are my production, my films. I’ll go all out promoting Kurbaan and Agent Vinod, for instance. Put all my energy into it.

I don’t watch TV infact. I think it’s disgusting what’s going on sometimes. There’s so many channels – and no class. It’s not like BBC, or even American television where there’s a little capsule for voyeurism. They’re just 24 hours! They’re looping a girl adjusting her bra strap, and making her look so bad! I don’t think it’s for my consumption. It’s for the consumption of people who have that voyeuristic enjoyment. Human nature also enjoys malicious gossip. And that’s fine. But I’d rather watch the X files. These other things aren’t my kind of entertainment. I mean, especially, if it’s negative about me, I’d have to be masochistic to watch it.

And as far as journalism goes, there are certain aspects of Mumbai Mirror, Midday and HT Cafe and Bombay Times which have tabloidesque qualities and should be taken with that attitude. I mean if somebody bitches you out on the front page of the Herald Tribune, then that’s a shocker. But you shouldn’t expect the same thing from what’s supposed to be entertainment. If it offends you, you shouldn’t read it.

But the fact that you are on page one or two or three, acts as a barometer of your success. I mean, practically everything Kareena does makes news. But that goes to show how well she is doing.

Have you ever thought about or analysed your own stardom?
I understand various aspects of it. But I’ve not analysed it as such. It’s an interesting guy. There’s a lineage, an image of… If you look at the brands one endorses… there’s an Asian Paints, a Taj Mahal Tea… But there’s also a Seagrams, which is a bit more edgy. There’s Lays which can be the boy next door. There’s a Chevrolet, and a Head And Shoulders, and Colgate. There’s aspirational dignified rock star.

Do you plan which ad to take up accordingly?
No, you can’t. We’ve had conversations in this office about marketing. And I’ve come to the conclusion, that you can do it in two ways. Either you’re a really clever brilliant actor in real life. Where you can pretend to be what you’re not. Or… our problem is the other way. I don’t think we’ve really marketed ourselves, and fulfilled our potential, but I think we are really… interesting.

When you say ‘we’ you mean?
Me (laughs). As a company, I mean. If I was to be true, I should be what I’m talking about. And you are that, you know? By being it, I mean be professional, be courteous. Associate with whatever you should be associating with. Whether it’s a charity, or… do the right thing. Be a good son, a good father and a good boyfriend. And I think that will come through as a brand. And that makes it less technical and more organic and truth based. The core of any good business or healthy and successful industry is scoring on the supply demand level – it’s giving us a good thing in life. It’s doing a good thing. It’s a brand, that is good, that people will invest in. Even as an actor, you’re lending flesh and blood or soul, to a character, with your interpretations of human life. So, your values need to be in order, for you to represent them properly. So, if you’re a good guy and a sorted person you’ll play the role really well. If you’re slightly complex, then you’ll overact or draw to much attention to yourself, or try and be a little too cool – and people won’t buy into that. So it’s very important to be sorted, in any aspect, in order to be successful, unless you’re very lucky, is what I’m trying to say.

What did you mean when you said you, as a company, haven’t really marketed you – the person and actor – well?
I think a certain representation of me, in ads and press, is detrimental to what I am. I sometimes come across as a slightly flaky chap. I think I’m much more sorted than what comes through. I’m well read and well balanced. I like art. I’m pretty low key, but at the same time high profile. That needs to come across a little more. And the only way of really doing it is by taking control. With production, we should manage me with every department. There shouldn’t be some dodgy photo coming across to you or any other publication. There shouldn’t be some bad ad made. The brand should be looked after. Unfortunately there’s too many ‘guns for hire’ out there. They are not necessarily hundred percent loyal, because they work on percentages.

I think we were in this stage where we’re just floating through and enjoying the ride. And now it’s like listen, let’s just take this a bit more seriously. Let’s say there’s a finite time limit. Let’s see the horizon, and realize that it can end one day. Let’s see how we can maximise this, in a few years. So that we can then chill. And there’s a lot of potential to maximise. (laughs) It’s not as though we’re trying to milk a mouse.

What do you find attractive or problematic about the lineage you come from?
I don’t know whether it’s because I’m an actor, but I find different personalities intriguing. Sometimes If I find someone basic and down to earth like how Sanjay Dutt talks. I find that interesting and attractive that someone can be so grounded, despite being so wealthy and driving a Ferrari. When you talk to Sanju and he takes a drag of his cigarette, I feel you really connect to what he’s saying. He’s very earthy somehow. And sometimes when I talk to an Oxford returned guy, I find that interesting – like how refined he is. And I think there’s a bit of both in me. There’s many influences that have gone into making me who I am and I need to respect that at 39. There’s part Bengali artist, there’s part WinchesterCollege. I know how to wear a good suit and also eat Bhel Puri. It’s tremendously eclectic. From the music that I like, to the conversation… I think I’m an easy guy to talk to, if I don’t let my own mind get in the way. I think lineage and all that is just people’s perception of us. I think it’s about being true to your ancestors and not letting your family down, which I think every man should feel. You can see it in a person’s gait and their eyes that they’re proud of their family.

You know? You look like one of those people. You don’t have to be a prince to behave like one. Quite often princes don’t behave like they should. Of course the films, because of an emerging democracy, needed to show Nawab Zyaadas as corrupt Thakurs, which is not the kind of Nawabs I’ve grown up around, who are great gentlemen and very polite people and fantastic sportsmen – but that’s interesting. So, you are loyal to your house, but you understand that it’s a time gone by. So you don’t live in the past. If you’re healthy about it, people respect it. If you show off about it, then people will ridicule you. But if you understand that it’s your ancestry, and you owe a certain respect to it and behave in a manner that will make your grandmother proud, then automatically people will gift you with a lot of respect for it. And people like you ask me questions about it. And perhaps, you would ask me different questions if I advertised it myself.

How are you treated by the people in Pataudi? As a star? Or as a Nawab?
As a star. Times have changed. There was a time when it was a smaller place and everybody knew my father and even though we were a democracy, still afforded him a sort of feudal respect. They still afford him respect though. He still speaks – he’s a very good public speaker – on issues he’s passionate about, without subscribing to a particular political party. Recently he gave a speech about a man who died, and who was responsible in some thing as small, yet significant as making Haryana a little more green.

There’s always been a divide in my mind between Pataudi and Saif Ali Khan. I’ve always been called Saif Pataudi in school. Yet I don’t use that name in movies. And it’s the similar division between my mother and father – which represents me. So I have that division in me where there’s the cricket and the old world and there’s the slightly more film based side. And it’s half and half. And sometimes one overtakes the other. The idea and the challenge now, is to marry the two and form a uniform personality that’s not fragmented. That’s seamless. And that would be an interesting person.

Do you handle any family businesses or properties? Or attend family cultural and social functions?
I’ve completely stayed away from it, but right now I’m going to have to. I’m on the verge of it. The functions, more so now. Because it’s been a long time that I haven’t lived with my parents. And they’re also older, so I miss them more. That’s the reason. So if my mother says there’s a wedding in Calcutta, then… I remember growing up in those parts with her, so I want to go. And we try to plan her birthday… things like that, which we never did before.

What do you think about the Privy Purse Abolition of 1971?
(laughs) Part of us, when we were kids thought it was terribly unfair. I think everything’s need based. Today, because we don’t really need it, we can afford to have a more relaxed attitude towards it. I remember growing up to a sense of loss of a time gone by. Of unaffordable property. Sprawling places. BhopalPalace, and walking and my father shooting partridges that would take off at any speed – where do you have the space for that today? So that keeps me nostalgic and sane. Pataudi’s still there. There’s land. But to have grown up around so much land, and then to find yourself in an apartment in Bombay. So, mentally, I’m still there… because we grew up with a lot of space around us, which we watched becoming unaffordable to control. But in the larger scheme of things, I’m happy that India’s developing as a country, and perhaps we couldn’t afford both. Maybe my life is full of these divisions – India and royalty, cricket and films, India and England. Maybe unifying division is what it’s all about. Wow… you make me think. I suppose that’s why Tehelka is… what it is…

We’ve been strong supporters of the Congress and the late Rajiv Gandhi got my father into politics. We have a lot of respect for the Gandhi family right from Pandit Nehru’s time. I’ve seen photographs of him with my grandmother. At the same time, obviously no family’s going to be thrilled about losing privy purses and land.

Also, my father has more love for Pataudi than a lot of people do for anything. He’s set aside land that’s in a trust – come what may – for the people. And there’s eye hospitals and hearing hospitals being developed. He’s doing a lot of work out of love for and from where he is. His life, coming full circle from being the nawab – he’s giving back.

So there were princes who cared and still care for their people. But one way of looking at it, would be to say that if you really care that much, you should contest an election – like Madhavrao Scindia, Jyotiraditya or the Maharaja Of Patiala… So these are people who maintained the connect, and won an election based on that connect.

 Eklavya , which you starred in, portrayed royalty in a very scathing manner. Do you agree with that portrayal?
Royalty has two angles because it’s supremely powerful, and incredibly wealthy. So either you’re Augustus Caesar, or you’re Caligula – opposite ends of the sprectrum. But I wouldn’t be a deluded son to say the Nawabs and Begums of Bhopal and Pataudi have been the most honourable of men and women, and frightening to live upto. My father’s the first generation in the family to have a had a drink. But he’s a prince among men and highly respected. He’s not one to be making noise in a bar.

But there might have been people who… Sanju’s told me stories about a Maharaja who would go off on shikaar on an elephant with a girl doing a mujra for him at the same time (laughs). So debauchery is… a definite possibility with infinite resource (laughs). I think Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s take on Eklavya – and it’ll probably get me into trouble with him – when he made Sanjay Dutt, the policemen’s character, say he would not even “urinate on the walls of the fort if it wasn’t for Eklavya (the royal guard/servant)” there’s a strong kind of leftish anti-royalty feeling there (laughs loudly) which is a bit ‘French revolutionary’. It’s the attitude of a scriptwriter which is tryng to attract the masses. But we’re not that violent country which ‘revolts’. We wouldn’t cut off their princes heads. It wasn’t like the French Revolution. It (the Privy Purse Abolition) was a pretty political, slightly slick…

Game?
Game. Quietly done. Pretty bloodless. Fair enough also yaar. People still kept their houses and their money, even though the government stopped supporting you. I mean, the Maharaja of Jaipur still owns most of Jaipur. And the palaces are huge. Even Patiala. And Pataudi’s still there. To say even 80 acres of land in today’s time is quite a big deal yaar!

What’s a practising Muslim according to you? Would you call yourself one?
I’m loyal to the house I’ve been born in – apart from the lineage we’ve been discussing – in that it’s also a Muslim house. I’ve had a muslim upbringing in which my grandmother taught me about God. I’ve had funny incidinces in which I’ve been exposed to fanaticism – I had a (laughs) Muslim maid who told me that if I played Holi Allah Miyan would “flay the skin off my arms, which had been stained with the colour”. And when I told my father, he said “Don’t listen to her – she’s mad” and we laughed at her. So there’s this balance of being able to laugh at fanaticism and be able to appreciate the noble qualities of Islam. For instance, my grandmother would tell me the Wazu was because we were asking for an audience with God, so wouldn’t we want to clean the grime of our hands before we did that. But the dichotomy of how people ended up killing people in God’s name, is something we have to sort out.

So if I’m a practising Muslim, what does that mean? I’m not interested in converting anybody. I don’t find myself praying five times a day. But, I’ll tell you something. I have prayed, in Arabic. And I’ve found it to be extremely calming.

One of the most positive things I’d like to do is, I’d like to be a ‘warrior monk’. I’d like to practise Ashtanga Yoga. I’d like to go the gym and work out hard. Compete fiercely with myself, when it comes to movies. And at the same time say a calming prayer, and protect the people around me. So… a warrior monk. That’s the way to go. Like a ‘templar knight’. (laughs very loudly)

So, I don’t know what kind of Muslim I am. I don’t have any connection to the mullahs in Kabul or even the hardcore Muslims in India. I wouldn’t like to be answer to how many Rozas I kept or didn’t keep – it’s none of anyone’s business. I’m very moderate in my practice. But I don’t know if that’s allowed. Maybe in this country I’m allowed to get away with it. Maybe in Iran or Kabul I’d be lynched for saying whatever I’m saying. Maybe I’d run away then. Key members of my family have silently indicated to me that any form of organised religion is not the way to go. When I was a teenager, they might have suggested that it’s good to go to a mosque on Id and say a prayer. But after I grew up it was completely my decision. I personally feel any organised religion is not required. Religion is about a personal connect. No one should tell you what to do.

Your mother was a Hindu. So you’ve been exposed to more than one religion…
I’ve exposed myself more. I went to a ChristianSchool. My mother believes in Sai Baba. I’ve read Hindu mythology. I know about gods of every religion. Even Norse mythology interests me. Even ‘pagan’ gods. I personally don’t find the concept of this word g-o-d to be any less pagan than ‘Ra’. I mean ‘Ra’ is supposed to be silly because it denotes sun worship. But I think the sun’s a pretty good thing to worship – as good as anything else. Atleast it’s related to us. I don’t even know what people mean when they say ‘God’ sometimes. Is it a kindly old man in the sky? Is it an energy field? I’m not sure…

What do you find attractive or negative about Hinduism and Islam.
Hinduism’s very peace loving generally. I don’t know if it can strictly be called a religion. It’s a philosophy. The smell of incense is beautiful. A bhajan can sound so calming. I like the thought of bowing your head to a force more powerful than you – which is a common factor to all religions, and the basic motto of being nice to a fellow man and sleeping well at night. I like the sound and peace and serenity of both religions. What I don’t like is the misinterpretation. When you say there’s only one God, anyone else that says there’s only one God is wrong. We’re talking about the same God, so I don’t know why we’re fighting about it. Ny monotheistic religion, by it’s nature, has to at some point take on the other monotheistic religion. ‘Allah’ is not the name for the ‘Muslim God’. It’s the arabic word for the Lord, who’s there in any religion. The Jews and Christians are also people of the book. How does one distinguish between them? Also the idea of Jehad is theologically beyond me. But I know it’s a complex situation. I don’t want to sound simplistic, in constant Bandra (laughs). I don’t want anyone declaring a fatwa on me for this…

Have you ever been tempted to reclaim what being a Muslim means in India?
I might be. When we were growing up, India was a little more secular. I think it’s becoming a little more fragmented with all this violence, in terms of… You know, Mughlai food, and Urdu Poetry and even writing film titles in Urdu, I’m noticing all this is going. It’s almost gone. Now when people hear arabic, they get a bit worried. Which is not a great thing.

You’ve actually never played a secular urbane Muslim character in any film – without making a statement about them being Muslim. Few people have – not even Salman Khan, Shah Rukh Khan, Aamir Khan. This is ironic because you are urbane secular Muslims in real life, as are so many in India. But all your secular urban characters have to bear a Hindu name.
There’s a script somewhere, I don’t know where the writer is. Someone wanted to make it once. It’s called Mothsmoke – a book by a Pakistani writer. It’s got a main protagonist called Aurangzeb, who’s in love with his best friend’s wife. And who’s tried for murder. It’s a Lahore based regular guy who smokes marijuana. He just happens to be a Muslim called Aurangzeb, but he’s extremely liberal and a bit messed up. He’s having an affair, and smoking substances he shouldn’t be smoking. So that was interesting. Human nature will not be repressed beyond a point. A good way of knowing what happens is looking at the law. So the moment it’s prohibitive and you’re not allowed to swear, drink and spit, people would be spitting, drinking and doing whatever they’re not supposed to be doing. (laughs) Dubai is a prime example of this.

Coming back to what you’re asking me about, I think people are just playing safe. I remember someone telling me not to play a Christian character once. I wanted to wear a cross, but he said, “No you’ll look like a Christian.” I said, even if it does, what about Amar Akbar Anthony? But you can’t argue with these guys… It’s fear of financial loss, really, more than anything else. They don’t want to mess around. (laughs) It’s not like they’re making any kind of secular or anti-secular comment, they just don’t want to lose any money. This is even though the importance of the Muslim audience is very big for producers. They take it very seriously. Wanted releasing on Id, starring Salman Khan is a mega milestone for the film industry. So I don’t think it’s that complicated. I really think it’s very simple. It’s just that they don’t want to take a chance. But we should. Main leads shouldn’t always be Rahul, or Rohan, but also Salim, without making a big deal about him being a Muslim. You can show, you know, some chap smoking in the balcony, while his wife’s saying his prayers. It would be a great way to spread moderatism…

You and Kareena have confronted the Shiv Sena’s poster tearing spree with a lot of calm. Wasn’t there a fear that things would escalate?
Not really. I understand that so many factions get easily excited and maybe people even have a point. Maybe they are okay with certain posters, but not with ours. I personally thought it’s aesthetic and very nicely done. My own ‘moral police’ – my mother or father – didn’t call me and say: “What’re you up to?” But I understand that we’re dealing with symbols that are much larger than us, and some people don’t like that kind of thing. But there should be a governing body that passes a poster, which goes up. And then nobody should have to worry about it, or take it down.

Your relationships have always been under strong public glare. Your marriage and divorce with Amrita, your relationship with Rosa. Now with Kareena, there’s two of the industry’s top billed stars in a relationship with one another. How do you cope with this?
However popular people are, or whatever they do for a living, ultimately the relationship is always between two human beings. The virtues and vices of those are the same as anyone else. So, I think the way to cope is with the same things that keep any relationship healthy. Trust, commitment, honour and a little bit of a sense of humour as well.

INTERVIEW

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Rensil D’silva, the Kurbaan filmmaker 

What make you take up this film as your director debut?

When Karan (Johar) told me the story, I felt it had a lot of possibility and potential. It’s rare to find a film that crosses so many genres. There’s an intense love story. Yet there’s a world view – it’s set against the backdrop of terrorism. And it’s a thriller too. To find a film spanning such a gamut and range is hard. There was no director for the film then, so I was enthusiastic about taking on the job.

But is the subject of terrorism something you’ve been interested in for a while? Or are you writing and directing this film because it’s topical, or because it’s what Dharma Productions wants?

No, I’ve been interested in this subject for long. I’ve always been skeptical about the attitude of the west. Where the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts are concerned, for instance, they have used and are using airwaves and TV images to present a very one-sided story. They create the problems in your country, and then they flog you when you enter their theirs.

There’s been a New York from the Yash Raj Films banner, and now a Kurbaan from Dharma Productions. Is this a trend, where big banners – that are used to making family sagas and love stories – are making films on terrorism because it’s in the news? 
I don’t see a trend here. As far as Kurbaan is concerned, I feel Karan does not want to stick to one kind of film. He’s expanding, so he wants more ideas. He wants to let directors with different sensibilities work with topics that are close to them. Varied topics…

What research did you do for the film? Are any of the film’s characters inspired from real people? 
I’ve kept a journal and news paper cuttings on the subject – over the years – because it interested me. I did a lot of research online. In particular I’d like to mention this book Inside Al Qaeda by Mohamed Sifaoui, which is the personal account of an Algerian born journalist. Also, there was this MI5 report that I got from the net, with details like how groups of sleeper cells operate. As far as the characters are concerned, no. They are works of fiction.

The stars – having Saif Ali Khan and Kareena Kapoor, who are a real life couple in a love story, the nudity, the glitzy posters, the songs – which you yourself had claimed to not know how to insert into a serious film… doesn’t this glamorous marketing and packaging take away from the serious issues the film deals with?
I don’t see any dichotomy here. It’s a serious film – that is a love story set against the backdrop of terrorism. 

But audiences might come in prepared to watch an entertainer and be put off by the serious issues raised – or the opposite might happen?
People would have different expectations of the film, since it’s a film that crosses so many genres. But like I said, there’s no dichotomy here.

Why the tagline: “Some love stories have blood on them”? 
Karan thought of the tagline. I feel it’s intriguing. It nudges your mind, makes you want to know more. The tagline and the iconic image on the poster represent the key aspects of the film.

The characters in your film are complex, layered… you don’t think casting stars – who come with the baggage of their public image, would take away from the execution of these characters?
Not really. I think stars are today making an effort to be a part of scripts. Besides, Saif (Ali Khan), Kareena (Kapoor), Vivek (Oberoi) and Diya (Mirza) are great actors, as are Om Puri and Kirron Kher. Also, one must remember that one of the first things about making a film on such a large canvas is that you need money to make it. You need stars for that.

Fanaa was a love story with a terrorist angle too. Critics feel that while it was a nice love story, the terrorist angle was just not handled properly. Weren’t you afraid that would happen to your film too? That it will fall in between genres and end up nowhere?

Well, one thing that really challenged me while directing this film was the pacing. You see, a love story and a thriller have very different pacing. But otherwise I wasn’t afraid of what you’re talking about. As for Fanaa, it was a hit. The audiences loved it. So, I don’t know, maybe Kunal Kohli did best.

Finally, why has your film, like New York, chosen to talk about issues like terrorism and the state of minorities abroad? We have similar issues in India…
Because it’s tough enough dealing with one part of the world at a time. Otherwise there will be too many questions, and the answers will be simplistic. But you’re absolutely right. There are a lot of films to be made on these issues yet. Right now, I’ve just started out. Hopefully I’ll get there soon.

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