It was the first –and last –time my mother met Saif Ali Khan, and both were left shaken by the encounter 🙂 I had taken my family for dinner at the Grand Kakatiya in Hyderabad. Walking to the restaurant where I had a reservation, we spotted Saif crossing the lobby on the way to his room; he was in the city for the shooting of David Dhawan’s ‘Biwi ho to aisi.’ We did the civil thing…the kids made biiig eyes…I made the introductions…he said ‘hello’…my mom, in the manner of irreverent old ladies shrilled – “you don’t remember? Your aunty was married to my brother?” and stopped just short of tweaking his cheek. Saifoo looked as stymied as one of his black bucks presumably do when fixed in the glare of a jeep’s headlights and rolled his eyes desperately at me, recognising the only sane face in this melee as we had just concluded our interview earlier in the afternoon.
I stammer something and steer (sic!) my mother with great difficulty toward the restaurant. Anil Kapoor stopping by our table graciously and doing his usual charming bit calms her down a little, but not much; Anil you see, she treats somewhat like ghar-ki-murgi, since his mother is quite fond of me. Anil’s erstwhile sister-in-law, Mona and I were friendly and so, every time I had an international flight to catch on one of my numerous assignments, I’d make sure it was from Bombay and spend a couple of nights at Anil’s parents’ place, where Mona used to stay – but this is a story for another day 🙂
So my mom has been to their house and is used to hearing about Anil K. No, what got her riled about our chhote nawaab is that he is not up-to-date with his family history! Saif’s bua, you see, was married to my uncle! That’s right – MAK Pataudi’s first cousin was married to my eldest maama (both shall remain nameless). The marriage lasted about ten years, after which they divorced for reasons too personal to go into here and she eventually married IS Johar’s nephew who was a hotelier, and settled fairly happily in Canada – which last I was able to ascertain for my mom who was good friends with Saifoo’s aunty (and mine!), once I grew up and became a journalist and did some sniffing around 😉
Saif himself is not really what I expected. For one, he had a good physique and it was obvious he worked out and took care of himself, but not overtly so, nor did he go the way of other heroes by flaunting his body or drawing attention to packs! I am glad that age and experience have added character and maturity to his face now and he has grown out of his slightly pretty boy looks. To be honest, I never found him very appealing in his movies (looks wise) and his voice still bothers me 😉 but in real life, although of average height, there is undoubtedly a certain something, a dignity, about him and when he speaks, he is refined, with a propah Brit accent.
So I was mighty surprised and somewhat saddened to hear of his recent fracas at a Mumbai hotel with other diners. Seems quite unlike the dude I met many moons ago; I would have said his innate breeding and courtesy would not have allowed him to thus misbehave. Either the man has changed a lot or was trying to impress his more flighty friends with some hero-giri.
Saif then had almost a healthy contempt for money. He dismissed it by saying it was but the power to buy another man’s labour. “I’m a spendthrift,” he said. “If I was a bachelor I’d be prime candidate for sucker-of-the week!” His daughter Sara was his passion and he could talk unendingly about her. “I want to give her the best education I can. I do indulge her, but I think she should live according to our means.”
As for himself, being sent away to boarding school that too in England – literally saat samundar paar in those days – was hard, and the quiet little boy had a lot of quick growing-up to do away from his beloved grandmother and mother. It honed him though and, looking back, he has no regrets on it now although undoubtedly, it created a certain emotional distance between himself and his parents.
Saif never did see himself as an actor, no matter the speculation that dictated he but followed in his mother’s footsteps. By his own admission, he has floundered a bit here and there (and how!) Getting to the stage where he has better films in hand now has taken a while to achieve, he says.
Under the polished veneer, he is endearingly candid. Bear in mind we are harking back to 1999, when he was very much married to Amrita Singh, twelve years his senior – an act he committed without informing his parents! At this stage, at any rate, the marriage seemed to be fine, with Saif stating that their idea of bliss was to blow up a couple of thousands of rupees in a bookshop, or on buying music 🙂 He trusted Amrita implicitly and said she took care of their finances; somewhat disarmingly, he tells me that people have warned him about that but – “if that goes wrong, everything will go wrong,” he says matter-of-factly.
Just a few years later, this marriage was to culminate in a divorce, in 2004. Truly, who knows what lies ahead for us.