Sunday afternoon, 3.30 o’clock, I met Sara Ali Khan at the Sun n Sand in Juhu for an interview. I watched her arriving. On the button. Elegantly stepping out of her car. Then sweeping majestically into the hotel. Slim, tall and graceful. Wearing, I was told, an asymmetrical Masaba tiger print kurta with a thigh-high slit over snug black pants and stilettos. Long auburn hair parted to one side, left loose and tumbling down. Minimal makeup, the heart-shaped face glowing with an inner joy. In the lobby, she paused to talk to total strangers who recognised her. Shook hands with the staff of the patisserie. And posed for selfies. The girl is not yet an actress. Her debut film Kedarnath releases tomorrow. And three weeks later, her second film Simmba. But Wikipedia acknowledges her even if it got Sara’s age wrong. That’s nothing, it got her mother Amrita Singh’s age terribly wrong! Meanwhile, Sara’s already an Internet sensation. And the paparazzo’s dream. She’s the most photographed Khan after her baby brother Taimur Ali Khan.
Everything she does, everywhere she goes, makes a splash on social media. In whirlwind promos for Kedarnath, she’s been all over the place giving interviews, appearing on TV chat shows, on popular reality shows, but she’s not shot for a magazine cover yet, she told me. Maybe that will happen before Simmba. Her father Saif Ali Khan is my friend. Sara is as sharply intelligent and worldly wise as he is. And just as witty. I think it’s that nawabi Pataudi blood. There’s an urbane air about them that makes both Saif and Sara a delight to converse with. She greeted me with a polite and respectful namaste. Disregarding etiquette, I gave her a warm hug. Why not, she’s my friend’s daughter. Excerpts from an interview:
My Colombia University friends knew that somewhere down the line this is what I wanted to do. They’re all very excited and are waiting to see whether I’ll be different on screen because I’m a crazy girl
Q. Your father Saif Ali Khan is not counted among the Bollywood Khans. But you look like you’re going to set a precedent and be the first actress to get there…
A. For me, he is my father, so obviously he is in the Khan bracket. But fair enough, they (Salman, Shah Rukh, Aamir) are huge superstars, and it is totally okay. I don’t know whether it is the media or the audiences that determine which bracket you’re in. As long as people think that I’m in the actress bracket, the rest is honestly immaterial.
As for being the next Bollywood Khan, that’s just my surname. Everybody comes with their own personality. I come with an immense amount of determination. And I just want to make my mark here for being the person I am. I mean, I want to start something new. But that thing is not called being a Khan. I believe the further your goal is – the further you’ll reach. And if you aim for the moon you’ll land among the stars. I want to start something new for a lot more reasons than being called a Khan. And I hope to be acknowledged and appreciated for the same. But I need time and more Fridays to prove that.
Q. How does it feel to know you’re being talked about as the next big thing in Bollywood even before your first release?
A. Appreciative, obviously. People in the media, in the industry, are nice. They say things like that and it means a lot. I think they like the fact that I’m real with them and that we have a good camaraderie. But while this is important, it’s not what will determine Friday, December 7. And I’m aware of that as well. So while everything that everybody says is great, I don’t want the media, the industry, or anybody to take away from the power and the agency that the audiences have. Because the ultimate verdict at the risk of being blatant lies with the audiences.
Q. What you’re going through now, the adulation and fame, is surreal…
A. Surreal still has the world “real”. I’m in shock at what’s happening. It’s like a dream come true. When I was on the film set, when I was busy shooting, I had a lot more work to do than during promotions for it to hit me. Because I was focusing on my role and on my character. But now there’s not that much pressure. It’s not like being before a rolling camera. I’m just having real conversations with people who are asking me questions. Now it’s really hitting me that it’s all coming together.
Q. How do you feel about it?
A. I feel privileged. But the thing is, I’ve always been on the fringe of this. I’ve always been “Saif’s daughter” or “Amrita’s daughter”. Whether it’s been during interviews, at a party, in a conversation with the media. The people who have met me before have known me. But now that they know me with a point of reference external to my family, it’s a good starting point to get to know me further. And it just feels very exciting.
As for being the next Bollywood Khan, that’s just my surname. I want to make my mark here for being the person I am. I want to start something new. But that thing is not called being a Khan
Q. You were in Colombia University till 2016 studying history and political science. Are you in touch with your college friends? Do they treat you like a star?
A. I’m not a star as yet. I think my friends are not surprised that this is what I’ve chosen to do. There was always a subtle layer of expectation that’s been fulfilled. Everybody knew that somewhere down the line this is what I wanted to do. And I think they are just as excited that this profession has chosen me. I am in touch with them. One who lives in Delhi is coming down for Kedarnath’s release. And others in America, Pakistan and London, they’ll watch the film. I was with one of my closest friends from America just last week. I had gone to London to meet my brother and she came down because it’s easier to do that than to come to Mumbai. They’re all very excited and are waiting to see whether I’ll be different on screen because I’m a crazy girl.
Q. You were terrific on Koffee with Karan. You spoke almost with a sense of entitlement..
A. I feel everybody, if they apply themselves, has that. But acting in front of a moving camera, with a character, is different. Doing a print, radio, video interview or a chat show, you get to be yourself. There is no entitlement there. There is just conviction. You are you. You’re being asked questions you answer honestly. I don’t over think that at all.
Q. You’re a fan of your father’s cinema. Ever wondered idly how he might have acted in a film like Kedarnath?
A. I’m very new to be able to answer that. I think every actor comes with their own method of approaching things. I have never worked with my father. I don’t know the way he works. People ask me how was it working with Sushant Singh Rajput. From whatever I know of him from Kedarnath, I don’t think he likes to break away from his character at all. He’s not just his character between “Action” and “Cut”. Sushant is his character pretty much throughout the film. Every single day on the set. So I laughingly tell people, I really don’t know Sushant very well. But I know his character supremely well because I was interacting with that character for 14 hours a day.
I am 23, not 25 as Wikipedia says! But I’m quite late getting into films. Alia Bhatt is just a year-and-half older than me and the thought of that is scary!
Q. You can count the hours to Kedarnath’s release. What are your emotions?
A. There’s too much of excitement for it to be anything else right now. But I don’t want it to be misunderstood that I’m not nervous. Because I am. Nervousness is not a positive emotion. But you can’t do anything about it. Everybody says you should harness the energy of your nervousness to something. I was nervous every day on the set and I hope I harnessed that energy to my work. But now, short of being honest and real in my interviews, there’s nothing left for me to do. So at this point nervousness is not productive. At this point it’s just excitement. So much excitement that I wish there was a better word invented for it! For excitement does not do justice to what I’m feeling. I’ve got butterflies in my stomach. And all of them are as excited as what I’m feeling!
Q. You’re 23, and despite being on the threshold of a great and exciting career in acting yourself, you must have a crush on some actor that you’ve carried forward from your teens…
A. Yes, I am 23, not 25 as Wikipedia says! I was born on August 12, 1995. And I will personally reach out to Wikipedia and ask them to change this when I can. But it’s really okay… Actually, it’s not okay! I want to be known for being as old as I am. And since we are talking about this, let me also tell you that my mother is 53. No, she is not 60 as Wikipedia says! She’s not 12 years older than my father. She’s five-and-half years older than him. She was born in 1964. And it will mean the world to her if you clarify that as well because Wikipedia doesn’t take us seriously. But I’m quite late getting into films. Alia Bhatt is just a year-and-half older than me and the thought of that is scary! But you asked about my crushes? I mean, like, here and there I did have. But nothing major. I had a crush on Ryan Gosling. I liked him in Blue Valentine. It’s my favourite performance of his. It’s just amazing. I’ve put it down on my bucket list to meet him!
Q. Having chosen acting, what is it you like and dislike about Bollywood already?
A. I don’t know enough to actually give you a very good answer on both. But from whatever I know, I like the fact that it can engulf you to the point of no return. You don’t even feel hungry sometimes when you’re doing your work. And what I don’t like about it is sometimes you don’t get to eat when you’re hungry! It’s pretty much the same thing. It can be all consuming and entirely become your life. People ask about personal life, professional life, this-that, but I think this industry on every level is not divisive. There is no difference beyond a point. Your real life, reel life it all becomes one. Which I like because it’s great. But it can also have its flip side. So I think both the things. The same coin is my favourite a lot.
People ask me how was it working with Sushant Singh Rajput. I really don’t know Sushant very well. But I know his character supremely well because I was interacting with that character for 14 hours a day
Q. The family that’s been in Bollywood, your parents Saif and Amrita, aunt Soha Ali Khan and “friend” Kareena Kapoor Khan, have all had something to say about your screen presence. But what about your grandmother, the matriarch of this filmi Khandaan, Begum Sharmila Tagore? She was the first to get into films way back in 1964 with Kashmir Ki Kali opposite Shammi Kapoor…
A. Let me just for one second read something out to you. I’m looking into my phone in the middle of an interview. I’ve never done this. It’s a message my grandmother sent my mother saying, “Many congratulations on Sara’s debut. How well you have brought her up. Well done. She excels in every criteria. Love and duas, Amma.” She’s been messaging me about my Koffee with Karan, she’s been messaging me about my interviews, she’s been giving messaging me congratulating me, she messaged me after my trailer. I think she’s so excited. And so supportive. And, I mean, she and my mother are not in touch, you know. So this message was really touching to me.
Q. You have a Sikh mother and a Muslim father. Are you on any side of the fence in this love jihad protests against Kedarnath?
A. I think the way that I think because I have a Sikh mother and a Muslim father. You are, and your thought processes are, a product of the life you live. And I’ve lived a certain way which is why I think a certain way. Do I think of love jihad? Do I even understand the concept? Not at all. Can I sit on my high horse and ridicule those that might have an issue with it? Not at all. Talking specifically of Kedarnath, I can tell you that I don’t think the film promotes love jihad. That’s not the point of the film. I don’t think love jihad is even in the vicinity of the point of the film. But if you’re asking me about the concept of love jihad external to Kedarnath, I’ll tell you that my thought process is a product of my upbringing, the way I perceive life. And another aspect of my upbringing is to make me acutely aware of the fact that there are multiple perceptions. Just because I feel this way does not mean I will inflict my opinion on anyone else.