Saif Ali Khan on Sacred Games, freedom on the internet and owing his success to Mumbai

08/07/2018

Saif Ali Khan will be next seen in a project that all the fans of the binge-watching generation will cherish. He will be seen playing a cop, Sartaj Singh, in Netflix’s first Indian original series, Sacred Games. The show, based on Vikram Chandra’s 2006 thriller novel of the same name, pits Saif against, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, playing Ganesh Gaitonde- one of his most menacing roles ever. The series has been co-directed by Anurag Kashyap and Vikramaditya Motwane, with only the latter shooting for scenes with Saif while the former shot for Nawazuddin. The division of work was done to “save time”, as told to me by Anurag, minutes before my interview with Saif.
Netflix is pretty strict when it comes to promotions. I had never seen so many people from the production house on ground zero before this. As I entered the room to meet Saif, he was already ranting about journalists not sticking to questions about Sacred Games and asking about his kid. And I decided to strike off a question from my list.
In an era, where some celebs can’t find time to greet the journos and want to jump right into the action, Saif showed impressive poise and asked for my introduction. After a very brief off-record banter, we sat down for our tête-à-tête.
Doing a web series is a big gamble? And that too India’s first Netflix original…
Why do you say it is a big gamble?
Because it has not been done before. It is a new thing for a Bollywood actor like you to star in one…
I don’t know. Gamble kind of implies that you are risking something for a great reward. But I don’t see the risk. And I already have the rewards, which is the pleasure of doing a really interesting job in a really lovely environment. Also, having an overseeing production house like Netflix that looks after you all the way – edit, the technical aspect of the show and the marketing of everything, and the release of it. I would like to do this every day. And fascinating stories!
I would love to see that. So, I watched the first four episodes and there are a lot of things that could tick off a certain section of the society? Do you find that scary? Are you nervous that Sacred Games might cause a controversy?
Well, when we make shows, we try to stay as true as we can to the source material. We try to have some integrity with the storytelling. but the idea is not to get carried away, not to offend anyone. I don’t think it is offensive at all, even the language is controlled. If you are playing a mafia guy, his language might be a bit extreme. Or maybe not. We also have polite mafia guys as well. But generally…
It is a free environment, the whole point of the internet is that it is free of judgement and censorship. You don’t want to offend anyone, you just want to tell a story properly. I don’t see anything offensive about it. It is kind of a relief to not be bothered about it.
What was the best part about the said freedom on the internet? Cursing?
I am saying you don’t want to be gratuitous. You don’t want to get excited about just using bad language. Not for a global audience, not if you are serious about your business. Using bad language is not a thrill.
You have limited yourself to niche roles like Kaalakaandi, Chef, Sacred Games. Is that a conscious choice?
I don’t know if you could include Sacred Games there. I don’t think it is a niche choice. I mean the show is going to be consumed by 190 countries, so it is hardly the niche.
What was the toughest part about shooting Sacred Games?
I suppose if anything was tough about it, it was the limited amount of time we had. To tell a story for eight hours, there were a lot of shooting hours we had. It was tiring. It was quite a gruelling shoot.
A few months back your look for the series was leaked by the paparazzi. Does the intrusion bother you?
I think the first day we shot the series, the look was leaked. On these things, I think, any publicity is good publicity. Some things just create interest. It didn’t hurt. A very few things can be kept secret.
Sacred Games makes commentary about religion, politics, LGBT community, Bollywood, underworld. What was your favourite part?
I don’t think it really makes comments about these things. It includes it. Definitely, the underworld [was my favourite]. And the kind of sad background and intense hardship under which Ganesh Gaitonde has grown up. His parts are actually my favourite parts.
Does it have to be so graphic?
Which part did you find ‘graphic’?
There is a dog dying in plain sight. There is full frontal nudity…
Well, you know I think every story has its tone. And some things are required. A dog dying is part of the story and designed to get your attention and I think it does. Some stories are more graphic than others. I think it is handled very sensibly. It was a great book that was well written and critically well received. And we tried hard to bring that alive.
I understand nudity is not for everyone. If it offends, you can always watch something else, like Stranger Things.
It did not offend me… but there are a few people that will be.
Nobody is forcing them to watch the show.
So, Gaitonde in the series loves Mumbai for it gives everyone an opportunity to prove themselves. And Sartaj is of the opinion that “keede hain sab sheher mein”. What is your take on Mumbai?
I owe a lot to Bombay. It has given me pretty much everything I have. I met my wife here. I made my money here. My investments are here. And I think it is a very free city. And the most vibrant kind of place in India. I don’t think I will live anywhere else in this country. Except maybe Pataudi.

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