Bollywood royalty Saif Ali Khan is often referred to as “the third Khan” after superstars Shah Rukh Khan, Salman Khan and Aamir Khan. However, that doesn’t really do justice to his cinema journey. While the Khan trinity have become megastars based on their mainstream charm, Saif decided to walk on the path less explored and that hasn’t always been appreciated.
The early days of his career were marred with bad decisions. While he initially earned fame with Yeh Dillagi and Main Khiladi Tu Anari, he delivered a spate of flops in films like Surakshaa, Ek Tha Raja, Bambai Ka Babu, Tu Chor Main Sipahi, Dil Tera Diwana, Hamesha, Keemat: They Are Back and Humse Badhkar Kaun.
He earned praise from the critics once again with Kya Kehna. The film tackled pre-martial sex and teenage pregnancy at a time when leading actors were still running around behind trees in romantic numbers. This was a daring move and became a moderate commercial success as well. Then, of course, there was Dil Chahta Hai which was his most popular film at that time. The movie was not only a blockbuster hit but was a critics’ favourite. Saif showed remarkable comedic skills and brought charm and naivete to his character – a far cry from his casanova image in Kya Kehna.
He followed up with another endearing performance in Kal Ho Naa Ho. Till now, Khan had been doing mainstream movies but we’d see a slight change in his career trajectory hereon. Breaking out of his chocolate boy image, he starred in Ek Hasina Thi which shattered earlier held notions about him and earned him high praise from critics.
And, now, we see the experimental Saif Ali Khan that we’ve come to know. Following Parineeta, Saif starred in Salaam Namaste where he wore next to nothing but also played half of a live-in couple. This film also discussed pre-marital sex and pregnancy and was quite forward-thinking for that time. He surprised everyone with Being Cyrus and Omkara and the official Oscars entry, Eklavya: The Royal Guard.
Saif went back to his mainstream roots before experimenting with a terror sleeper agent in Kurbaan, caste-based reservations in Aarakshan and the ambitious Agent Vinod which aimed to be a James Bond-esque spy thriller. None of these were particularly successful but they tie in with the Saif Ali Khan story. Cocktail and Go Goa Gone showed us a Saif Ali Khan that was willing to be progressive but also someone who understood what made the Box Office chime. Go Goa Gone would go on to be a cult movie in later years.
Saif delivered a spate of flops after that, mostly because he tried to be a mainstream actor when he really isn’t. He has the looks, the charm, the body and the pedigree but sex comedies and such are just not his thing. After his wedding to Kareena Kapoor Khan and the birth of Taimur, Saif has definitely become more comfortable in his film choices. He’s not trying to be someone he is not. He’s done Rangoon which was interesting on paper, we’re sure, but failed to make a mark at the Box Office. He did Chef which was critically acclaimed and saw him grow as an actor.
But it was Kaalakandi, Sacred Games and Laal Kaptaan that showed us that Saif Ali Khan isn’t just “the fourth Khan” but the Khan with range. Today, almost A-listers are heading towards OTT but Saif was the first Bollywood biggie to realise the immensity of Netflix and Sacred Games set off a spate of successful crime dramas in the OTT space like Mirzapur, Ghoul, Paatal Lok and more.
Laal Kaptaan is, perhaps, one of his finest films but it is a movie that is so complex and so intricate that it is difficult to sit through and make sense of all the narratives. Perhaps, in a few more years or so, we’ll be able to appreciate Laal Kaptaan better.
“I’ve learned that there’s a certain kind of grammar to Hindi movies. Things like Laal Kaptaan are a bit alien to our system. I feel like it could have been more of a superhero kind of movie. The whole film should have been made with magic realism. It was a hell of an attempt, and bloody exhausting,” he told Man’s World Magazine in an interview.
Tanhaji was, again, an interesting choice and saw him win a Filmfare Award.
“In the past few years, I’ve really tried to act better and just generally be as good as I can. I’ve always believed that if you chase good work, everything follows. I’ve been more commercial-minded before and now I’m back to chasing the best parts of what I’ve been offered at this age and at this stage of my career. I’m being a little more discerning as my acting brain has developed. There are places I want to go or go back to, and there are places I want to go forward to, you know?” he added.
Well, we sure can’t wait to see what his latest chapter turns up.
[Header Image Credit: IMDb]