A library with books ranging from Ustinov and Wodehouse to a French dictionary, a Mandela biography and even a Dan Brown novel, occupies prominent space in the study of actor Saif Ali Khan. His Padma Shri and the National Award adorn one wall in the room, while a framed picture of Clint Eastwood gazes at you from another corner. A giant mounted television and an accompanying sound system are indicative of the vinyl-collecting actor’s interest in a complete audio-visual experience.
Saif walks in and profusely apologises for a short wait. Clad in a simple white kurta-pyjama, the bespectacled actor makes for a comfortable picture, his boyish smile not once betraying the kind of hectic day he’s having.
Within a few hours, he’d be on a flight to Mauritius following which he would make his way to a month-long shooting schedule in the US. Even so, his excitement is infectious as he takes me to a wall that proudly displays the iconic image of Jimmy Page, the legendary Led Zeppelin guitarist, using a violin bow on his guitar.
“This is an enlarged version of the original that I have. The picture was taken by Terry O’Neill and I blew it up to frame it and place it here,” he says, beamingly.
Whether or not he has a blockbuster in his kitty, his has always been the image of a guitar-totting star. Even before Bollywood fans discovered rock music through the works of Vishal-Shekhar, Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy or even films like Rock On!! Saif was the only Bollywood actor to have toured with a band (India’s premier rock outfit Parikrama in this case) and performed at concerts that had little to do with any filmi promotions. He is modest about his skills and agrees that his Bollywood connection has helped fans overlook the fact that he isn’t all that gifted with the guitar. “It’s probably true that I can get away with playing mediocre music because I’m a Bollywood star. I should have practised much more over the years. But when people say that my playing is rubbish, I think that’s a bit unfair, though perhaps their condescension is understandable. However, it’s safe to say that for many years I was the only actor who knew how to hold a guitar let alone play it!” he laughs, uproariously.
Mornings in the Khan household, he says, usually mean Saif, wife Kareena Kapoor and Elvis the doggie taking in a healthy dose of jazz along with their breakfast. The actor is a big fan of this genre of music along with rock, blues and classical. He doesn’t like his music too “aggressive” and admits to knowing little about the burgeoning EDM scene. His musical education started rather early. In fact, during one of his musical appreciation classes in school, he was even made to watch the movie version of Pink Floyd’s The Wall. “The first group that interested me was Deep Purple. I was going to a grown up school in England after prep school. One of my seniors was strumming a guitar,” he says and starts to hum the tune while subconsciously breaking into air guitar mode. “He said he was playing a song called Black Night. I fell in love with it immediately. I had obviously heard music before but this is when I fell in love with rock.”
Incidentally, Saif’s best friend in school was the son of Paul Samwell-Smith, founding member and bassist of English rock band Yardbird. Although he was taking guitar lessons, he tried his hand at vocals but his teachers discovered early on that Saif was probably “tone-deaf” or some variant of it. “It doesn’t come naturally to me. I can’t tune a guitar, at least some frequencies. Of the five strings of the guitar E-A-D-G-B, I’m fine with EADG. The tuning area for the B string is slightly different to the rest. I just can’t tune that well. It’s not like I can’t hear it but I don’t seem to hear it correctly. I can’t make sense out of it,” he says, bemused with his condition yet grateful for electronic tuners.
If school initiated him into rock, it was his mother, the illustrious actress Sharmila Tagore, who introduced him to a lot of musical luminaries. He recalls, “My mum was very hip with music. She was into soul, Motown, funk; admired singers like Eartha Kitt and Ella Fitzgerald. She had great speakers and a good record player.” The first CD Saif ever bought was ZZ Top’s Eliminator when his mother took him shopping.
Even as he credits his mother for being a musical influence, the one feature that he didn’t pick up from his father was, incidentally, his taste in music. The late Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi was an avid ghazal listener, a genre of music Saif till date can’t seem to get his head around. “Ghazals, albeit beautiful songs, can be a bit too melancholic for my liking. We went to a Begum Akhtar concert at the Pakistani embassy in Delhi once with my father, when I was about 12 years old. I was sitting behind him or on his bad side, he couldn’t see me on his right. A lot of elders were going all ‘Wah! Wah!’ during the performance. So even I started doing that. I kept doing it until someone or probably my dad told me to shut up!” he guffaws.
Thankfully for him, Kareena and he have grown to sharing some musical tastes. Saif plays the guitar for her sometimes though he admits to his tendency to play the same AC/DC songs and a few others all the time. “She says I should practise more. She likes it when I play the guitar. Once, early on in our relationship, she had asked me to turn down the music because she was talking to someone. Today she can’t start her morning without jazz! She once told me that she learnt so much from me without having been consciously taught. I, in fact, feel the same with her.”
A Zen-like calmness seeps into his face when he talks about her. He admits that at 43, he’s experiencing a personal stability after years of trying to do many things. When Saif finished his A-levels, he told his parents he wanted to be an actor. “They were mortified. I wasn’t adamant but I was pretty stupid, yet incredibly lucky,” he says, before acknowledging his spate of flops that went on for years. “I never thought I’d stop doing films. I didn’t think I had much of a choice. I didn’t go to University, so what would I have done apart from films? With my qualifications, I would’ve been a farm manager at Pataudi! I had so many opportunities to learn from my mistakes. It was a bit depressing and I really wasn’t enjoying much of the work I did then. I learnt what not to do and I worked hard to try and better myself. Dil Chahta Hai was the gamechanger. That gave me a new lease of life,” he says, with the pride of a man who despite all odds, didn’t give up.
Ironically, Saif admits to being quite the escapist. And that trait extends even into his love for music, a constant companion through all of his struggles. “I don’t like to connect with too much drama. I have enough in my life, like most others do. Connecting to pain through music is something I find rather painful and highly avoidable. I’d rather listen to something happy,” he laughs.
source: http://www.deccanchronicle.com / Deccan Chronicle – Sunday Chronicle / Home> Comment / by DC Correspondent / March 01st, 2014