Three years ago, when Sara Ali Khan appeared on Koffee With Karan with her dad, Saif Ali Khan, everyone had the same thought; here’s a star who seems fun, real and talented! Four movies later, the glow around Sara hasn’t dimmed one bit. However, the actor is hellbent on turning down the titles that the media bestows on her. “I’ve never looked at myself as a celebrity. In fact, I do not like the word ‘star.’ This elevation of people in my profession to a non-human status is not something I relate to,” she says. “Thankfully, I am blessed with friends and family that treat me the same way. My brother, for instance, is my mirror more than anyone else. Whether I was a fat child at Columbia University or I am a decently-shaped woman doing dance numbers with Varun Dhawan, he doesn’t care.”
Is this acute sense of self-awareness that makes her so relatable? “I was a large girl while growing up, so somehow I developed a sense of self that has nothing to do with the way I looked and how I was perceived. I was happy within; I didn’t care if people saw me as fat or thin. I never measured myself like that. I am truly a simple, desi girl at heart. Maybe that’s what people relate with. I don’t like spending a lot of money. I am not brand conscious at all. I am happy in my salwar kameez from Sarojini Nagar and jhutis than in brands that cost more than my monthly income.”
Connecting with us over a Zoom call, an hour before she has to rush to a dentist, a lot is happening around Sara. When she is not working on brand projects, she is busy shooting for Aanand L. Rai’s Atrangi Re. Co-starring Dhanush and Akshay Kumar, Sara’s excitement for the role is evident. “At the end of the day, a part of the character you play stays with you. That part only belongs to you because it’s the way you have understood and played her. I’ve not felt this rush of emotions in a long time. I last felt it during my first film Kedarnath, when I played Mukku and it’s happening now with Atrangi Re,” shares the 25-year-old. “I’ve been lucky enough to do things that I truly enjoy. I love studying, I love acting and I love dancing. So, any amount of hard work is never really hard work” she adds.
While Sara’s background leads people to assume that she always wanted to be an actor, the realisation came during her theatre performances at Columbia University. “Growing up, I was very academically driven, and while I always had a love for acting, I knew I wasn’t going to be a leading heroine in a Hindi film. So, I told myself I’d do other stuff. But the emotions I felt while performing, feeling things I wouldn’t ordinarily feel and making a group of people emote with me is what really excited me and pushed me towards acting.” Despite her background, Sarah’s first time on set was a surprise. “People would expect that I’d know things – being a star kid and coming from a filmi background. But on each set, I’ve learnt new things. When I was a four-year-old acting only meant dancing on Kaanta Laga and when I was a teenager, I wanted to be Poo from Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham… On the sets of Kedarnath, I didn’t even know that sometimes one shot has to be taken several times,” she laughs. “I think that’s when I truly realised what acting meant. The hard work, the dedication, all of it.”
Speaking about the new normal that we’ve all stepped into this year, Sara looks forward to the change in the industry. “One has to move with the times. I’ve realised that what the audience wants today is very different. Their desires and tastes are evolving and I am learning to give them what they want. The competition is no longer between two films releasing on a Friday. We also have a host of things available on OTT platforms. I think the takeaway here is keep reinventing and growing so that you are not left behind.”
Last year was tough on the world, and for Sara’s high-energy self, it taught her to slow down. A fact that’s evident in the patient manner in which she answers each question. “Last year did change me a lot. As someone who is very active and ambitious, I have always been on a constant run in my life. It is healthy but it can also lead to burnout. One of the first things that the pandemic taught me is that ultimately the things you need to bring a smile to your face are much less. You don’t need a certain number of brands and films and covers. It’s those little things – sitting with your mother for a good cup of coffee or eating dal chawal. So, the first thing I’ve learnt is gratitude, lots of it. The second thing is to simply stop. We are always thinking of the next big thing but why are we not looking at what’s happening right now. The lockdown has taught me that we don’t know what will come next and so I don’t have to think of it. I want to simply enjoy the now.”
And what does ‘living in the moment’ look like? “I live with my mother, and she’s my whole world. She’s my go-to for everything. Just last night, I had to go to a friend’s place and she wasn’t at home so I FaceTimed her to figure out what to wear (laughs)! My goal is to make sure my mother is proud of me, happy and secure. She’s given up her life for my brother and me, and my genuine purpose in life is to be able to do one-tenth of that for her.”
Drawing comparisons to her relationship with her father, Sara feels that they are essentially the same people. “I remember this vacation with him in Italy, which was all about pizza, pasta, culture, museums, music and plays – this is something my father and I really, really enjoy. We both are history nerds, and we laugh about that fact that we discuss Hitler and Stalin more than films and Bollywood.” As for her brother, she loves that the pandemic has allowed her more time with him. “We’ve never been as thick as we’d like to be. This pandemic has allowed us to be together. We’ve finally reached a point where we have the same interests, and we share mutual friends. Ibrahim is the smarter one you know. It doesn’t seem like it, but he is,” she laughs. “He is the one with more perception and I take his opinion on a lot of things. He is a guy of few words and his words matter a lot, and he matters a lot.”
As the interview draws to a close, I ask her one last question: what has she been binge-watching? “I finished Bridgerton in one night, and now I am watching The Queen’s Gambit. I mean I was watching it, now I have to go meet with my dentist,” she laughs as she logs off.
Content Director & Editor: Kamna Malik; Photographer: Taras Taraporvala; Stylist: Shaeroy Chinoy; Art Direction & Cover Design: Pinky Akola, Hair & Make-up: Florian Hurel; Production: P Productions; Marketing Head: Ekta Ashar; Assisted By: Rupangi Grover, Jainee Bheda (styling), Assisted By: Soniya Modi (Hair & Make-up); Location: Amateur Riders Club; Actor’s PR agency: Spice Social