ELLE Cover Star: The Rise And Rise Of Saif Ali Khan
One of Bollywood’s most charming men discusses hedging his bets as an actor, his childhood, and his love for horror-comedies
For a moment I thought Saif Ali Khan is just like us – grew up playing “chor-police” and “Dabba I spy”. But then he also recounts how his breakfasts were in the lawns of Delhi mansions, and I know immediately that his childhood was different. Different from regular us, but similar to Samar Pratap Singh, his character in Tandav.
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Amazon Prime’s recent release Tandav establishes Saif as one of the handful Bollywood stars to make a successful crossover to OTT platforms—his Sacred Games has achieved cult status. “I describe OTT platforms as long-form stories. There are numerous stories that are too short as feature films, and this is where long-form really comes to its own,” Saif says, as we begin our breezy chat.
Saif, who is known to draw a distinct line between personal and public, recently invited a film crew (Tandav) for a shoot indoors at his ancestral home, the Pataudi Palace for the first time. This integration of his heritage and passion played out interestingly, as he acted in a personal environment. “They did change the decor and move around things, and eventually, it became a slightly imaginary space. But once the camera is on, you are thinking only about the role. And frankly, I was just happy to be sleeping 20 feet away from the work location!” he recalls the shoot.
Talking of the Pataudi Palace bring us to his childhood, and Saif nonchalantly accepts that he had a privileged one. In today’s narrative, when privilege is gathering a negative connotation, Saif’s self-assurance is striking. “I grew up in the GK Road neighbourhood, right next to the British High Commission in Lutyen’s Delhi. It was my grandmother’s house, given to her by Pandit Nehru. The women in our family, even generations ago, have lived a full life. Our Bhopal women have ruled the state. They’ve shot rifles and driven cars,” he exclaims.
Saif’s upcoming film is Bhoot Police, a rare horror-comedy. Bollywood typically shies from this genre, and the last horror-comedy that went on to achieve a cult status was Go Goa Gone, incidentally, starring Saif. He apologises in advance for his arrogance as he declares, “Bhoot Police is the best horror-comedy script, and it’s going to be genre-defining.” There is an evident hesitation among Bollywood filmmakers to explore the genre we discuss. “Horror has always been a part of our culture, but with films, it’s a little bit like a bhed-chaal type situation, where once it becomes a trend, everyone follows,” he weighs in.
Adipurush is another film Saif has signed on, and the official word is that the actor will join the shoot only post a paternity leave. It’s a growing phenomenon, paternity leave. But for the doting father Saif, it’s something he had done even years ago when his daughter Sara Ali Khan was born. “Who wants to work when you have a newborn at home!” he shrugs. “If you don’t see your children growing up, you’re making a mistake. And I can take time off from work—it’s a privileged position. Rather than follow a 9-to-5 routine, I live like an actor. Your dharma and approach to everything are based on your career.”
Extending the concept of taking time off to everyday life, he adds, “Self-care, rejuvenation and experiencing new things is important to feel alive. This profession can easily become all-consuming and then, rather boring. My self-care involves looking good for films, and that involves doing everything right—eating healthy, sleeping well, being happy and mentally at peace.” And anyone who has seen Saif and his work will agree that his formula works. The charismatic actor is winning in every walk of life. And even though we interact with him only through our screens, his confidence and wit tear through the barrier.
Saif’s non-cinematic, entrepreneurial channel is House of Pataudi, the clothing and furniture brand, inspired by his heritage. The collection comes across as an extension of his personal style—an understated luxury that announces his royalty, without screaming from the rooftops. It’s conceptualised to make his sartorial sensibilities more affordable and accessible, more mass-oriented. “That’s really where the smart money in India is,’ he smiles. “And things really don’t need to be as expensive as they are, to be wonderful and elegant,” he adds candidly. As we chat about this a little more, it’s clear that he’s extremely passionate about the project, even modelling for the menswear collection himself.
Concluding, Saif is his usual jovial self as he says, “I’m an actor…and I’m loving it! I like being with my family, travelling the world, drinking wine and watching my kids. Touchwood!” Touchwood, indeed.
Content Director & Editor: Kamna Malik; Photographer: Vaishnav Praveen from The House Of Pixels; Stylist: Samar Rajput; Art direction & Cover Design: Pinky Akola; Hair: Sagar Rahukar; Make-up: Nilesh Kothavale; Marketing Head: Ekta Ashar; Assisted by: Rupangi Grover (Styling); Actor’s Reputation Management: Raindrop Media Gurmeet Kaur