Everybody thinks they know Sara Ali Khan—there are 40.5 million followers glued to every move she makes on Instagram—and it’s easy to see why. At first blush, her unfiltered feed is a symposium of everything you’d expect from a rising Gen Z star. She’s the best friend you always wanted, except one whose Tuesday night could see her busting out a dance move with maverick Ranveer Singh while the internet gasps unanimously in wish-it-was-me rapture. But for those who care to look closer, the kookily rhyming captions are underscored by a thread of authenticity as she glides guilelessly between the major and the mundane. To eschew social media’s veneer of perfection in today’s age is a daring decision—radical, even. So, what does she know that the rest of us don’t?
“Always know that you know nothing, because I still don’t,” her voice chirps crisply down the airwaves as she settles in for a chat from an AirBnB she has booked in London. This isn’t a lie, but it isn’t the entire truth either. Sara clearly knows something, and she has a string of blockbusters, shiny trophies and signature hook steps to show for it. As we speak, she has just wrapped up shooting for Laxman Utekar’s untitled next, with Vicky Kaushal and has some fond memories to take back home as souvenirs. “He let me in on the fact that he used to be called ‘Bicky’ in Punjab so, of course, I used to scream out, ‘Oye Bicky, oye’ from across the room,” she laughs unabashedly at the memory.
It has been a busy morning for the star at Barry’s Bootcamp and a boxing studio, all before the clock struck two in the afternoon. As she gushes about lunch plans with her mother, the relaxed timbre of her voice almost lulls me into believing that her morning didn’t extend beyond Gossip Girl reruns over bubble baths and macaroons. But this is where her 40.5 million followers, this writer included, have erred. For starters, there are fewer teen dramas in her Netflix queue and more documentaries—her voice lights up as she tells me about The Last Czars—and an ideal day in her life could just as easily be spent taking in the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City which she counts as her favourite art experience. And it is perhaps this matter-of-fact approach to cradling each of her diverse cultural passions that alerts me to the fact that there’s more to Sara than we know.
Reading Between The Lines
Long before Sara was essaying happily-ever-afters on the silver screen, she was devouring them on her bookshelf. Whether on flights, in the front seat of her Mercedes or in between takes on sets, the paps aren’t surprised anymore to find the 26-year-old with her nose buried in a book. “I haven’t been as good with my reading as I should,” she confesses shamefully to me, citing back-to-back movie shoots and travel for robbing her of her reading time. Does she plan on taking time to savour every word when she gets back to her bookshelf, I ask and she pauses thoughtfully. “It depends on the book—if you are reading Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, you will read it overnight. But if you are reading Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, you will want to take your time. It isn’t the kind of book that you read to get to the end, because every sentence is a world in itself. The way he describes places, emotions, characters, relationships and the hierarchy of the Russian society is a thing of beauty,” she enthuses. The latter is especially of interest to her because, “Everybody knows I am a Columbia history major, but few people know that my area is Russian history.”
I find myself leaning forward with interest; where does the love for history come from? “Growing up, I realised that my father was extremely interested in history. We visited Rome and Florence together and went to every museum in the city. We are both always curious and that’s really all it takes—you should want to know.” With two history buffs in the same house, dinner table conversations probably look interesting, I venture. She agrees, “We always tell each other what we are reading. He recommended Anna Karenina to me, but I read a lot of classics when I was studying at Columbia, from The Odyssey by Homer to Dante’s Inferno. I told my father about them and he was so intrigued by the idea that he got them all and started reading too.”
While she hasn’t considered writing herself, Sara has flirted with the idea of performing in a play—another core memory from her childhood. “Every summer, I used to go with my parents to watch The Broadway and the London Theatre versions of The Lion King. Some might consider me crazy for watching the same play over and over again, but I might go again this week,” she divulges. Also on her to-do list is catching a performance of Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull—“See what I meant when I said I am obsessed with Russian culture?”—and a visit to the Natural History Museum once the sun deigns to peek out from the clouds that have descended on London.
For someone who favours colour in everything—from the pops of fuchsia that dot her bedroom decor to the electric blue liner that occasionally sneaks its way into her makeup kit— it comes as little surprise that the gloomy skies of monsoon fail to spark her fantasy. Is she a summer person then, I want to know, only for her to refute, “I am an ‘anything that allows me to walk’ person.” The latter serves a particular passion for the young star, who credits the overnight treks from Pahalgam as a transformative experience.
I sit back for a moment to string my thoughts into some semblance of order as I try to reconcile the red carpet-hopping Gen Z icon with her deeper cultural pursuits. If I walked into this interview hoping to capture the crux of Sara, I am only more confused: where does the couture-swathed actress end and where does the Dante-quoting Russian history buff begin? “It is hard to tell because Sara Ali Khan is constantly evolving. The girl going to a temple is the same girl wearing bikinis at the beach is the same girl who hates living away from her mother for 45 days while shooting. She will keep surprising you, because she is still surprising herself,” she smiles pensively as she signs off.