There is nothing new in Bollywood offspring following in their successful parents’ footsteps to make their own career and, if luck favours, become big stars themselves. In the past few years, many star-kids have set their foot in filmdom – some hit a home run while others faded into obscurity. After late actress Sridevi’s daughter Janhvi Kapoor’s much-talked-about debut earlier this year, everybody has now fixed their eyes on Saif Ali Khan and Amrita Singh’s daughter Sara Ali Khan who is making her silver screen debut with Abhishek Kapoor’s upcoming film Kedarnath. The movie, also starring Sushant Singh Rajput, revolves around catastrophic floods of 2013 which nearly destroyed the town of Kedarnath in Uttarakhand, India.
Ahead of the release of the film on 7th December, our correspondent, Mohnish Singh, met Sara Ali Khan at a studio in Mumbai and talked about a whole lot of things ranging from what led her to films and how has been the experience of working on Kedarnath to her favourite movies of parents and her next Bollywood outing Simmba.
Sara, Kedarnath is your debut film, and you have been promoting it everywhere ever since its trailer came out. How are you getting used to promotions?
I don’t think I am used to it because everybody who talks about promotions usually has very horrible things to say about it, but I am having a blast. So, maybe I am not used to it. It’s obviously not normal, but I am having a lot of fun. It’s really lovely. Everybody is talking to me so warmly and so lovingly, saying such nice things. How can you not love it?
Your mother, Amrita Singh, once said that the one person who was responsible for her career was legendary actor Dharmendra. Who is that one person in your case?
I don’t think I can answer that question with the same surety and conviction as my mother did. That wouldn’t be fair because I think I am standing here today because of Abhishek Kapoor and Rohit Shetty. Though I can’t say it’s them who shaped my career because that would negate what others have done for me. But having said that, the opportunity to do this film, to be given a film like Kedarnath, makes Abhishek sir very special to me.
How was it to work with Ranveer Singh, your co-star in your second Bollywood outing, Simmba?
Ranveer Singh is amazing. He is like a bundle of energy. It’s such a privilege to work with him because he is the only person that I think I have been a fan of.
How would you compare working with Abhishek Kapoor to Rohit Shetty?
Both the vibes were very different. But I think that there is something not just about Rohit sir and Abhishek sir, but also our entire unit. I don’t think there has been any moment of discomfort on either side ever. I was treated with a lot of love and respect and given a lot of comfort on both of my sets.
Is Kedarnath the kind of launch you always dreamt of?
Yes, it is. Kedarnath is everything I ever dreamt of and all of it including this (promotions) right now. I feel a film is not just what you go into the cinema hall and see. People who like us should know that better than anybody else. A film is somebody narrating you; a film is sitting in Filmcity talking to journalists. It’s all of that and all of it has been surreal.
What has been your experience through the journey of making Kedarnath?
From day one, Kedarnath has been so powerful and it has always been something that I have been very passionate about. It has gone through its ups and downs though, there was conviction that we would emerge stronger because we are good people and we tried to make a good film. There’s no reason that it wouldn’t happen.
Was there any fear involved too throughout the whole process?
Even with that much conviction, we are not invincible and there was a part of me that was petrified out of my brain cells, because I did think that maybe this film would go south and it wouldn’t get culminated and it wouldn’t get released and because how much Kedarnath meant to me and means to me, I have almost not been able to sleep at night for days at end. I called Gattu sir (director) repeatedly every day asking what’s happening. Are we on track? Is it happening? Kedarnath has been a passion project from the get-go.
As we all know that Kedarnath revolves around devastating floods and landslides of Uttarakhand, which occurred in 2013. So while you were shooting at Uttarakhand, did you talk to any survivor or victims’ relatives?
There was this girl called Babita. She lived in Rishikesh and I went to her bookstore. I thought I would just go for 10-15 minutes, but I stayed there for 2-2 ½ hours, sitting there talking to her. The way she was explaining how people there lived, how they spend their day, hearing that made me realize how each person lives such a different life.
What was it like to be at the place of the disaster?
Everybody knows about the 2013 floods in Kedarnath, but I don’t think anybody can understand it without seeing what happened. The documentaries that captured the moments where once there were buildings and then there weren’t, there were people and then they weren’t, there was land and then it wasn’t. The magnitude with which it hit people, they told their loss, they were crying, the stories that tell you the scale of the calamity cannot be comprehended until you see it.
After working in two films, what changes have you noticed in yourself?
For a newcomer, the stakes are very high. You can be hungry, you can be tired, you can be sleep deprived but between the action and cut nothing matters. The only thing that matters is what my character is feeling, and nothing else. You learn from this and once you learn this, you can use it in your daily life. It teaches you how to focus; it teaches you how to prioritize.
Earlier, I would think on sets there are actors, actresses, directors and DOP, but now I have come to understand how important every light-man on my set is. If ever I have asked for one more take, there is time involved. That light-man has to light that shot the same way, the focus needs to be the same way. The spot-boy has to bring tea again because it may take another half an hour. Everyone plays a crucial role.
Can you tell us something about your character? Also, how you prepared for it?
My character is not stubborn, but if she has made up her mind of what she wants, then she wants it. People may say it’s stubbornness, but it’s not that. It’s a sense of clarity, once I have said it, I have said.
For my diction, I never really went to any diction classes, but I worked with Sushant Singh Rajput and if you think my Hindi is okay, his is perfect. He told me in the very beginning that with him I will only speak in Hindi and I only talked to him in Hindi, I don’t communicate with Sushant in English. So, as far as diction is concerned my classes were talking to Sushant on set in Hindi, constantly and consistently.
At what point did you decide that you want to be an actor?
I wanted to be an actor since I was 4-year-old and I was quite convinced that I would. Though I was studious as well. So, I went and got a degree at Columbia University, New York and studied to become a lawyer and then, having done all that, I realized that nothing gives me the rush that acting does. That’s when I knew for sure that I wanted to be an actor because one thing is knowing and one thing is testing and eliminating other options and then doing. A 4-year-old girl wanted to be an actor because that’s all she knew but a 20-year-old girl who studied all over but still she wanted the same thing with the same passion as when she was 4-year-old, then you know this is what you really want to do.
Which films of your father, mother and grandfather have enhanced you as an actor?
Daag (1973) I think is an outstanding movie (of my grandmother Sharmila Tagore). I think that it’s one of my favourite films ever. My favourite movie of my mother is Chameli Ki Shaadi (1986). Having done Simmba, I have realized that comedy as a genre is very hard and I think the way my mother has done that is so lovely. Though what she has done in Betaab (1983) is also very lovely, incomparable. With concern to my father’s, Omkara (2006) is definitely my favourite performance, but I think that because Omkara was such a serious acting-oriented role, it has given more prominence to Hum Tum (2004) where also, I think, he is equally good.