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Spotlight: In the eye of the storm

Updated September 06, 2015


Dawn: First things first … about that statement that you gave saying you have no faith in Pakistan …

Saif Ali Khan: “First of all I’m nobody to say that I have faith or don’t have faith in a country in general. My comments were made purely in terms of censorship. In the forum that we were discussing things we were told that the film is being banned before the censors have seen it. So my comment was purely in light of that.

I’ve made 50 other comments in my own way trying to support our relationship with Pakistan. I never meant to upset the sentiments of the Pakistani people and artistes, who I wish the very best for always.

The flap over Phantom quickly escalated into a cross-border exchange of stinging statements and blanket bans … Saif Ali Khan, who came under fire for a statement he made about Pakistan, speaks to Images on Sunday about his side of the story

If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have come there on shows and worked with Pakistani musicians and artistes in our production.

Neither did I mean to insult the censor board. I have repeatedly said that they must have their own issues and pressures and laws but no one has noticed these comments of mine. I have worked with Fakhr-e-Alam on shows he was hosting in Pakistan and I thought we got along very well. I am a well wisher of his.

I was hoping people would see the film and discuss it. I was disappointed with the ban, but not surprised, as Agent Vinod had also been banned and that was never meant to be a serious and realistic film. It was an attempt at an entertainer. Also whenever we have presented Pakistani soldiers or even ISI agents in our films they have been what we thought as strong and complimentary portrayals.

I think I have explained my statement. I hope that’s clear.

Dawn: So what do you think Phantom is about? How did you think it would be received in Pakistan? 

Saif: Phantom is a mission movie. It’s a simple genre piece about one man being given a chance at personal redemption by going on storm, storm, from an extremely dangerous mission for which he will never get the credit and no one will care if he doesn’t comeback. That was the romance of the story for me. It is about hunting down the masterminds of 26/11 across the globe.

I was not surprised when I heard it was banned in Pakistan, given that films (like Agent Vinod, Ek tha Tiger)on Indo-Pak subjects will obviously be told from the Indian point of view (no matter how balanced we think that is) and therefore will not allowed. I completely understand this.

I was, however, surprised when I heard that a court banned it without even looking at the film

Dawn: Are you surprised by the backlash? 

Saif: I think social media is the same everywhere; usually very useful but it can bring us all together like a lynch mob! I wish freedom of speech and opinion could be respected. In India I was appalled to see people going after Neha Dhupia for criticizing the government and I am also sorry to see so much vitriol against a liberal voice in this case. Please leave the girl alone. I hope nothing actually happens to her and she can work in peace soon. I for one am not on social media. We have idiots like Kamal Rashid Kkhan on it so I just can’t! This is a joke.

And to all Pakistani artistes, I’m very sorry if I offended you guys in some way. It was not meant to be that way. I think we share a bond just by being in the same profession that transcends politics and borders and this stuff. I would hate anyone to think I actually have any thing in common with the characters I play (apart from the very charming ones of course!). I mean I feel as much for Phantom as I do for Omkara and have less than nothing in common with the ideology of both.

Dawn: As an Indian Muslim in an increasingly right-wing government have you ever felt the pressure to prove your ‘loyalty’? 

Saif: Never! My parents were national figures and I was brought up with a secular outlook. . I am very secure and happy living in India. I have never felt the need to prove my loyalty to my country. I would be shattered if I had to. If anyone asks me to, I’ll tell them my great grand uncle wrote the national anthem — beat that for nationalism!

Dawn: Médecins Sans Frontières reportedly wants to sue the filmmakers for portraying them in an inaccurate manner, what does you have to say about that? 

Saif: Médecins Sans Frontières is a non issue thank the lord! We are really beginning to sound like a bunch of offensive louts who don’ know what we are doing! There is no problem. It’s all been cleared up. We actually tried really hard to not offend anyone with this film (except terrorists of course.) Thank god David Headley hasn’t sued us. That would really take the cake!

Dawn: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Saif: Lastly, I love my family in Pakistan and I love so many things about Pakistan. I am not a very political person or a judgmental one. I am an actor and an artiste. I’m still trying to figure out how quickly I got sucked into this .I tell you what: Indo-Pak subjects have been done to death! Total fatigue and boredom is on the cards if we don’t stop! I for one would much rather release Race like we did and break records rather than break hearts and cause stress to us all.

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, September 6th, 2015

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