When Saif Ali Khan accepted his film career, it won’t work: tracing the rise, fall and rise of the actor on his birthday


Saif Ali Khan – the actor who could play the spoiled playboy in Yeh Dillagi and the dark antagonist in Ek Hasina Thi with equal ease. Add in the Sid from Dil Chahta Hai, Boris from Go Goa Gone, or Sartaj Singh from Sacred Games and you’ve got an actor that’s hard to put in a box. He belongs to the era of the Khans, but his journey has been very different from theirs, given the many ups and downs he has experienced during his career.

While Salman Khan played the boy in love who also knew how to throw his punches in the 90s, Shah Rukh Khan was (mainly) hailed as the king of romance. Aamir Khan struck gold with his business successes and has proven that he can don any mantle, be it the romantic hero or his portrayal of a police officer in Sarfarosh.

But where was Saif Ali? He has tried everything, sometimes with little or no success. He was the ’90s romantic action hero, with a comedic timing glow that wasn’t used. He has not disappeared from the spotlight despite poor choices. The race hasn’t been smooth at all for him, but he knows he’s here to stay.


The difficult 90s

Saif Ali Khan Saif Ali Khan in Yeh Dillagi

Much of Saif’s filmography in the ’90s can be categorized as a rather frozen mass of romance and action, with some glimmers of hope. This was the phase where he tried out unusual to the point of bizarre storylines, and characters that, ironically, just looked similar.

After being deemed unprofessional on Rahul Rawail Bekhudi’s film with Kajol, Saif Ali Khan was replaced and he made his debut with Parampara. The film, which told the story of two estranged brothers, failed. Saif was next seen in Aashiq Awara and Pehchaan, both of which bombed at the box office. Still, he was appreciated for his performance in Aashiq Awara and he won the Filmfare Award for Male Debut. The actor, however, says he can’t relate to this phase of his career.

Renowned tasting, Saif has found more success with Yeh Dillagi and Main Khiladi Tu Anari, which has earned him nominations. He again had a rough time with films such as Yaar Gaddaar and Aao Pyaar Karein. The next four years almost ended his career as he had a string of duds including Hameshaa, Keemat, Surakshaa, Ek Tha Rajaa, Bambai Ka Babu, and Dil Tera Deewana. Critics excluded him, his career was considered over. Speaking of how his career has evolved over the years, Saif told Bollywood Hungama in an interview, “Honestly, I think I worked really hard. I was a bit in the ditch, mentally and professionally. I managed to get out of it. It’s like climbing a mountain. I feel like I am at base camp 1 and we have made progress but there is still a long way to go. The ropes are attached, the boots are attached, and we have our view of the hill and we climb, ”he said.


Back on track with Hum Saath Saath Hain

Hope appeared in 1999, as Yeh Hai Mumbai Meri Jaan, Kachche Dhaage, Aarzoo and Hum Saath Saath Hain. While the first two continued the streak of poor box office performances, Kachche Dhage was his first success after Main Khiladi Tu Anari. Later, Sooraj Barjatya’s Hum Saath Saath Hain ensemble was a dazzling blockbuster, something Saif later called a “morale booster”. Saif played the over-excited Vinod in the star-studded ensemble film, which also starred Salman Khan, Sonali Bendre, Tabu, and Karisma Kapoor.

The race for notoriety in the early 2000s.

Saif has made a name for himself with his quick wit and hilarious jokes, as his numerous interviews prove. This personality trait found its place in his films and quickly became the trump card of many of his directors.

In the 2000s, Saif proved his weight in comedic gold after playing a rather seedy man in Kya Kehna, a teenage pregnancy movie. The movie Love Ke Liye Kuch Bhi Karega failed at the box office, but Saif’s affinity for comedy was becoming more visible, a fact that was later established with Farhan Akhtar’s Dil Chahta Hai telling the story of three close friends in the city of Mumbai. Saif played the part of the hapless Sameer, in the trio which included Aamir Khan and Akshaye Khanna. It was a turning point in his career, and Saif rolled with the punches, his mind was fresh, organic and filmmakers began to capitalize on this quality for their projects. There was also an evolution of Bollywood cinema, whether it was the songs, the choreography or the action, and Saif seemed to evolve with his time.

The subsequent flops of Rehnaa Hai Tere Dil Mein and Na Tum Jaano Na Hum didn’t matter that much, as his performance in Kal Ho Na Ho in 2003 established him as one of the major players in the industry. Saif has proven that he can do intense roles, coupled with comedy, all at the same time. From then on he was a force to be reckoned with, and the fluctuations in his career did not tarnish that image from then on.

Yet the pleasant part of Saif’s choices was that he could be extremely unpredictable. He didn’t want to be labeled, he wanted to see what else was there and what would work. After playing various shades of a romantic hero or the “funny guy,” he played the dark antagonist in Ek Hasina Thi, which focused on a woman’s thirst for revenge. Next came the romantic comedy Hum Tum in 2004, where he played the lead role opposite Rani Mukerji. His taunts and jokes in the film were widely acclaimed and he has proven he can display a range of emotions. Saif also won the national award for the film. Love Aaj Kal carried the character of a young urban man, while giving him a meaty double role. Salaam Namaste, Cocktail and Ta Ra Rum Pum established this image.

Speaking about this phase, Saif told Film Companion in an interview, “You don’t have to be afraid and you don’t have to be conceited. You have to be really connected. Either it can come from a state of total security, or it just means you have nothing to lose. Maybe it was a combination of the two for me. I don’t know when it happened, but at one point I realized that if this career isn’t working, it isn’t. I made some interesting choices, let me be a good actor and learn.

Saif had not finished experimenting, far from it. He starred in the psychological drama Being Cyrus, later followed by Omkara, an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Othello, but in the gritty Indian context. He was the subtle and malevolent antagonist and it echoed in his cautious speech and manner. After that, he carried the Race franchise on his shoulders, and fans agree on one thing: you can’t have the Race franchise without the sarcastic character of Saif.

Saif in the cinema today

Saif Ali Khan Saif Ali Khan in Sacred Games (Photo: Netflix)

Once again, Saif has been riding a roller coaster and making disastrous choices such as Humshakals and Happy Endings, where he has been unanimously criticized by critics. He took a hiatus from the movies for a while, returning with films such as Rangoon and Chef, which underperformed at the box office. Still, he was praised for his acting. That’s the thing with Saif, he’s always managed to get acclaim for his films, even when they get trashed by critics. Go Goa Gone, Kaalakandi, Kurbaan saw him take risks – it didn’t all land but established him as an actor willing to think outside the box.

Sacred games has been a breath of fresh air in his career, where he played the role of policeman Sartaj Singh, who has to hunt down the infamous gangster murder game, tried by Nawazuddin Siddiqui. He had subsequent flops, always after that, but that’s something his fans learned about him. He always finds a way to come back.


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