Saif Ali Khan‘s next project sees him reunite with his Tanhaji director Om Raut for Adipurush, a retelling of the Ramayana. On an exclusive session for FC Front Row, Khan talks about preparing to play the role of Ravana in the film:
Anupama Chopra (AC): You’re playing Ravana. What a fascinating character. A man of knowledge. What can you tell us about him? I understand there is a massive physical transformation involved?
Saif Ali Khan (SAK): Well. Yes, there is a lot. I don’t want to give it away. He (Raut) is going to make me larger than I am, but again, that might be giving it away. There will be some trickery involved, but a lot of it is real. He wants us to train and look particularly tough. The point is that Ravana is India’s Satan, he’s the demon king. And I guess what drives him is vanity. He is the personification of vanity. Everything comes from there – the doom that he prays for, the kingdom that he wants. His whole outlook is just incredibly incredibly clouded, blind and vain. He is a monster. He is strong and fun to play, in that sense. The whole point of the story is to overcome the monster. That’s what story is about. It’s about Lord Rama overcoming him. The stronger he is, the more of an achievement it is for the hero (to defeat him). So he is dressed up in dazzling clothes. He’s got an array of weapons. He’s got a tremendous amount of knowledge and power. He is vain. He says some outrageous things so I still talk to my director saying, ‘Oh no.’ I will tell you one thing though – I do have ten heads at points, which is one of the cool things. It is wonderfully presented. Om is a student, apart from being a very good director. He has a very exciting vision on this.
AC: When you prepare as an actor to get into the mindset of a character who’s done things that you, as Saif Ali Khan, couldn’t even contemplate, how do you find a way in? Do you write backstories for your characters? Do you sit and chat with your directors?
SAK: I think it has to do little bit with the psychological awareness that there is a monster in all of us. If you are in tune with your feelings, obviously we are all capable of the most terrible things. If you are honest, those thoughts have flashed through your mind too: Kick that up, smash them in the head. If it hasn’t, then you are much better person than I am. I have experienced that and I have realized the scary thing is that there is someone in the world acting on those thoughts right now. What makes us decent is that we don’t act on them, we have some kind of control mechanism. But it’s all there, if you just think about it.
Jung calls it the shadow self. For every persona you create, that you carve out of a mountain, all that junk that’s left is your darker side, your shadow. It’s definitely a part of you. You can find something and then you can obviously exaggerate it. For example, Ravana. How do you play that? What does he want? It is important that you understand. That is the first thing you try to figure out. What does the guy want? What is stopping him from getting it? What kind of person is he? Is he going to bash you till you give in? This is what they call an obstacle in terms of acting. How you get past your obstacle is what makes you interesting. There has to be an obstacle to everything. If I’m talking to you, it will be more interesting if I can’t speak because I’ve got a bad tooth. So that is my obstacle. If somebody is calling me and I can’t concentrate that becomes interesting.
You identify the lens. So Ravana’s is vanity. The vanity is the thing he sees. It is the thing he wants. The only thing he has. He prays for strength, not out of humility. It is very egoistic. Which is the monster within, if the ego really really takes over. It’s a little theoretical. The way in is to learn the lines as well as you can. Then you learn them better. And you figure out the most interesting way of saying them. There are many approaches. You want it to be interesting. It’s not just about yelling and screaming. Hopefully, the director helps.