Saif Ali Khan started off his career playing the romantic hero in many films in the initial years. From Aashiq Awara to Dil Tera Diwana, he has played the lover boy with elan. Those films weren’t big successes, but the image hung onto him like the long locks of curly hair he so proudly sported.
Hindi cinema saw a change at the turn of the millennium, with scripts abandoning the idealistic boy-meets-girl romances to introduce a more realistic take on love stories. In the year 2000, we saw Saif play a rich spoilt brat in Kya Kehna, who impregnates a girl in college and then refuses to take responsibility. Little had he thought that the image would stick and 20 years later, he would still be the playboy who is scared of the word 'father'.
In Jaawani Jaaneman, that comes out on Friday, the actor plays a middle-aged carefree spirit who is shocked to find out he has a teenaged daughter. In 20 years, his age has changed, but the character has remained essentially the same.
Kya Kehna went off the beaten track in many ways, and one of them was a mainstream actor playing the ‘bad guy’ who abandons the heroine. A role like that was only reserved for villains till then, often played by Mohnish Behl and Aasif Shaikh. Saif had the guts to essay that character, a conviction that he has showed in several films later as well.
Dil Chahta Hai (2001) was a turning point in Saif’s career, and further cemented his image of a man confused in love. Sameer Mulchandni would fall in love at the drop of a hat and also pay a heavy price for it, sometimes literally. Saif was a charmer in the role with comic overtones.
The film set off a pattern of the charming young man who is carefree in love and isn’t too hesitant about giving away his heart. Kal Ho Naa Ho (2003) saw Saif's character secretly desire his best friend Naina (Preity Zinta), but continue to date other women, which often ended in disaster.
We finally got a Hindi cinema hero whose dating life was closer to reality that the larger-than-life, committed-for-life lead stars who’d kill for the woman they loved.
Hum Tum (2004) and Salaam Namaste (2005) continued in the same vein. The first film had an entire song dedicated to the 'gore gore chhore' who were scared of marriage. The second one was the first Bollywood film on the concept of live-in relationships.
Salaam Namaste, once again, had Saif play the man who shrugs off responsibility of the unplanned pregnancy. But his stance doesn't polarise the audience – Saif never comes across as the bad guy in these films. Confused, yes. Irresponsible? Maybe. But never the villain. The credit goes to the refreshing writing, and Saif’s honest portrayal on screen.
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Love Aaj Kal in 2009 saw Saif at the peak of his confused romantic persona. He refuses to conform to the mango people’s idea of relationships and breaks off with the woman he loves just because a long distance relationship would be inconvenient. He throws a break-up party and moves on to other women like a 'khulla saand'. He also attends his ex-girlfriend's wedding, pretending to be all cool about it.
Cocktail (2012) saw him age a bit, there are references to him being over 30 in the film, and yet sleeping on his girlfriend’s couch. He pulled off the role like only Saif can, with conviction. A man who would date the carefree, independent woman but ultimately fall for the quiet, subservient, Indian woman. The script was problematic, but Saif fit the role perfectly.
That brings us to this week’s release, Jawaani Jaaneman. Saif is playing a 44-year-old playboy, quite close to his real age. His onscreen daughter is almost the same age as that of his off-screen daughter. And probably that is why it isn’t too hard to imagine Saif in a role like this. He is probably the only actor in Bollywood, uniquely positioned to carry off a role like this without the audience cringing the slightest, thanks to the roles in the past and the quirky, effortless charm that he still retains in the present.
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