A viral clip of Saif Ali Khan from an interview with ‘Film Companion’ on Tanhaji has gone viral on social media where he can be seen making problematic comments regarding Indian history. In the clip, he also says that “I don’t think this is history,” referring to the blockbuster movie Tanhaji, where he features as the main negative lead. Most controversially, however, the actor says, “I don’t think there was a concept of India till the British gave it one”.
I doubt my stardom constantly – #SaifAliKhan in conversation with @anupamachopra about films that failed, the questionable politics of #Tanhaji and why he’s always been realistic about his stardom. Visit https://t.co/jn5zDEp7hW for the full conversation! pic.twitter.com/yITB7JlDmx
— Film Companion (@FilmCompanion) January 18, 2020
For a person who has the reputation of being a ‘history buff’, Saif Ali Khan’s knowledge of history is really terrible. The concept of India has always existed, it has existed for as long as the Hindu Civilization has flourished and our civilization has flourished for thousands and thousands of years. Different names have become popular at different times. Aryavarta, Bharatvarsha, Jambudwipa, India has been called different names at different points in time but the concept of India has always remained the same. Consequently, the Indian nation-state is the modern manifestation of the Hindu Civilization in a world dominated by nation-states.
Expectedly, Saif Ali Khan is receiving a lot of flak on social media for that comment. Furthermore, Tanhaji the movie was based on true events. It did take some ‘artistic liberties’ but the core of the plot was authentic and most of what it portrayed was accurate. The movie portrays the Battle of Sinhagad where Tanhaji Malusare captures the Fort for Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj who lays down the foundation for Hindavi Swarajya. Given the political developments in India since Narendra Modi’s reelection as Prime Minister, ‘intellectuals’ believe the movie is in sync with the Hinduization of India.
Saif Ali Khan’s comments on Tanhaji do appear a bit out of line. But when the interview is seen in its entirety, it portrays Saif Ali Khan in a much better light than the ignorant fool he appears in the one-minute clip. He still voices some ignorant opinions, sure, but overall he comes across as much better.
Saif Ali Khan appears extremely uncomfortable discussing the history of the movie and it is evident from the manner in which he conducts himself during the discussion. A lot of the times his statements are contradictory. For instance, Saif says that he would “love” to be part of a movie industry that does not make movies like Tanhaji but at the same time he agrees that role of Udaybhan was just ‘delicious’.
The actor also says that the idea behind Tanhaji is ‘dangerous’ but “Have I taken a stand against it? No. Why? I don’t know.” Unlike situations where actors appear to be putting up an act, Saif appears extremely honest when he says that. Amusingly enough, in the interview, he appears to be denouncing individuals like himself. For instance, he laments the fact that the ‘intelligentsia’ and the artistic community is taking a populist turn but then again, by featuring in Tanhaji, he is guilty of the sins he is lamenting about. It’s like an adulterer lamenting about high divorce rates.
Saif Ali Khan’s way of looking at things is explained perfectly when he admits that he doesn’t believe the turn of events is ‘great’ but states “It’s the way it is”. However, the actor does show remarkable honesty during the interview and certainly more than what propagandists in the garb of historians. He says at one point, “On one hand, I feel that the minute Pakistan was created out of this concept of India, that this was bound to happen.”
The actor then says that some members of his family left for Pakistan and others stayed behind in a secular India but those who left did so because they did not believe India could remain secular after partition. He says, “I fear… maybe it’s taken a couple of generations for the idealists to die away and I feel the direction in which it is headed now will be not secular.”
Saif Ali Khan is correct when he says that the Hinduization of the Indian state was bound to happen and it will happen more and more going forward. Because, as we have said before, Hindutva is the natural order of the Indian state. The reason why Narendra Modi and Amit Shah could fundamentally alter the direction of the secular state of India without any significant violence at all is that the overwhelming majority of the country supports core Hindutva objectives.
The actor also says that at a personal level, his life is better than ever before but as far as India as a secular country is concerned, “I don’t even know if it was a realistic notion to hold on to that idea for too long.” When the interviewer says that the students are fighting for a secular India, Saif’s “Yeah” in response to that comes across as mockery rather than an actual nod of approval.
Saif Ali Khan also says that by making political statements, actors could end up potentially harming others as collateral damage if the movie suffers as a consequence. Therefore, he believes it’s best if actors stay apolitical and let politicians do the politics. When the interviewer asks him if it’s something he struggles with, his response again is “Yes and No.” He does make a very insightful remark about freedom during the interview which liberals would do well to take note.
Saif Ali Khan says, “I do realize there are many places in this world that are different. I mean you think of the United States as being the hotbed of democracy and freedom of speech but not everywhere else is but our ideas, fortunately, or unfortunately, of freedom come from that country but it doesn’t mean you can apply the same thing to the rest of the world and maybe we should come to terms with that, that there will be ramifications to what you say and do.”
Thus, while the one minute clip circulating on social media captures the worst of him in the interview, the entirety of it presents a much better picture. Quite clearly, Saif Ali Khan does harbour some dubious notions about the origins of the country. But seen in its entirety, it appears Saif is one of those Bollywood actors who doesn’t care much about the politics of it all even though he is inclined to associate himself with the liberal crowd by virtue of his Muslim identity.
Saif Ali Khan becomes progressively more comfortable discussing the topic as it moves forward. Initially, he appeared to be agreeing to whatever the interviewer was saying or implying but as it moves forward, he clarifies his own stand on the matter. After watching the whole section, Saif appears to be saying that he has made peace with the fact that India was fundamentally not meant to be a secular country in the way secularism has been understood in this country thus far.
Moreover, he doesn’t believe that he will be personally affected by it in any way. In fact, he says that his life is ‘better than ever’. The core message that he appears he to want to convey but can’t is that he doesn’t believe that the ‘great fight for secularism’ is his fight, he wants no part in it. Saif just wants to be left alone to pursue his own career. He has his own opinions regarding political developments underway in the country but doesn’t believe these are opinions that are worth ‘fighting’ for.