Saif Ali Khan’s long standing career is replete with achievements but one success that’s quite special to him is the 2008 film Race, as he says that he felt ‘grown up’ as an actor after playing a string of “chocolate boy” characters.
Race opened to acclaim upon its release on March 21 and went on to become one of the biggest hits of the year. The film, fronted by Khan, also featured Anil Kapoor, Katrina Kaif, Akshaye Khanna, Bipasha Basu and Sameera Reddy.
Race — which later turned into a franchise with two more installments released in 2013 and 2018 — chronicled the story of two half brothers, played by Khan and Khanna, caught in a web of lies, deceit and greed.
As the suave, powerful and deceptive businessman Ranvir ‘Ronny’ Singh, Saif Ali Khan won praise for playing a grey character with ease.
Race, along with Vishal Bharadwaj’s Omkara, is credited for showcasing a different side to the actor, who had before them featured in a series of romantic dramas and comedies like Ta Ra Rum Pum, Salaam Namaste and Parineeta.
Ahead of the film’s 14th anniversary, Saif told PTI that the pulpy thriller happened to him at the right time in his career.
“At that point, I had done a lot of chocolate boy roles and Race was different. Ranvir was a man’s role and you’ve got to be able to pull that off! So I wanted to try and that was the real challenge. You don’t want to look like you’re trying – you just have to be the guy!
“I had started work in the industry when I was about 20 and I had a very young face. And I had done a lot of different kind of work. This was a time when I had grown up slightly and I felt I could shoulder this and I did shoulder it. That’s why it means something because it was a different achievement without really saying much,” the 51-year-old actor said.
Race, which Saif Ali Khan described as a “smart and sexy thriller”, offered him the chance to play a “responsible, quieter” role and had one crucial requirement: to have a commanding presence.
“It was one of those roles where I didn’t have to do much apart from just being the guy, which also required having a certain presence. Ranvir was an opportunity to play a slightly more serious role and show a more mature side and I really enjoyed doing that.
“It was a more stable, responsible and quieter role. There was a certain maturity to playing Ranvir and I wanted to work with Abbas-Mustan. It worked out in a way that I ended up playing the elder brother’s role and I just really enjoyed it,” he added.
Filmmaker duo Abbas-Mustan powered through Race with their trademark relentless plot twists, aided by Pritam’s chartbuster music and the film’s urban setting.
When asked if he felt the viewers, back then, were hungry for a slick-looking thriller, Saif said one is “constantly underestimating the audience”.
“One of the big cliches in our line is that the audience has become very smart. I think they were always smart. Abbas-Mustan could do things that nobody did. Race was a really clever script and morality wasn’t an issue.”
“A lot of people get hung up on what they can do and can’t do. Here, this was all about infidelity, sibling rivalry and an unpredictable, twisty-turny plot, which was so much fun to do,” he added.
The actor said he remembers the outdoor shoot of Race in South Africa vividly and recalled how he was in a “really good space” during the filming of the Ramesh Taurani-backed thriller.
Saif said the entire cast was at a “special time” in their lives and “we all brought that special-ness to the screen”, which has been captured in the film.
“There was something great about the cast , everyone from Anil Kapoor, Akshaye, Katrina, Bipasha to Sameera. Katrina Kaif was on her way to becoming such a huge star and she really nailed the songs. And there was Bipasha who was great fun to work with!
“Akshaye deserves a lot of credit for making Race what it is by performing his role in such a special way. He is such a gifted actor and he had a lot of fun with that role. It was a combination of everyone’s energy that made it come alive in the way it did. I’ll always remember Race as being one of the coolest and happiest times of my life! One of the most easy-going and fun films that I did,” he added.