I must say I was guilty of doing what Soha Ali Khan says she loathes most.
Way back in 2004 I had just walked out of the movie hall after watching Ek Haseena Thi, a film in which Saif Ali Khan had kept me on the edge of my seat.
If I had Saif’s number I would have probably called him but I had Soha’s and I just called her because I wanted to gush about her brother.
I had done a phone interview with Soha Ali Khan a few days before that because she was making her debut in the Bengali film Iti Srikanta. Hence I had her number and without a second thought I called her up.
“Can you convey something to your brother?” I asked.
Soha replied very sweetly. “Yes. Tell me.”
“Just tell him he was brilliant in the movie,” I said.
“I sure will,” she replied. She even sounded excited.
Soha hadn’t stepped into the world of acting then and later when I met her in Kolkata during the shooting of Iti Srikanta, I realised she was the most down-to-earth person, with an uncanny sense of humour.
But the time I had called her, neither Soha, nor I realized that I had just done what hundreds of journalists would be doing to her later – driving her mad about her more famous brother and sister-in-law.
In a recent interview to Scroll.in, Soha Ali Khan said how journalists persecuted her everywhere to get information from her about Saifeena.
“I have always taken it in the right spirit. The important thing about being in the public eye, and what makes people interested in me, is the people I am related to. There is a lot of interest about my family, my mother, sister-in-law, brother and now my nephew Taimur, who is fast becoming the biggest celebrity in the family.
While it is an interesting place to be, it can also be quite frustrating. Sometimes I try to point it out to the journalists who turn every occasion and opportunity to find out about my family, and they do get embarrassed and say, “Editor wanted us to ask this question.”
Living in the shadow of a famous family can be difficult. I must say Soha Ali Khan has been breathtakingly honest when she has named her memoir The Perils of Being Moderately Famous.
Her book has probably got her more media attention than her roles ever did. It seems finally the media is probably keen to talk about her and not about her famous family. And despite her famous family being present at the book launch, it was all about her.
I must say when I met Soha in 2004 I was not only fascinated by her porcelain skin, a lack of a chip on her shoulder, I was also fascinated when Soha spoke about Saif Ali Khan.
“Bhai…”, that’s what she called him, “…Is a great cook. Whenever I go to his place he tosses up something for me. He makes great pasta.”
At that time Saif was single and there was no Kareena around, so I didn’t have to be doubly attentive. I only listened to her talking about her brother and tried to imagine how that pasta tasted.
Soha had studied in Oxford University and had done a master’s in international relations from London School of Economics and she had just quit her job in an international bank to pursue a career in films. I was often awed by Soha’s conversational skills and her knowledge in politics and finance and we spoke for hours when we met.
Except for her obsession with imported papayas – which, if not provided during shooting breaks, she was completely capable of throwing a fit – Soha Ali Khan didn’t have any star kid tantrums.
In fact, she was super diligent in rehearsing her Bengali dialogues so that she got the accent right. She was determined to make an impact with her first role of a deglamourised Vaishnavite named Kamallata. Every time I looked at her I felt she looked ethereal in that simple white saree.
At that point I felt Soha Ali Khan was the next best thing to happen to Bollywood and her career would soar just like her brother’s did. Iti Srikanta wasn’t a runaway hit but she did manage to make an impact, acting and dubbing in a language that belonged to her mother Sharmila Tagore and for a language she had never spoken herself, she managed really well.
Then Soha went on to do memorable roles in films like Rang De Basanti, Khoya Khoya Chand, Dil Kabaddi and did a brilliant job in Rituparno Ghosh’s Antarmahal, but her career did not take off the way it should have.
If she had started dating a star or an industrialist then her brand image would have gone up but instead Soha fell for Kunal Khemu – another moderately famous actor.
She did try to re-invent her image with bikini shoots for magazines like Maxim and FHM but the beautiful girl-next-door image stuck to her like Fevicol.
And as the days passed she became more Saif Ali Khan’s sister than Soha Ali Khan, the star of this and that film.
In a family full of stars dealing with an ambiguous status like this must surely have been difficult, but Soha Ali Khan seems to have taken it all in her stride with her trademark humour.
I was reading an excerpt from her book and just couldn’t help but laugh at the way she has written about her interactions with journalists. She has nailed it brilliantly. She might have just found her calling – writing.
Amrita Mukherjee is a journalist who has worked in national and international publications. She is a blogger and an advocate of alternative journalism. She is the author of Exit Interview and Museum of Memories.