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Bollywood Interview

Soha Ali Khan ('Life Goes On')

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Soha Ali Khan

© Rex Features

Daughter of veteran actress Sharmila Tagore and sister of Bollywood A-lister Saif Ali Khan, former Oxford student Soha Ali Khan rejected a career in the city for the glamour of Hindi cinema. After seven years in the industry, the star is gradually moving away from the commercial popcorn of Dil Maange More and Shaadi No. 1, and instead carving out her own niche in more edgy and experimental projects. Digital Spy caught up with the 32-year-old Khan as she prepares to release her first British Asian film, the Sangeeta Datta-directed Life Goes On.

After initially screening on the film festival circuit, how do you feel about Life Goes On as it releases in UK theatres?
"Every film has its journey. The film has had a few screenings already at film festivals, and now it is having its release in the UK and then in India. I am of course looking forward to the response from audiences. When your film gets a commercial release, and you have worked very hard on it, then it is very exciting."

The version of the film that is coming out is a little different to what was screened in London last year…
"It’s a little crisper now. I saw the film some time ago at the Mumbai Film Festival and then also later. It’s a film that one gets emotionally attached to. Sangeeta got a lot of feedback at festivals, edited it a little, and cut out some of the scenes. She had to be a little brutal, but I think that it does help the film."

How was it working with senior actors like Om Puri and Sharmila Tagore?
"Two completely different experiences; one of course was the experience of working with senior actors like Om Puri and also Girish Karnad, and the other experience is working with someone who is my mother. Om is so relaxed and really could do the scenes with his eyes shut. In some of the difficult family scenes we were all in character, but he made it fun by cracking jokes and by being so relaxed. He can get in and out of character so quickly and is very comfortable in front of the camera, which is wonderful to be around. As far as my mother is concerned, she is quite terrifying and makes me very nervous. She can be quite critical sometimes of my choice of sari, or tells me to wear my hair up, or will say ‘Do you really have to wear those shoes?’ She was of course such a huge fashion icon and I can’t compete with that."

How was it to perform a mother-daughter relationship in front of the camera?
"The mother-daughter dynamic felt very natural and the nature of the scenes and dialogue felt very natural. On occasion my mother would say 'Don’t wear those earrings, wear these ones’. But apart from that she was very restrained.

Did you have to change your performance style at all working in a non-Hindi film?
"I think the difference between what we do in India and cinema in the west is that we tend to be a little quote unquote ‘loud’. Things are more underlined for the audience to get, with western cinema being more quote unquote ‘subtle’. I don’t know if I subscribe to that definition, however. I try to be as natural as possible, no matter what language I am working in, so that the audience can relate to it and it does not seem fake. Having said that, the way that the scenes were written feels less dramatic, though we do still have people breaking into song in the film because we do break into song as a culture, so we have shown that as well. It has all of the flavours of an Indian film, it is just that the language we are speaking in is English."

What was the experience of working with a female director?
"This is the first time that I have worked with a female director. Sangeeta understands the role of the woman in the family, which I think is so important. I have seen with my own family how my mother holds everything together. We are very independent and when we are all over the world and doing our own thing, my father will not have a clue what is happening in his daughter’s life and will ask my mother if there is a boy in my life or what is happening. I know he is interested, but it is maybe not the done thing to sit down with your father and talk about romance. As a woman, to understand that and to highlight that suggests that perhaps gender does come into play. But maybe a more sensitive man could do the same thing."

After studying and working in the UK, how does it feel to return as a Bollywood star?
"Well I don’t know if I am a Bollywood 'star'. But I was very keen to come back and work in London because it is one of my favourite cities in the whole world, and a lot of Hindi films are shot there. So I thought it would be fun to work there and to go shopping and meet my friends. But we were on such a tight schedule that it wasn’t really the romanticised experience I had imagined. Though we did manage to go out to a place where we filmed which had beautiful blue flowers, and that part of the country was lovely, as was shooting in parts of London."

You shot a play-within-a-film scene with the actor of Gap Yah fame. Have you seen the video?
"I have yes. I saw it on YouTube. It was very funny, I absolutely loved it."

What else do you have coming up in 2011?
"A number of different things: there is a rom-com called Chemistry with Shreyas Talpade, where I have magenta hair. It was shot in Paris, which was fun except that it was minus four degrees. Then there is Soundtrack, an official remake of the film It’s All Gone Pete Tong about a DJ who goes deaf, in which I play the DJ role."

Life Goes On releases in UK cinemas on March 11.

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