‘Until I was 25, nobody even knew if I existed.’
As veteran screenwriter Salim Khan’s granddaughter and superstar Salman Khan’s niece, it is no surprise that Alizeh has a knack for acting.
She is definitely poised to harnesses her family’s creative spirit in her acting career which kick-starts with National Award-winning director Soumendra Padhi’s film Farrey, set to open in cinemas this Friday.
“Everyone in the family has made it on their own, right from my grandfather (Salim Khan) to my uncles (Salman, Arbaaz, Sohail Khan). Every one of them has found their niche and I know they would want the same for me,” Alizeh tells Rediff.com Contributor Mohnish Singh.
Star kids generally start their journey with romantic films that have elaborate song and dance routines, but you chose a different kind of a film. Were you trained to do so by Salman Khan?
No, it was a personal choice.
I think in a business which is changing every day and is so unpredictable, you have to do something very unexpected to break through the clutter and make an impact.
This particular script really fascinated me because, I thought, it was a different way to make a debut.
See, now I look at it as a work-basis thing, but obviously, because of my family and all, people are going to say that it is her debut and it is her launch. But for me, I am just a small part of this film with a lot of good actors.
It was a great learning experience because it felt I was getting trained at a school of acting.
It was really nice that way and for me, the story always is the hero. The content is the hero, the character is very important.
So, even if it was a commercial film, a big film, if the role was good and interesting, I would have maybe done that also.
I mean, I am trying to be open minded, but, yeah, I did want to make a choice like this. I am glad that I could actually go ahead with it.
You come from Salman Khan’s family, but the PR around you does not show that it is his niece Alizeh’s big debut. So how much of it was tailored or was it like a natural process?
Everything was very organic.
Somendra (Padhi) sir has won a National Award. He has got a lot of credibility and that was the biggest thing about this film.
It is always Somendra sir’s film and us just being a part of it.
I did not really look at it like, ‘Okay, this is my film’. It is always a team of people working together.
Even when we did the workshop, it was all of us together.
So, in that sense, yeah, it has been organic and I think that when you are honest and when you are true, people can see that and people can pick that up.
Also, as a person — it is weird — I love acting but I don’t so much like being seen. I like my private life.
I love being on set and I love playing characters, but I don’t like being seen all the time.
It is maybe because I haven’t done that whole paparazzi and stuff, so people are like ‘Oh, she is not a typical (star-kid)’ and that comes automatically.
But actually, it has just been organic.
Do you feel extra pressure because you come from a certain family?
Yeah, of course, there is a lot of pressure.
It is a very stressful situation.
When the film is just yours, it’s very safe and you don’t have to worry about what other people are going to think so much.
But now, yeah, I am feeling the stress, only because I really want people to watch the movie and I really want the movie to do well.
I mean the pressure is there but you also feel happy at the same time.
I actually just want it to release now.
By the way, SKF (Salman Khan Films) is only the presenter of the movie. We had already made the film and SKF came on board to present it for us.
During the shoot, it was never mentioned that it is an SKF film.
What were your earliest memories of cinema?
My first memory, I think, was during a song shoot of Mamu (Salman Khan).
He took me to a set and there was a huge stage. I was a kid and I went down the stage.
I don’t remember if the shoot was for Oh Oh Jane Jana. I don’t know, I am not sure. I will double check. I will ask my mom.
So I had gone there, and there was this whole shoot going on.
After a few shots, they were like, ‘There is someone down there.’ They were able to see the feet of the child. It was me.
So that is one of my first memories on any set.
A very clear memory is when my father (Atul Agnihotri) was directing Hello because I did a small role in that film. I played Sharman Joshi’s younger sister.
It’s a small silly role, and very bad acting. Please don’t watch. I don’t even tell people about it.
So that I remember very clearly. The first time I was sitting in a van, getting ready, doing make up, etc.
I had somebody come and do touch ups. I had to learn lines.
I remember when I did the film, I did not know who Sharman Joshi was.
I then bought all his movies and watched all of them.
So that was the first memory I have of that and that time, I did not even know if I wanted to act.
They said they needed a young girl for a small role and I said let me try it out once.
But I always knew, I would do something related to films.
You mentioned that how the paparazzi were not there, did you miss that?
I am not a star’s daughter, so they won’t come on their own. I would need to call them.
I would rather do that when I have something to show and speak for myself.
Now, I want to promote my movie and I want people to go out and watch it, so I’ll do that.
But earlier, just being associated with someone else, I did not feel like taking advantage of my family in that way.
We are very close and we all get along very well.
Everyone in the family has made it on their own, right from my grandfather (Salim Khan) to my uncles (Salman, Arbaaz, Sohail Khan). Every one of them has found their niche and I know they would want the same for me.
They have given me a lot of freedom and I am really glad that I got a lot of time before I joined this world, to know myself before I could put myself out there.
Don’t think your childhood was much easier because there was no pap culture back them?
It is different now. I think now with social media and phones, there is no privacy.
I am a very private person, so I am not comfortable being recorded all the time.
We are promoting the film right now so we all are looking good. But on a normal day, you look normal.
But why are actors expected to look good every day?
Because now people see stars on social media every day, so if they see them in real, they would be like, ‘I saw this person and she does not look good. She is not good looking’.
Come on, I am human, so I can look normal also sometimes.
That’s one thing I am still not able to handle.
Like, I don’t know how people look so good walking out of the gym because I don’t look like that.
I look very bad when I am going to the gym. I just wear whatever I can find and I leave like that only with my whatever. So I don’t know how people do that. It’s definitely a skill and it’s a talent that some people have, you know.
It is very easy for me to be on set. I can be hours and hours on set. I can do photoshoots for hours and hours. But the second the paparazzi comes, I don’t know what happens because there is no control, right?
Still, I am getting used to that.
Was there any particular moment when you realised you wanted to pursue acting as a profession?
When I watched Highway. I was on a flight.
I always knew I wanted to work in films.
So I was on a flight back from college. Highway had just released and I saw the film.
After watching the film, I was like, ‘Okay, wow, there is a space for women to do very strong, empowered roles, a different kind of cinema is being bought into this country with this new generation of directors and actors’.
So that inspired me and for the first time, I thought maybe I should try acting.
I knew I wanted to write, and I knew I wanted to direct action (films), but after watching Highway, I thought maybe I wanted to try acting also because I did not want to regret it later that is why did not I do it.
So I slowly started workshops and over time, through practice and preparation, I finally felt I was ready.
I made a reel of all my auditions and started showing it around to people. I started getting good feedback.
Decent feedback, I would say because it was the first time. There was some criticism and some decent feedback but few casting people told me that just do it, that keep doing it, you are getting somewhere.
So that’s when I started taking it seriously, and started going for more auditions.
Sometimes, I would just go because I wanted to experience all of these things. I wanted to start from the bottom to know what it is like to actually experience this actor’s journey and everything.
It was very important for me to go through the whole process before I was like, ‘Okay, now I think I am ready to do this’.
Were your parents protective of you, your identity and of what you do and where you be?
Not protective, but they were always like, you know, be careful.
They did not really want my brother and I to be in the media and to be seen.
They wanted us to be kids, to enjoy ourselves, and I am really grateful for that because I think until I was 25, nobody even knew if I existed.
I was really happy for that because it gave me a very grounded experience and I don’t feel like I grew up in a bubble. I feel like I actually grew up in the real world.
I am really grateful that they just said you don’t need to do it now. There will be a point in your life when it will be all about this. Till then, go enjoy yourselves.
They always encouraged us to go to university, travel, study, explore things, go on adventures, diving, trekking, etc.
They were always like live your life before you come back and be like I want to work.
You will have your whole life to work, you will not have your whole life to experience these things.
I am really grateful that they did that.
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