‘She’s Saif Ali Khan’s sister!’ Soha Ali Khan on fame, reflected glory, and charting her own career

‘Are you famous? It’s a good question,’ the actress says with humour and honesty in edited excerpts from her memoir.

‘Are you famous?’

It wasn’t the first time I had been asked that question (and it probably won’t be the last), but I have always struggled with the right answer. I was in Selfridges, the well-known Oxford Street department store that has become a social landmark in London. It was July, 2015, and the much-anticipated summer sale had just kicked off which meant the store was teeming with people. I had managed to get my hands on Charlotte Tilbury’s ‘Pillow Talk’ lip liner, indisputably the luxury launch of the decade, which promised the perfect shade of nude so that your lips appeared bare of make-up altogether.

As I was waiting in line to pay the sixteen pounds you couldn’t convince me for the world I was throwing away, an Indian girl at the cosmetic counter recognized my face and called out to her friends. Soon a decent-sized group had formed around me, asking for selfies. Some of the non-Indian people also stopped to look.

‘Are you famous?’ asked the saleswoman as I got to the front of the queue to pay for my shopping. I glanced at the name tag on the saleswoman’s shirt.

‘Well, Becky, not if you have to ask,’ I quipped, but inside I was feeling an odd mix of embarrassment and self-importance.

‘Who is she?’ I heard her ask one of the gaggle of giggling girls as I turned to leave.

‘Don’t you know?’ the girl gasped.

I smiled at her response, feeling quite pleased with myself. I had only recently become active on social media and my Instagram account was gaining in popularity with followers from the UAE and England as well as other parts of the world.

‘She’s Saif Ali Khan’s sister!’

I closed my eyes momentarily as irritation gave way to submission. Of course! And it was true. I was. I am. It’s probably safe to say I have been recognized as Sharmila Tagore’s daughter or Saif Ali Khan’s sister more times than I have been recognized as Soha Ali Khan. You would think it would get irksome but I have learnt, over time, to embrace that part of my identity.

Are you famous?—It’s a good question, one that I have often been asked and one that I frequently ask myself. I would say I am ‘moderately famous’. People in India, and some outside of India, know who I am. What does that mean?

What it doesn’t mean is that they always know my name. They will stop in the street and point me out to their companions (this happens often). Some have seen my films and do know me, and some are fans of my brother, Saif (Bhai), my sister-in-law, Kareena, my mother, Sharmila Tagore (Amman), or my father, Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi (Abba), and recognize me as the youngest member of a somewhat notable family. I am not competing with my family members nor am I jostling for my place in the sun. I am content to bask in reflected glory whilst seeking out my unique destiny.

Aamir Khan and Soha Ali Khan in Rang De Basanti. Courtesy UTV.
Aamir Khan and Soha Ali Khan in Rang De Basanti. Courtesy UTV.

I was still lying in bed, scrolling through my Twitter feed, sipping coffee, more asleep than awake, when I saw the headline: Soha reveals major secret about Kareena Kapoor Khan’s pregnancy.

What? When? Where? Who?

I couldn’t answer any of the four basic questions journalists are taught to ask but I was already panicking— the coffee had turned to mud in my mouth and I was finding it difficult to breathe.

I am usually so careful, I never say anything about Amman, Bhai and Kareena—and especially nothing about the baby. Had I inadvertently let something slip?

I sat up and scanned the rest of the article and the more I read the more I relaxed. The major secret was that Bhai and Kareena, or Saifeena as they are together referred to, were not planning to have their child in London as far as I knew.

I remembered the interview. I remember answering the obligatory question about how I was feeling about becoming a bua again, dismissing the one about what preparations we were making, expressing vitriol over the one about whether I wanted a girl or a boy for them.

‘Will they have the baby in London?’ The question had come out of the blue and I was bemused.

‘Why would they have the baby in London?’ There was some furious scribbling and a furtive exchange of glances and I hastily added, ‘I have no idea what they are planning and as far as I know they aren’t planning to have the baby in London.’ I ended with my most convincing but-what-would-I-know shrug.

So the fact that the baby would not be born in London—or Bolivia or Zimbabwe or Mars for that matter—was major news. Any tiny detail or non-detail is major news. And some journalists will come up with the most ingenious ways to uncover these titbits, as illustrated below by the line of questioning I am often subjected to:

Whilst premiering the first episode of The Great Indian Home Makeover—a televised show on interior redecorating that I host— Q: Tell us about the show.

A: It’s a home makeover show where we surprise a homeowner and make over one room in the space of forty-eight hours.

Q: Speaking of redecorating how are you doing up the baby’s room in Saifeena’s house?

Whilst at a press conference for Balmain watches—

Q: Tell us what you like about Balmain watches.

A: They are stylish, elegant and feminine. A woman’s watch is more than just a timepiece, it’s a piece of jewellery, a style accessory.

Q: Speaking of time, it’s a happy time in the family with the baby coming. When is it due?

Whilst at a store inauguration for a jewellery brand—

Q: What is your favourite piece of jewellery?

A: My engagement ring, for obvious reasons.

Q: Speaking of rings, you will be ringing in the new year with a new family member, how will all of you spend New Year’s Eve?

Whilst promoting the film 31st October

Q: Tell us about the film and your role in it.

A: It’s a real-life story about the 1984 anti-Sikh riots and I play a Sardarni. I have three children in the film.

Q: Speaking of children . . . (Okay, this one I can forgive.)

Whilst at a Femina Diva style contest—

Q: What does style mean to you?

A: Wearing your personality on your sleeve, being comfortable, confident and carrying yourself in a way that makes you stand out.

Q: Speaking of standing out, isn’t Kareena setting new fashion trends with her baby bump?

During a lifestyle interview—

Q: Where do you see yourself five years from now?

A: I don’t plan ahead much—I try not to live in the past or plan for the future, I live in the present.

Q: Speaking of presents, what are you going to give the baby, have you decided?

During a press conference to announce Kunal and my production company Renegade Films—

Q: Why did you choose to name your company Renegade Films?

A: Renegade means rebel. We liked that it stands for going against the grain, doing things differently.

Q: Speaking of names, is it true they are naming the baby Saifeena?

You get the drift. I calculated that the damage done in this instance was minimal, so I tossed my phone aside, took another sip of my coffee and turned to the less alarming headlines of the national press.

Excerpted with permission from The Perils of Being Moderately Famous, Soha Ali Khan, Penguin Random House.

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