Saif Ali Khan has just returned to Mumbai after a month-long stay in Pataudi, the longest he’s spent there in years. “I wish I could have stayed longer. It’s so beautiful there; almost too good to be true. But you have to get back to reality, and rejoin the living,” he sighs.
Of late, there have been reports of the actor buying back the ancestral palace from the Neemrana Group of Hotels, to whom his father Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi had given the property on lease, for a whopping Rs 800 crore. The figure makes him snort. “It’s a massive exaggeration; a miscommunication really. It’s impossible to put a value to it in monetary terms because emotionally, the property is priceless. My grandparents and father are buried there, there’s security, serenity and a spiritual connection there for me. The land goes back by a few centuries, but the palace that my grandfather built for my grandmother is around a hundred years old. He was the ruling monarch then, but since then, privy purses and titles have been abolished. These are different times which is why my father leased it out and Francis (Wacziarg) and Aman (Nath), who ran a hotel in the palace, took good care of the property and were like family. My mother (Sharmila Tagore) has a cottage there and she was always comfortable.”
While it was an amicable arrangement for both, after his father’s demise in 2011, Saif, who was always very attached to the palace, wanted it back in the family. “So, when I was offered the chance, I wrapped up the lease that was left, paid up and took possession of our home again. It was a fair financial arrangement and contrary to reports, I did not have to buy it back because I already owned it. In my teenage years, I was the black sheep, so, it feels nice now to do this for the family and our heritage,” he revels, quick to add that while he wouldn’t want strangers walking through his home, he’s renting out the gardens and outdoors for shoots and weddings so that the property can look after itself.
He describes Pataudi as a small palace of seven bedrooms, with Raj style architecture and beautiful gardens. “It’s like a largish, colonial, Lutyens Delhi-style country home. Once I had thought of building myself a farmhouse in Mahabaleshwar like some of my colleagues. But when I discussed the plan with my mother, she pointed out that I already owned such a house and could simply take it over,” he shares, adding that they’ve been working on the gardens and the library. “The books are back in place and my father’s cricket photographs are up on the walls. It was fun watching Taimur play hide-and-seek among the trees, and feed squirrels biscuits. He’s developing country interests and is no longer scared of bugs, lizards, or the black ants, that he now watches run up his arm with wonder.”
In response to the idyllic picture he paints, one wonders if he sees himself settling there some day with Kareena, Taimur and the new baby who’s on the way? “I can, and it would be a good life. I’d garden, swim, cook, read, be around the family, and have a few friends over once in a while. It’s what I have been doing for the longest time. And we have an apartment in Mumbai, so we can fly out there for work. We just need some good schools around,” Saif says, adding that the Pataudi trust already exists and a lot of the trust land has been given to local farmers and produce. “It already supports a few charitable initiatives like education for the girl child, and acid attack survivors. My mother and I are working on developing it further, doing more work for the people living around.”
Talking about children, how does it feel knowing that they will soon welcome another one into the family? “Amazing, I can’t wait! This is the best age to bring up kids. When you are young, you are more concerned with yourself, your career, but now, when you are more settled, you have lots of time and patience for them apart from love. And for me there’s nothing better than waking up in my country home and spending a Sunday reading in a large bed, surrounded by my wife, kids and dogs,” he rhapsodises.