At one point, when Saif Ali Khan was hospitalised because of his lifestyle and work-related stress, his father, the late Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi—one of the most successful captains of Indian cricket—told him: “You need a new high.” That conversation is etched in Khan’s mind. “He told me, try making money. And investing it. It’s a really constructive thing to do. And make that your kind of drug,” recalls the 52-year-old.
That explains why Khan did not want to bet on having a retail presence till he had made enough money with his venture. The actor launched his ethnic-fashion brand, House of Pataudi, in 2018, but it wasn’t until August this year that he opened its first physical store—a 1,500 sq ft outlet at Phoenix Marketcity in Bengaluru—followed by another in Goa.
“It started very small, we literally dipped our toe in the water, and then slowly got a little more comfortable understanding what people expect, and making clear what we were offering. Therefore, it has taken four years for us to come to a position before we thought, okay, it's now time… it was always our ambition to have an offline store,” says Khan, who has acted in over 70 films since making his Bollywood debut in 1993. “You need to be at a certain point and have the money to open a store rather than gamble on opening one. Having gained a satisfying level of success in the online space, we ventured into the offline space.”
On a cloudy, but humid August afternoon, we are sitting in a small, open terrace lined up with plants connected to Khan’s top-floor apartment in Khar, Mumbai. Within minutes of discussing the reasons behind starting House of Pataudi, the actor takes us inside, to his intricately designed air-conditioned room—that has heaps of books, photo frames with images of his family and children, and a sound system with big speakers—to escape the heat and noise.
The climate, Khan continues, in Mumbai particularly, is not friendly. As a result, dressing up for an occasion or function becomes confusing. Often, casual attire, even for a dinner outing, doesn’t come across as elegant. So, taking his love for kurtas and ethnic wear further, he decided to launch House of Pataudi. “With a nice cotton Indian outfit, we are sorted in terms of the look. And I look to our own culture for those things. So I thought we could maybe market that… that is where it came from,” says Khan, adding that Indian fashion can be divided into two areas—clothes that exude a Gandhian simplicity and those that belong to our royal past.
The actor insists he’s not a businessman who understands all the aspects of business or is interested in all of them. He has a contribution to make with certain ideas that he says are received well by his team. For House of Pataudi, Khan joined hands with Exceed Entertainment and Myntra to take the brand to a wider audience. “The clever idea was hooking up with Myntra. The experts kind of take over… we're lucky that we've got such a nice team who work closely with me,” says the Vikram Vedha actor, who is dressed in a black T-shirt and white pyjamas to go with a smartwatch.
Kanishka Upadhyaya, brand head at House of Pataudi & lead for celebrity brand partnerships at Exceed Entertainment, is quick to point out that Khan’s creative instincts, strategic foresight and sophisticated taste give the brand a creative edge. “House of Pataudi was conceptualised as a lifestyle proposition where we started out with the ethnic fashion wear segment. The traction gave us the confidence to expand into multiple connected categories like footwear, soft furnishings, beauty and personal care. We have been on a solid double-digit growth momentum in the ecommerce space and this has acted as impetus for us to venture into the offline channel as well,” she explains.
The company declined to provide the financials while the actor refused to disclose his investment in the brand.
Khan specifies the idea is to make elegant things affordable. “It's kind of looking inward, looking at our heritage,” he says.
And that went well with Myntra’s philosophy too. “At Myntra, we take great pride in contributing to the journey of scaling homegrown brands ground-up, enabling them to unlock their true potential, on the back of our keen understanding of the fashion ecommerce landscape,” says Pooja Rao, brand director-House of Pataudi, Myntra. “One of the leading Indian wear brands on the platform, it is synonymous with all things magnificent and opulent. Over the years, we have witnessed significant demand for the brand.”
To the audience at large, Khan is a royalty-personified given his aristocratic lineage. The perception baffles the actor, who concedes that money is important to survive and that one needs to have enough of it. Stardom, he admits, is a perishable commodity and till the time people are interested in him, it can be translated into money.
However, he insists he does not invest financially in something if he is not “personally attracted to it”. For instance, if someone tells him to buy a house at a particular location because the prices will blow up in a year, he won’t. “If I don't want to live there, I don't buy the house… the houses I have bought are places I want to live in… and I've never had a problem renting them out. They've always been on rent because they're nice places and the places that I really would like to stay in,” he explains. “That's my policy. I'm not a punter. That's the rule in everything, even in film production.”
The mindset is similar when it comes to money. “I mean, it is a driving factor. Of course, it is. But it's not the only thing. You also need some sense of culture to translate that into enjoyment,” says Khan, who’s excited about the turn the entertainment industry has taken since he forayed into it almost three decades ago.
Then, in the early 90s, Khan, who had returned to India after studying in England, found it difficult to adjust to Bollywood because of the difference in cultures. He loved the movies, but he never thought he would be an actor, although his mother Sharmila Tagore was one of Indian cinema’s leading ladies in the 60s and 70s. “Nobody in my family thought of that as a safe or sensible profession,” he says, adding that they were academically inclined, veering towards professions such as banking and law. Much to his father’s disappointment, that didn’t work out and Khan made his Bollywood debut with Parampara.
He has since found his feet in the industry, reinvented himself over the years and has experimented to stay relevant with the changing times. His performances in Dil Chahta Hai (2001), Hum Tum (2005)—for which he won a National Award for Best Actor—Parineeta (2005), Omkara (2006) and Sacred Games (2018), India’s first original series on Netflix, among others, have won him rave appreciation.
Actor Sonali Kulkarni, who starred with Khan in Dil Chahta Hai, is full of praise for her co-star. “To my surprise, he came across as a warm and polished gentleman. Saif was always on time, sporting enough to improvise… there is something absolutely light about him, he does not carry that weight of his privilege or reputation,” she says. “He knew filmmaking and the business. He had that discipline and immense amount of respect for others, not necessarily only for his co-stars, but the entire team.” Also read: Is sports pushing Bollywood out of the marketing spotlight?
She remembers a costume assistant looked pale and uncomfortable on set one day. Khan stopped shooting and went out of his way to help her. “One should learn chivalry from him,” says Kulkarni, who admires the actor for the path he has chosen. “The way he has taken a hold over his work is commendable. He didn’t let the age graph kill his career. Jumping into doing a web show was a big thing. He has been taking risks and has experimented hugely. He has dabbled into mainstream and arthouse cinema. He has opened a production house, and worked with new and established writers and directors.”
The creative side of filmmaking excites Khan, especially at a time when content is proving to be king. His production house, Black Knight Films, is working on ideas that are at various stages of execution. “It can be quite tiring being a producer, but it's also exciting. I love doing it. I'm lucky that I have another aspect to my professional life,” he says.
Looking Beyond Losses
Both entrepreneurship and filmmaking can bring in monetary disappointments, at various stages. Khan says he has experienced his share of downs and deals with them philosophically. He also looks at varying his investments so that he can offset some of the losses that he is likely to encounter.
A builder, claims the actor, has not given him the real estate space that he had purchased from him 15 years ago. “He took so much money… like Rs 40 crore. And I still don’t have the flat,” says Khan.
Talking about the nature of losses, he explains some can be materialistic and others personal. Among the latter, he cites the example of a Rolex watch that was stolen from his home. “It was the first watch that I had bought with my own money for a couple of lakhs… it’s 26 years old, a vintage piece and I can’t find it! So, it takes a little more work to deal with the loss that you’re not expecting,” says Khan wistfully.
For now, though, the focus is on House of Pataudi. “It’s growing, so it's taken off. And the idea is to have a kind of a lifestyle… where you can come into a big store and get stuff for the house and for yourself,” he says, adding that he is keen on expanding its beauty, skin and perfume line as well apart from opening more stores.
That puts it directly in competition with the likes of Fabindia and Good Earth. Khan, however, prefers to call such brands ‘inspirational’.
Brand-strategy expert Harish Bijoor calls House Of Pataudi a big opportunity, but also cautions about the risks of veering into the retail space especially after the pandemic altered consumption and shopping habits among consumers. “In an era where retro is sought, the Pataudi name is a luxury insignia. Retail is cluttered. Only brands with the ability to stand apart on the accent of quality and luxury will survive in this rarefied space. Retail is tough, but it is rewarding as well,” he says.
Visibly aware of the changing scenarios and new trends, Khan is also enthused about non-fungible tokens (NFT). Though just a nascent thought about venturing into the space, he is clear that he does not want to just put up NFTs on sale. He contemplates offering an immersive experience about the Pataudi Palace in Gurugram district to interested buyers. An actor who understood the pulse of the audience for years certainly knows the importance of personal touch in business.