A decade on, they continue to make headlines with every public spotting. This month, the duo return as co-stars in Tiger Zinda Hai, a sequel to the box-office franchise that sees Khan as a RAW agent who falls in love with a Pakistani spy (Kaif). Is he an entertaining co-star to work with or a trusted mentor she looks up to? “He’s not my mentor,” she retorts. Khan cuts in, “She won’t allow that, but you know the world knows or at least perceives it that way,” he cackles.
A lethal combination of humour and brawn, Khan is like Joey Tribbiani trapped in Rocky Balboa’s body. He looks left, then right, before assuming a serious stance to tackle the question head-on. “I don’t think anyone can mentor anyone. Katrina is very hard-working and dedicated; she’s done it all on her own,” he says in his baritone, as she nods on.
Funny man and philosopher, Khan is a contradiction. Sensitive yet brash, controversial yet caring, he’s the aloof star who is so accessible to fans that both men and women want to be his friends. The coming year will mark 30 years in the industry for Khan, who started his career with Biwi Ho To Aisi (1988), before gaining national fame with Maine Pyar Kiya a year later. In comparison, Kaif is every bit his junior—a fact she exploits during our interview, especially to escape answering first. “It’s definitely fair; seniors first,” she says.
I’m asking them what my Uber driver really wants to know: “Are they back again?” And he’s not talking about them sharing screen space after a hiatus of five years. A legit superstar, Khan understands the preoccupation fans have with his personal life. For years, every gossip columnist in the country has been obsessed with his inability to commit. The actor’s taken it in good stead, even joking about his virginity on a popular talk show. “People are interested in our lives because we don’t share it,” he says. “To a star there has to be this mystery around, where everybody can say whatever they want about them but the star will never share that. Our living rooms are for the world, for the whole country, but our bedroom is our personal space.”