“My husband’s away, the baby’s asleep, and I’ve booked myself a massage. I like having some alone time; it’s precious to me,” says Soha Ali Khan, as we connect for a post-dinner chat on her second book. This time, a children’s novel titled Inni and Bobo Find Each Other, which comes five years after her debut work, The Perils of Being Moderately Famous, a witty narrative on being a ‘fringe member’ of a famous family.
Inspired by her four-year-old daughter Inaaya, Soha co-authored her latest book with her husband, actor Kunal Kemmu. Inni and Bobo Find Each Other: Inni and Bobo Adventures is the first in the planned series on a little child finding friendship, adopting dogs, learning empathy and imperative life lessons, and opening one’s heart and homes.
“Everyone was after me to get down to writing, especially my mother. She’d religiously ask me about it during our weekend catch ups. Kunal does not enjoy reading as much as I do, though our child loves to be read to. We decided to put together a book for her birthday, and it turned into a catalogue of Inni and Bobo and their numerous adventures. Inaaya herself has contributed to the stories, with many characters a child of her imagination. She’s well aware that she’s the star of the book!”
No stranger to life in the spotlight, being the youngest of Nawab Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi and actor Sharmila Tagore’s three children. Soha admits the constant scrutiny and social media frenzy around star children is worrisome. Most recently, her nephew Taimur Ali Khan, was trolled for asking the paparazzi to stop filming him, drawing a strong reaction from the family.
“It’s part and parcel of our life; we have to accept it. But the main concern is safety. The jostling and flashes scare the children. The psychological impact, too, is difficult to measure. You want your child to have as normal an upbringing as possible and have their own sense of self. Inaaya understands what being ‘famous’ means, and that she’s recognised by people she does not know. Imagine what that can do to a four-year-old! Children are observant, but they may not be able to express everything they feel.”
“It’s also incredibly unfair to comment on a child’s behaviour when they are being photographed in a public space. A five-year-old is just being themselves! The constant emphasis on being ‘perfect’ and defining ‘good behaviour’... Can you imagine what it does to a young mind? People who do that need to self-reflect that these are children, not people you’re checking out on Instagram. Let children be!”
An investment-banker-turned-actor, Soha agrees that motherhood brings its own challenges, saying she was a “self-centred person” until she had her daughter at age 38. She chose to hit pause on her career to focus on raising Inaaya and is candid when she admits she doesn’t adhere to societal norms of women being multitaskers, or there being a “perfect mom model”. Although by husband Kunal and her own admission, Soha says she’s a far more controlling parent than her own mother, who not only raised three children, but also helmed the biggest movies of her time, among other commitments.
“I can’t juggle too many things. I’m focussed and single-minded even when it comes to relationships. I can only do one thing at a time. I was a good girlfriend and a good wife, and then I had my daughter and became a terrible wife!” she says in jest. “I was not a good daughter, not a good friend... Everything suffered, but I chose to have Inaaya at 38 so I could completely immerse myself in motherhood. But as mothers, we need to accept other people into parenting, as well. Women tend to lose their identities once they become mothers, and we need to be mindful about it.”
While Kunal tends to draw flak from her for spoiling Inaaya and being the ‘good cop’, Soha reveals he’s quite hands-on when it comes to several other aspects of her well-being — from brushing her hair and helping her get dressed, to taking her on play dates as and when his schedule allows.
“My father was a stay-at-home dad, and my mom was at work. If he wanted to know about my boyfriends, etc, he’d ask mom, but he’d discuss books, finances, and other such subjects with us... Things are different now. Mothers and fathers are both hands-on in all aspects. Fathers are more understanding that it’s not just equality at the workplace but equality at home that matters, as well, and it does not make them less of a man to participate in activities seen as a ‘mother’s job.’”
Be it weekends at Pataudi Palace, their ancestral home, with mother Sharmila, or vacations and family get-togethers with brother Saif, sister-in-law Kareena and their children, Soha says she enjoys the company of her family, describing them as “incredibly funny people”.
“We have an innate ability to laugh at ourselves. My mother apprises and keeps us up to date with the goings on of the world. Bhai is an awesome cook and loves to discuss art, philosophy and history. But Kareena is the most entertaining person in our family. She really makes us laugh! We are all such different personalities, so it makes everything colourful.”
Saif Ali Khan had once remarked how both his sister and daughter Sara, despite being armed with decorated educational degrees, chose to pursue acting. The comment is met with a laugh by Soha, who is all praises for niece Sara and nephew Ibrahim.
“It’s such a fantastic profession. Yes, we were swayed by the industry because there’s a magic about cinema, performing and telling stories. But it’s not easy; it’s a road littered with broken hearts and crushed dreams. You have to have thick skin and pick yourself up and have your wits about you. I am very proud of Sara and Ibrahim because of the kind of people they are — clever, funny and their own person — which should be encouraged and applauded.”
On the work front, Soha was recently seen in the series Kaun Banegi Shikharwati. With Tanuja Chandra’s thriller Hush Hush lined up, she’s grateful for the opportunities streaming platforms have created for actors across the board.
“I’m so grateful that I get to follow my heart. OTT platforms have instilled this confidence that today, five years after I took a career break, I know that if I wake up and say, ‘Hey, I want to go back to acting,’ there’ll be something for me to do. So I’m not panicking.”
“Also, with the narratives these days, you see yourself being represented on screen. Someone like me, who is 43 years old, can be a protagonist. You are no longer burdened by theatrical success, distribution and the PR machinery. My mother is going to do Gulmohar after 11 years now, and it’s amazing how we are all able to work.”
The next in the Inni and Bobo series is due in September, with a third book already in the pipeline.
“Kunal and I think of it as our retirement fund,” she concludes with a hearty laugh.