Soha Ali Khan: Inaaya Gets Stars in Her Eyes When She Looks at Taimur Ali Khan

Soha Ali Khan is managing several roles at the same time, from an actress to an author and a doting parent. This year, she not only made her comeback on screen with Hush Hush and Kaun Banegi Shikharwati after three years, but she also donned the hat of a writer, along with her actor-husband Kunal Kemmu. The couple co-authored the children’s books Inni and Bobo Find Each Other and Inni and Bobo Go to the Park, which follows the journey and adventure of a little girl and her pet. And serving as an inspiration for the book was none other than their five-year-old, Inaaya Naumi Kemmu.

In an exclusive conversation with News18, Soha opens up about her book, which she also co-narrated with Kunal for the online audiobook service, Audible. She talks to us about parenting a five-year-old, reveals who is the stricter parent between her and Kunal and also talks about how the paparazzi and social media attention on her kid makes her feel.

Excerpts from the interview:

Where did this idea stem from and how did you two end up writing a children’s book?

The idea was Kunal’s brainchild. We always read three stories to Inaaya before bedtime and I take a physical book off the shelf and read it to her. And Kunal said, ‘I want to create my own stories, I don’t need to read stories that have already been written, I’m a storyteller.’ So, he told her the story, an original story and she liked it. As you know, children like to hear the same story again and again. We said, ‘Why don’t we write a book for her and why don’t we publish a children’s book? So, we wrote it together. We found a wonderful illustrator and made a hard copy book, which is out there for people to buy.

And then I was very excited when we collaborated with Audible to have an audio version of the book. As a parent who has to narrate many stories to their child, I really appreciate the fact that you can now access a huge database of stories that you don’t have to read yourself.

From co-authoring to co-narrating, how was the experience?

It’s been great fun. Co-authoring, of course, has its own challenges because when you are working with somebody, you will have certain disagreements, and you may not be on the same page all the time. But I think that Kunal and I make a really good team. He has certain creative strengths that I may not have, and I have certain creative strengths that he may not. I really feel we fill each other’s spaces or blanks when it comes to that matter. If it weren’t for us together, this book would not have happened because it really required both of us to collaborate.

It’s nice to have something that you’ve done as partners which is inspired by your child. I feel it’s a family affair in so many ways. Recording it was also great fun. The whole idea of going to a studio and sitting with the mic and focusing on expressing yourself, articulating those words, recording them for posterity, and having them accessible to so many people in an audio format was something I was very excited about.

Who is the strict parent?

I’m the strict one. I am the one who believes in routine and rules. That’s my approach to parenting. Kunal is a little more flexible, but also, he’s not enforcing the rules. I do it for my own convenience and also because I believe it’s good for her. I genuinely believe that having a bedtime or having a nutritious diet with a balanced number of vegetables and not having refined sugar is a good thing for her. But she’s allowed a lot of choices. It’s not like I’m enforcing my opinion on her. It’s not possible to do that with a five-year-old. It’s a negotiation all the time. And it’s exhausting. But I invest the time in it because I do believe that parenting is perhaps one of the most responsible things that you can do when you’re shaping a person and putting them out there in the world. You can either do some good or you can do a lot of damage.

How is Inaaya around the pets in her house?

She’s very good. Unfortunately, we lost our pet Masti. But we have friends who have pets, and we go to Pataudi, which is our farmhouse, where we have many adopted dogs. My mother (Sharmila Tagore) has two adopted dogs through World For All, a wonderful organization based out of Bombay. Inaya has grown up around animals, and she loves them. It is not something we’ve taught her. She loves everything and not just the quote-unquote pretty animals. You cannot kill a mosquito around her, she’ll cry. She respects life. So I appreciate that and I’m trying not to take away from that.

You can’t teach people how to love, this is something that has to come from within.

It’s something that comes from within, and you are also conditioned by what you see. What you see becomes normal for you. We either become a product of our childhood or rebel against that. So, you can teach kindness by not saying ‘Be Kind’ but by displaying it. I never heard my father (Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi) raise his voice. He passed away 10 years ago so for 30 years of my life, I never heard him raise his voice. And I understood that it’s not cool to lose your temper and raise your voice, it doesn’t achieve anything. He taught by example.

Is Inaaya at an age where she can comprehend the paparazzi’s attention on her?

I can’t answer that question because I honestly can only try and understand what’s happening in her mind. At least we’ve got to a stage now where we can talk about it. She says, ‘Who are these people taking my picture?’ And sometimes she doesn’t want me to take her picture. I’m so guilty of constantly taking her picture and videos and she’d be like, ‘Are you recording me, don’t record me.’ So, I totally respect that because she’s a person, an individual, and she has rights. It’s invasive of her privacy for me to record her all the time.

And I think we need to be more respectful towards children and not treat them like toys or control them so much. Similarly, when it comes to strangers recording her, she has questions and I’ve answered those questions to the best of my ability. She understands that she belongs to a family of public figures and there are people who have an interest in her as an individual. When she’s comfortable, she is comfortable and when she wants to put on her mask, she does that. Now she’s old enough to make those choices. We may have chosen to live public lives, but she hasn’t so she shouldn’t.

How does that make you feel as a parent?

If I felt she was distressed by it, then I would be very protective of her. My job as a parent is to protect her. She’s not distressed by it. And I feel our media is respectful. It’s not like they crossed the line. If you request something, they’re very understanding of that. I feel we have a good relationship with them and there’s mutual respect and there are mutual boundaries.

Inaaya is also growing up around so many siblings. How is her bond with them and who is she the closest to?

She adores Taimur (Saif Ali Khan’s son). She gets stars in her eyes when she looks at him. She thinks everything he does is amazing. Even if he’s just scratching his ear, she’s like, wow. And Jeh is adorable because he’s small. But she’s definitely interested in Taimur as an older brother and there’s a little bit of hero worship going on there. But it’s just interesting to see children react to other children and form their own relationships and bonds. Again, you have to be respectful of what they want, who they want to play with, where their limits are, and who they want to hug or not. You have to be very, very respectful of those things.

How many children’s books do you and Kunal plan to write?

At least 550 (laughs) Another one is out there now which is called Inni and Bobo Go To The Park. And we’re writing the third one now. There’s unlimited potential in terms of short stories about a girl and an adopted puppy. They can have innumerable adventures. It’s just a question of putting pen to paper.

Do you plan on narrating more of these books as audio shows?

Absolutely. When it comes to children’s books, audible is the place for them to be. Especially when children can’t read for themselves. There are only so many books that one can read again and again. So why not use a resource where you have wonderful voices who are trained for delivering and narrating the story in such beautiful ways with music? I want all of the Inni and Bobo series to be on it.

What’s next for you?

Hush Hush came out and people were kind and said nice things. So I’m hoping to do more of that. And certainly after staying away from acting for three years, I found my confidence again and I realized it was possible to balance work and being a good parent. I do want to act more. I’m reading scripts, and most of it is digital content. I’m just very happy to be back to acting and writing. I want to write more. In fact, I have to hand in Inni and Bobo 3 by the end of this month!

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