Irrfan Khan, in a freewheeling chat with Shweta Kulkarni, discusses his forthcoming release D-DAY, his international exposure, the films of the ’80s, and his enduring passion for cinema.
Talk about working round the clock, and Irrfan Khan knows it all. He is shooting two shifts back to back to complete the patchwork on his forthcoming release, D-DAY. Simultaneously, he is also busy with the promotions of the film. His fatigue is apparent, however Irrfan is not complaining as he effortlessly breezes from one interview to another, juggling his on-the-set calls with entertaining his fans.
As I enter his vanity van, two young guys are getting their pictures clicked alongside Irrfan. Once they are done, we settle down for our chat. It’s amazing how he is handling so much at the same time, I note. He smiles, offers me tea, and sipping on his own cuppa says, “I put in all my efforts to ensure that my film becomes successful. All these efforts are solely for that. If the film is successful everybody benefits, right from the distributors to the producers to the audience. Hence, I don’t mind putting in extra effort. My intention is to bring something original, to give something more to the art of cinema, at the same time to try and ensure that the movie brings in money as well.” The genuine affection for his craft can’t be missed.
His desire to contribute to cinema has led him to select varied roles and interesting stories. What inspired him to sign a film like D-DAY with a mainstream director, Nikhil Advani? “Nikhil and I had met two years ago. He wanted to do a film with me but he got busy and nothing happened. Then suddenly this time he came to me with this film. His narration engaged me completely; it was an interestingly written script. Also while I was listening to the narration, I understood that Nikhil was trying to change his image as a director. The script of D-DAY was very different from his earlier films like KAL HO NA HO and SALAAM-E-ISHQ. His detailing and thorough research about each character captured my attention. The script was real, gritty and completely engrossing. But then I was not sure about it…” he reveals candidly. Explaining further, he says, “You know, sometimes when you hear something it sounds fabulous but it doesn’t translate the same way on the screen. It can sometimes become very filmi. I don’t have a problem with filmi stuff,” he adds quickly, “but it shouldn’t lose the plot; it should stay real. Also the kind of deal Nikhil was promising was tempting. The editor was from abroad, there was this best action director from abroad and above all his intentions were very serious – he wanted to depart from his conventional side. He had done his homework thoroughly. Initially there was a question in my mind, whether he would go full-fledged or half-heartedly. But then, as we started shooting, I was pretty impressed with his kind of camerawork and his participation in the film. He just knew what he was doing, and I started trusting him very soon. I am playing an intelligence officer in the film. This was a new area for me. I have never played a character like that. Plus the character is very interesting, as my conviction towards my family and service is being put to test in the film. So the character sketch was another thing that made me do D-DAY.”
In D-DAY, Irrfan shares screen space with Rishi Kapoor and Arjun Rampal. Does he feel that the Hindi film industry started treating him differently after he gained exposure on the international front and received critical acclaim with films like THE NAMESAKE, NEW YORK, I LOVE YOU, A MIGHTY HEART, SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE, THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, and the recent LIFE OF PI? “Not as far as the roles are concerned,” he retorts honestly. “The film has to do well here, to get the roles that I want to do. Fortunately my films have started working on their own. I still can’t believe that PAAN SINGH TOMAR got accepted so well. All thanks to the audience who flocked to the theatre to watch my films. It has changed my life here. The fact that the audience is loving this kind of cinema itself talks about a big change. Badlaav bohot tezise aaraha hai. That’s why I am thanking the audience; it’s they who are bringing about this change in the film industry. As far as the perception about my being an actor goes, yes, that has changed after some of the international films I did; it has made an impact.”
And what about him…has the success and sudden popularity changed him? He doesn’t hesitate to accept that it has, adding, “It does make you more comfortable with your own self.” He baffles me with his response; given that success is known to make one all dizzy in the head and either turn you into a complete jerk or leave you unchanged, which is rare… At least that’s what my past experiences with the stars of our industry has taught me… “Very true, that too happens. But it’s entirely up to you, how you let it affect you. I am not a teenager and for me it has worked the other way and for the better. This success has brought me closer to reality. It has in fact made me realise that all this is temporary and you cannot really take it all seriously. You do have certain desires… sometimes when your desires are fulfilled it gets easier to gel with your own self. What is important is to know that everything passes. Nothing is here to stay forever. If you are standing in a river you can’t possibly have the same water touching your feet again and again,” he talks philosophically. “I know this and that is why it has not gone to my head. It all depends on the individual. The same formula can’t work for everybody. What has really changed me is life.”
…In what ways? I am curious and probe further… “Life changes every day. Even if my movies hadn’t come, life would still have changed me as a person. I am a different person now than who I was when I started.”
So has the change been positive? “Oh yes, of course,” he says with a bright smile. “I was a very anxious person earlier and anxiety is something that I have got rid of from my life now. The anxiety was kind of a killer for me and I never liked it. I was also shy. I still am shy but I don’t mind being shy. I know when I have to speak. I am more comfortable with myself now. Anxiety, I don’t like. Very few things make me anxious now and whatever it is I deal with it. Also not all anxieties are negative; some work in a positive manner too for you. The anxiety that makes you insecure… that bothers me. And that is something I have managed to get rid of from my life. I am not insecure any more. I think the realisation that everything is temporary, that nothing stays except for your actions and memories, has played an important role in who I am today. I am content, and enjoying my affair with stories and cinema. I am really fortunate that I am peaking at this time. It’s a nice phase for the industry and for actors like me.”
Experimental films, engaging content… it is indeed a flourishing time for the industry, which must have been sorely missed in the late ’80s and early ’90s, when he started off as an actor. “Oh, badly!” he agrees, “I used to hate those films of the ’80s and ’90s. The ’90s were worse. That was the time I came to Mumbai. I could never relate to those films although I was ready to work in them because I had come to Mumbai to become an actor and I really didn’t have any choice. Financially, I never really had to but I was definitely tempted to become an actor and I have done films where I only had two or three shots. I have done those kinds of roles. One of the films had Mamta Kulkarni… I don’t even remember the name of the film but I remember I had some fight sequence and one or two dialogues in that film. Honestly, I never thought this time would ever come, this kind of phase for Indian cinema. I had never foreseen this and somewhere I had made myself adjust to what was being offered. I am really fortunate that I am here and have made it this far. You can actually look forward to the industry now.”
Patience and hard work pays… “Patience does play an important part but if you have retained your sanity it eventually pays. That’s important. Thankfully, that phase is gone now. It took me long but I was able to retain my passion for that long as well. Had I lost my passion in the midst of all the struggle, I don’t think I would have survived long enough to enjoy this phase. When I came to Bombay there were no stories; people were just churning out movies. There was nothing inspirational. You need an atmosphere to retain your passion, you need inspiration, you need those kinds of films, plays… that would help you keep your belief alive. It was difficult to be patient and, at the same time, be focused. I am glad I never lost my passion. My fervor for good cinema is still alive.”
…Watching his always interesting performances on screen, that is a given!