In­dia's most un­der­rated cross­over star cel­e­brates 10 years in Hol­ly­wood by invit­ing Brunch to his home to watch each of his films, ex­cept one*

Hindustan Times - Brunch - - Front Page - ananya.ghosh@hin­dus­tan­ Fol­low @ananya1281 on Twit­ter

Small and un­con­ven­tional films are re­defin­ing In­dian cin­ema. I am happy to be part of it. Hol­ly­wood is just a bonus

Tere is no bet­ter way to spend lazy moon­soon a af­tenoon than long­ing on a couch, sip­ping hot cofee and watchin back-to-back movies. But how about some com­edy? Let's say one of the finest ac­tors of he coun­try. Let’s say.. Ir­rfan Khan!

It’s been 10 years since the ac­tor who reg­u­larly blows our minds with his tal­ent made his in­ter­na­tional de­but. So, one Sun­day we de­cided to trace his decade-long journey in Hol­ly­wood through his films with him talk­ing us through the ex­pe­ri­ences. “Things have changed a lot; and for the bet­ter,” says Ir­rfan as we set­tle down on the couch. “Asian ac­tors are now do­ing main­stream non-Asian roles.”

On the ta­ble in front of us is a DVD stack of each in­ter­na­tional project he has been part of. And there are more than a dozen ti­tles, in­clud­ing 10 Hol­ly­wood ones. That is a lot to watch in a day. But I can’t help but won­der: Is Ir­rfan re­ally a cross­over ac­tor?

Per­haps I’m think­ing out loud, be­cause he turns to me and says: “I keep get­ting in­ter­est­ing of­fers. If I were younger, I might have thought of re­lo­cat­ing to Hol­ly­wood. But I never re­ally felt like leav­ing In­dia. My peo­ple are here and so are my sto­ries. To­day, small and un­con­ven­tional films are re­defin­ing cin­ema in In­dia. And I am happy to be part of this brave, new world. Hol­ly­wood is just a bonus.”

Cof­fee ar­rives and I still don’t know which movie to start with. “Let’s start from where I started 10 years ago,” Ir­rfan sug­gests.

THE CURRY EASTERN! The War­rior 2005, Asif Ka­pa­dia

“I treat the film as my sec­ond mother. It gave me my long-awaited birth in movies. I still have the black kurta I au­di­tioned in!” says Ir­rfan laugh­ing, as he pops the DVD into the player.

His face lights up as his name flashes on screen. “The way Asif in­tro­duces me in the movie…,” he says, watch­ing in­tently as the mu­sic builds and the ti­tle, ‘Ir­rfan Khan in and as War­rior’, comes up, “It is so grand. It was like some Clint East­wood movie,” says Ir­rfan, whose ca­reer till then was lim­ited to tele­vi­sion. “Koi di­rec­tor con­sider hi nahin karte thhey mu­jhe. Main sochta thha ki koi teen minute ka bhi role de de toh kar loon.”

The movie be­gins with a stun­ningly chore­ographed shot of Ir­rfan practising with his sword in front of a lone tree in the mid­dle of a desert. “When I was do­ing the scene I didn’t un­der­stand why we need to shoot this guy do­ing kalar­i­pay­attu in the mid­dle of nowhere, but when I watched the movie in its en­tirety, I re­alised the sig­nif­i­cance. That’s the thing with Asif. He packs so many lay­ers in one sin­gle shot. His di­a­logues are also like that – de­ceiv­ingly sim­ple but preg­nant with sym­bol­ism,” says the ac­tor.

There is an­other im­por­tant les­son Ir­rfan learned from this movie. “Asif ’s pre­vi­ous short film,

The Sheep Thief, had won big at Cannes,” he says. “Peo­ple were think­ing Ir­rfan ki toh lag gayi lottery. Then The War­rior got re­jected at Cannes. This taught me not to build cas­tles in the air. It was a cru­cial les­son to sur­vive in this industry.”

ROLE CALL The Name­sake 2006, Mira Nair

Back in 1988, Ir­rfan had done a bit role (his char­ac­ter didn’t even have a name) in Mira Nair’s Salaam

Bombay. “Right af­ter I grad­u­ated from NSD. Tab lagta nahin thha ki Hol­ly­wood mein mera kuchh ho sakta hai,” he laughs.

Since then, Ir­rfan and Nair had of­ten bumped into each other at film fes­ti­vals. “She’d al­ways say some­thing like ‘Ar­rey tu toh star ho gaya hai,’ but she never of­fered me an­other role. I thought our ways had parted,” he says.

So he was sur­prised when the award-win­ning di­rec­tor called him one day and of­fered him the role of Ashoke Gan­guli, Go­gol’s fa­ther – just af­ter he’d fin­ished read­ing the book. “While read­ing, I never thought there was any scope for this par­tic­u­lar char­ac­ter. It was Go­gol’s story.” But the di­a­logues were ir­re­sistible. “I re­alised if I didn’t do this movie, I wouldn’t be able to say those lines ever,” he says. “The film is much more dra­matic than the book.”

About 15 min­utes into the film, Ir­rfan pauses it. The scene is the one in which Ashoke, re­al­is­ing he shouldn’t have screamed at his new bride Ashima, tries to pacify her.“I wanted to try out some­thing dif­fer­ent and started playing tabla on the bath­room door. It was some­thing I would have done in real life. Some­times we tend to take a very con­ven­tional ap­proach to act­ing. We don’t re­late it to our per­sonal lives. If we do, the re­sult is of­ten sur­pris­ing,” says Ir­rfan.

Although the film got him his first in­ter­na­tional award (Best Sup­port­ing Male at the In­de­pen­dent Spirit Awards), he was not aware that it was on the fes­ti­val cir­cuit. “So when I heard that a friend of mine had watched it at a New York theatre, I called him to ask how the in­ter­na­tional au­di­ences were re­act­ing to my per­for­mance.”

Not only had the au­di­ence and the crit­ics ap­plauded Ir­rfan as the quin­tes­sen­tial be­spec­ta­cled Ben­gali babu moshai, but there was also a di­rec­tor named Wes An­der­son who no­ticed this In­dian ac­tor.

WHO BLINKS FIRST? The Dar­jeel­ing Lim­ited 2007, Wes An­der­son

Ir­rfan fast for­wards this DVD to the point where he plays a vil­lage el­der. “Wes wrote a small part for me and I was more than happy to just be part of his film,” he says. Even in this blink-and-miss-it role, Ir­rfan makes sure you never blink.

A JOLIE GOOD TALE A Mighty Heart 2007, Michael Win­ter­bot­tom

Ir­rfan plays a Pak­istani in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cer in this An­gelina Jolie-star­rer based on the search for ab­ducted Wall Street Jour­nal re­porter Daniel Pearl in 2002.

“A Mum­bai news a er ran head­lines: ‘An elina’s comin to In­dia for Ir­rfan’. It was so em­bar­rassin !” he sa s burstin into a lau hter.

The ac­tor calls the shoot­ing process an ‘im­mers­ing ex­pe­ri­ence’. “Michael doesn’t bother about the script, or even the con­ti­nu­ity, he shoots from every

pos­si­ble an­gle. He wouldn’t even say ‘cut’ once the scene was over! He would wait for ac­tors to come up with some­thing to add. By the time the scene was shot, you, as an ac­tor, had rewrit­ten the script.”

THE GAME CHANGER Slum­dog Mil­lion­aire 2008, Danny Boyle

Next on my list is the win­ner of eight Os­cars – Slum­dog

Mil­lion­aire, but the ac­tor in­sists we skip it. He does not want to talk much about his small but im­por­tant role as the prag­matic

po­lice in­spec­tor. “I did the film be­cause of Dann Bo le ” he sa s be­fore addin that the movie was a ame chan er. “If toda In­dian ac­tors are bein cast in roles that are not uintessen­tiall Asian much of the credit should o to this film ” he sa s.

CRIT­ICS’ DAR­LING In Treat­ment 2010, Ro­drigo Gar­cia

Ir­rfan’s next tri­umph and the project that re­ally made the West take note of him, was a TV show. “Af­ter a few episodes, my posters were at Times Square; crit­ics were writ­ing love let­ters to me… I wish I had kept some of those,” the ac­tor says with a sigh.

In the show, Ir­rfan plays a mid­dle-aged Ben­gali man who had been mol­ly­cod­dled his en­tire life. Now his wife is dead, and he is in New York with his son and daugh­ter-in-law. “The char­ac­ter had so many lay­ers of com­plex­ity that I didn’t know how to ap­proach it. I didn’t have any sim­i­lar ex­pe­ri­ences to re­fer to. I had to cre­ate my own hell to get into a sim­i­lar men­tal space as the char­ac­ter. And the process took a toll on me. In fact one day I called my wife and she didn’t know how to han­dle me. I didn’t know what I was blurt­ing,” says Ir­rfan pre­par­ing a cig­a­rette.

As he skill­fully aligns the to­bacco, his face sud­denly breaks into a nos­tal­gic smile: “Jour­nal­ists of­ten ask about one skill I have picked up while shoot­ing; I learnt how to roll a cig­a­rette on the sets of this show!”

SPIDEY, WHO? The Amaz­ing Spi­der-Man 2012, Marc Webb

“I don’t want to watch this film, or talk about it!” says Ir­rfan the minute it’s the turn of The

Amaz­ing Spi­der-Man, ar­guably his most glam­orous re­lease. The ac­tor’s role as Dr Ran­jit Ratha was snip­ped, giv­ing screen time to a com­puter-gen­er­ated lizard. Four years later, the wounds ob­vi­ously haven’t healed.

THE BEST­SELLER Life Of Pi 2012, Ang Lee

In the mul­ti­ple Oscar win­ner, Life

Of Pi, Ir­rfan plays the older ver­sion of Pi Pa­tel, who is re­count­ing the story to a writer. As he re­grets not say­ing good­bye to his co-pas­sen­ger, the tiger, a sin­gle tear set­tles in the cor­ner of his eye. And I feel a tear land on my own cheek.

“Af­ter watch­ing the shot, Ang Lee told me it was one of the best mo­ments of his cin­e­matic ca­reer. He thought what made the scene so im­pact­ful was the moment I chose to cry,” says Ir­rfan.

It was a tough scene. But af­ter six months Ir­rfan got to know that they were re­plac­ing Tobey Maguire with Rafe Spall in it and it needed to be reshot. “Ang was con­cerned that I wouldn’t be able to repli­cate the per­for­mance. So he wanted to shoot only Rafe,” says Ir­rfan, rem­i­nisc­ing.

The ac­tor wasn’t too con­fi­dent ei­ther, but he re­fused to take the easy way out and reshot the en­tire scene. “I knew Pi’s ver­sion, and how con­vinc­ingly he nar­rates it the story in this scene, was very cru­cial to this open-ended story.”

IN DINO COUN­TRY Juras­sic World 2015, Colin Trevor­row

The ac­tor plays Si­mon Mas­rani, the owner of the park in one of last year’s top-gross­ing films.

A movie about di­nosaurs is heav­ily de­pen­dent on special ef­fects and although Ir­rfan was not new to shoot­ing in front of a green screen, there was a prob­lem. “Be­fore the shoot started, the di­rec­tor had shown us one pic­ture of how it might look, but the fi­nal look was kept under wraps. So we would shoot in an empty jun­gle with our col­lec­tive imag­i­na­tions run­ning over­time!” says Ir­rfan. THE NEXT TAKE In­ferno 2016, Ron Howard Based on Dan Brown’s Robert Lang­don se­ries, the Tom Hanksstar­rer re­leases in Oc­to­ber this year. Ir­rfan plays Harry Sims, head of the Con­sor­tium. Hope he in­vites Brunch for an­other movie date. What say, Ir­rfan?

Jour­nal­ists of­ten ask about one skill I have picked up while shoot­ing; I learnt how to roll a cig­a­rette on the sets of In Treat­ment Blazer by Anuj Madaan; Flo­ral shirt by Tommy Hil­figer; Bow tie, stylist’s own, by Zara

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