IRRFAN KHAN: THEMANOFMANY JOURNEYS
He is one celebrity, who is known to have an interesting life journey, full of twists and turns and life lessons galore. As Irrfan Khan stands on yet another turning point of his life, here’s a quick glance at why we need this actor to continue to enlighten and stimulate us with his performances
he is one celebrity, who is known to have an interesting life journey, full of twists and turns and life lessons galore. as Irrfan Khan stands on yet another turning point of his life, here’s a quick glance at why we need this actor to continue to enlighten and stimulate us with his performances
Ek“din hamein samajh mein aaya that unless and until you become a good human being, you can never be an actor... that’s not true actually,” Irrfan Khan joked with a straight face during an interview with Film Companion last year. The actor has always had a whacky sense of humour as much as a philosophical bent of mind, which he is known for. He speaks his mind when it comes to giving an opinion on issues (without any attempt to be overtly bombastic or controversial) and pours his heart out while talking about acting and cinema. Since the last four months, the actor’s twitter account has been buzzing with life jargons posted by him, depicting his solemn state of mind. After posting Margaret Mitchell’s quote, ‘Life is under no obligation to give us what we expect’, and responding to it with ‘the unexpected makes you grow...’, he sent a post from London to Bombay Times last month, in which he wrote about trusting and surrendering, irrespective of the outcome, and how the suddenness of life hitting him had made him realise that he was just a cork floating in the ocean with unpredictable currents, and that the cork didn’t need to control the currents.
And then, you watch him in the trailer of his upcoming Hollywood film, Puzzle, with Kelly Macdonald, where he spouts away the dialogue, “Life is messy if there’s nothing we can do to control anything.” All of this bears an uncanny resemblance to the present reality of the actor—his life in a nutshell, after being diagnosed with neuroendocrine tumour in March. It presents the irony and eeriness of the unpredictability of life and most of all, poses the dreadful question: Are we really losing this gem of a find our film industry has had? It shows how uncertainty and fear has engulfed the actor as he is battling with cancer at a hospital in London, but Irrfan also gives us glimpses of being in a phase that’s turning out to be life-changing for him. Where it has dawned upon him what life is all about. ‘Food and sleep were never so precious as now,’ he writes. In an interview with Film Companion, Irrfan had also hinted at his drug addiction and an all-over-the-place lifestyle. “I am not organised. I am a scattered man. I abuse my body. I am a very reckless man. I carry a lot of anger. I have dealt with it. I have controlled and slowed down, and I am peaceful now. Your entire being is your tool. It our responsibility and you should enjoy taking care of yourself.” But he is also someone who ‘has never given up and has always fought for his choices and always will’. Just like the diverse characters—belonging to different age groups and backgrounds—that he has been pulling off with such ease on screen, the actor hints at bouncing back with new rigour and perception.
Whether it’s his present, where he is coping with this probable death scare, the processes he has gone through while internalising the varied characters he has portrayed, his rather long wait before he got his due on the big screen or his breezy juggling of Bollywood and Hollywood, Irrfan has completely been in sync with the many journeys life has taken him through. When he was all set to move from his hometown Jaipur to pursue his scholarship at the National School of Drama (NSD), his father passed away. Not buckling under social pressure, where he was expected to take care of his family, he made the difficult decision to go ahead and take the acting path. After starting his acting career in 1985 with television ( Bharat Ek Khoj, Chanakya, Banegi Apni Baat...), it was only after 16 years that he established himself in films with the 2001 Indo-British film, The Warrior, directed by the British filmmaker Asif Kapadia. The Warrior’s opening in various international film festivals made him a global face instantly. This was followed by critically acclaimed performances in Vishal Bhardwaj’s Maqbool in 2003 and Tigmanshu Dhulia’s Haasil. Although he did get noticed for his role in Mira Nair’s national award-winning film Salaam Bombay! in 1988. Along with doing a string of films, Irrfan kept going back to television. Remember him as the host of Mano Ya Na Mano, the Hindi adaptation of the reality show, Believe It or Not? Clearly, this actor never thought of himself as too big for the small screen. Then came Slumdog Millionaire, his real breakthrough in Hollywood, which not only won him
a Screen Actors Guild Award for his portrayal of a badass police inspector, but also got him meaty roles in the West thereafter. After the recognition with the Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire, Irrfan did the HBO series In Treatment and played crucial roles in films like The Amazing Spider-Man, Ang Lee’s Life of Pi, Jurassic World and the screen adaptation of Dan Brown’s Inferno with Tom Hanks…juggling roles of both, the protagonist and the antagonist. It’s been more than a decade for Irrfan in Hollywood. In an interview with Society in 2016—the year when he marked his decade in Hollywood—he said it was “an inexpressible feeling” to reach the milestone. “I started with an experiment to break the Indian stereotypical image in the west and was accepted with open arms there. I am glad to be a part of two most prominent cinemas of the world and would like to express my gratitude to my fans for appreciating my work,” he said.
Along his journey in Hollywood, he has even made a fan in Tom Hanks, who has openly spoken about his admiration for Irrfan. “I am just beguiled by his magic eyes. He has a physicality to him that is so specific and endearing,” Tom had said at one of Sony’s press events held at Cancun, Mexico. How thrilled he was to know that Irrfan was going to be a part of Inferno and that he presented him with a personal handwritten note on his arrival, after eagerly waiting for him to join them on the sets, is another story. Using his magic eyes and endearing physicality, the unconventional looker has gone on to break his image barriers of being a serious and intense actor back home. The much-acclaimed film The Lunchbox marked his foray into lighter portrayals, which narrated the story of two strangers falling in love by exchanging notes through a lunch box. His chemistry with Deepika Padukone in Piku further showed how he could play a lover boy with an impeccable comic timing with as much élan as a dacoit. The romantic comedy Qarib Qarib Singlle followed suit, in which Irrfan played a happy-go-lucky guy who falls in love with a widow, with whom he travels to meet his three ex-girlfriends. As someone who constantly accesses his emotional recesses to play a character, Irrfan’s romantic side comes to the fore when you hear him talk about love. “It (love) just happens and then it feels you are above the ground. You are constantly high, and that is the kind of high you can never get on anything. You feel a kind of wave inside your body all the time and don’t have any sense of logic anymore. Your emotions are
bloating, and it’s a magical feeling. You feel magic in every moment and your senses are heightened. There is a sense of sharing, and of creating things. There is so much I can keep on describing about love,” he elucidated while speaking to Society two years ago.
Right from traversing genres to continents with films, Irrfan has done it all. He is among the rare lot of actors who has worked in a Japanese television series based on World War 2, titled, Tokyo Trials, alongside a bi-lingual Bangladeshi film and a Hollywood film. His passion for riveting the audience with extraordinary stories takes him beyond regular actor’s concerns like the size of his role, the nature of the role, language of the film or the popularity of his co-stars. And however miniscule the role, there is no film yet where he hasn’t managed to govern a certain screen presence with his performance. “See, after The Lunchbox, I didn’t want to be just limited to Hollywood. I am also doing films in different markets, and in different languages. I might do a film in the French language for the French industry. So, this was the feeling when I accepted the mini-series for the Japanese audience. After Lunchbox, there was a kind of possibility that I might have made for myself,” he told Society in the 2016 interview. His Indo-Bangladeshi venture, Doob: No Bed of Roses, which he also co-produced, also went on to garner critical acclaim. Revolving around the story of two families who come together after the death of the headman, the film associated death with ‘gain’ instead of ‘loss’. From this plethora of stories and characters behind him, for Irrfan, his most memorable role till date has been that of the soldier-turnedsportsperson-turned-bandit, PaanSinghT omar. In the actor’s words, the eponymous biographical film directed by Tigmanshu Dhulia “tested” him in “a different way”, inviting a lot of frustration. But in the end, the film panned out in the exact same manner as the life of its protagonist—from oblivion to astounding recognition. Through the extensive journeys of ups and downs, the actor has admitted to going with the flow, without any planning. “I used to have plans, but my planning never worked. Life has deliberately given me signals that don’t plan—I will see to it that your plan is not materialised. Life constantly kept nudging me that don’t, don’t fix things. And I am thankful that I was aware about life giving me those signals. So, if I plan for even two months, I feel suffocated,” the actor revealed in an interview with Rajeev Masand last year.
“I started with an experiment to break the Indian stereotypical image in the west and was accepted with open arms there.”
As he goes through similar testing times at present, something just tells us that Irrfan will emerge triumphant this time too, like he has in the past. Amidst all the speculation surrounding his return though, the man with the mysterious and enigmatic eyes continues to sparkle the screen with his presence. Come what may, he isn’t the one to be missing in action...never was. In April, we saw him in the dark comedy Blackmail as the middleaged married man who blackmails his wife after learning about her extramarital affair. We will soon see him in the American film, Puzzle, followed by the dramedy Karwaan, starring Mollywood heartthrob Dulquer Salmaan, who makes his debut in Hindi films along with Mithila Palkar. After walking away with the Filmfare Award for Best Actor for Hindi Medium, Irrfan also won the Best Actor Award at IIFA (International Indian Film Academy) recently. He was also announced as the recipient of a Special Icon Award at the London Indian Film Festival 2018 (LIFF) last month, where his films Doob: No Bed of Roses and The Song of Scorpions were screened. As we go through the long list of his apparent future projects—Tigmanshu Dhulia’s Yaara, Shoojit Sircar’s biopic on the revolutionary Uddham Singh, Vishal Bhardwaj’s next with Deepika Padukone and many more—we ponder over his tidings below, compiled from his interviews to different web channels: “You have to enrich your soul through your job. That’s what it’s all about.” “My main concern is not to get bored with my job and myself.” “Art is made when you start making things personal, when you start reflecting on life around you, observing things as a human being and then communicating those observations through stories…” “I don’t draw references from cinema while acting. I draw from how I feel.” “It is said: If you really want to know and understand a person, see him in his crisis. I feel, if you really want to know a person, go with him or her on a journey.” Looking back at the immense work that the man has done and what a bright future he has ahead of him, we would like to reach out to the actor with this fan note on behalf of all his fans out there: ‘Irrfan, we want you back!’
In HBO’s InTreatment
...with Tom Hanks
...with Amitabh Bachchan and Deepika Padukone in Piku
In a still from PaanSinghTomar
...with the cast and crew of SlumdogMillionaire