IR­RFAN KHAN: THEMANOFMANY JOUR­NEYS

Society - - CONTENTS - By Arwa Jan­jali

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

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