DUBAI: Indian actor Irrfan Khan was recently and rightfully granted the DIFF Honorary Award at the Dubai International Film Festival 2017. Khan has worked in over 80 films across Asia, Americas and the UK. He has shared screen space with the best of the best in the business – from Brad Pitt to Aishwarya Rai and most recently with Pakistani actress Saba Qamar in the successful film Hindi Medium. Khan’s film Song of Scorpions alongside Golshifteh Farahani was screened at the Dubai International Film Festival, and unsurprisingly received tremendous applause and acclaim.
The fifty-year-old Life Of Pi actor appeared to be at ease and spoke softly but confidently about his career and his future within the industry. I sat down with him as he smiled his characteristic, charismatic megawatt smile.
People are terming him as one of the finest actors in cinema right now. “Who does?” he asks me, half in earnest half in jest. “Critics do,” I responded. “That’s a good label, no?” I ask him. “Yeah it is,” he tells me staring somewhere in the distance. “But labels can change. I don’t really care about labels. It does make me feel nice. But you can’t take that too seriously. It has to be about how you see yourself. That matters. That stays,” the Madaari star asserted, adding, “These terms and labels can change any time. Sometimes these labels are not that well thought out. Sometimes they’re instinctive.”
“You think a label like that is instinctive?” I question. “No this is not,” he agrees. And his reasoning works. It’s out of posterity instead of vanity. “It took time for for people to form that opinion about me,” he shared.
Belonging to a Jaipur Nawab family, Irrfan’s journey to stardom in India as well as his international acclaim hasn’t been a straight cut story. Irrfan’s initial roles consisted of mainly negative ones – or difficult ones that other actors may not have easily accepted. He was the central character in Vishal Bhardwaj’s critically acclaimed Maqbool – which was based on Shakespeare’s tragedy Macbeth.
He rose to international fame with the Mira Nair film The Namesake for which he was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award. His recent film, a part of the Dan Brown trilogy Inferno, witnessed him alongside Tom Hanks. Inferno grossed over two hundred million dollars and Irrfan’s effortless performance didn’t go unnoticed, as usual!
Does all the roaring success ever make him look back to his struggling years, I asked. “I never look back,” says Irrfan with categorical surety, elucidating, “When I go back to my hometown sometimes, those associations with that city force me to look back. I don’t have the tendency to do that.” So only forward for Irrfan? “Only the present,” he replies. “Sometimes even looking too forward is a trap. I do look back at things that are pleasant in my life. But I filter my past. I keep my precious moments with me at all times; I don’t want to be conditioned in a certain way. I try and make my past beautiful. Even though it could be a traumatic experience to try to do so. For instance when I was a seven year old, I had a fracture due to which I had to suffer for two or two and a half years but I’m thankful that it happened.”
What happened during that time, I ask. I wonder if it was something pleasant or a diminutive but sad memory that he’s moved past considering the amount of time its been. “In the process,” explains Irrfan, “It forced me to go into my shell. I was a shy guy, I was completely in my shell. I became even shyer. But there was a kind of a rebel inside and that experience forced me to find something in life through which I could express myself – and that’s how I became an actor.”
An inherently shy guy finding his voice through acting and performance. This story explains the many nuances of Irrfan’s presentations as an actor, along with the natural ease with which he performs his various roles. He’s in his element when he’s performing; that is undoubtedly the best version of himself.
Saba Qamar and Irrfan shared screen space recently in the film Hindi Medium where Irrfan plays Raj Batra, a simple man from Chandni Chowk who is convinced by his wife played by Qamar, that they should enroll their child in an English medium school and go through many tumultuous hoops in order to make that possible.
What was it like working with Saba, I ask him. “I think Saba brought a fascinating energy,” Irrfan says with a smile. “… And she brought forth a really unique quality into that role. She’s a very simple girl, she approaches life in a very simple way. It took time for me to really relate to her, but that’s what her beauty is all about.”
Cross border tensions are aplenty and movie fans across the subcontinent would love to see more of Irrfan – not just with other Pakistani artists but also working in Pakistan. Would Irrfan like that, I eagerly asked. He answered, “I would love to work in Pakistan. I was offered a character in Bol. But I couldn’t identify with that character. I didn’t like that space as an artist, therefore it didn’t work out.”
But if – and that’s a big what if – the cross-border tensions get better? “They won’t,” he claimed. There’s that categorical surety again. He explained, “Because it serves the politicians. They would rather keep the focus on each other and publicise that things are really bad.”
It is his natural charm and brutal honesty that make Irrfan a successful actor and the esteemed personality that he is. His film Qarib Qarib Single is in cinemas now and he is soon to be seen in the film Raita, a quirky comedy directed Delhi Belly’s Abhinay Deo. And from what it looks like, Irrfan’s star is only on the rise.
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