Irrfan Khan: 'In our industry English is given much importance but dialogues are in Hindi'
Irrfan Khan, the critically acclaimed actor who has seen an exponential international rise as well, has time and again impressed audiences with his stellar acting skills in films like Maqbool, Life In A...Metro, Paan Singh Tomar, The Namesake, Life of Pi, Piku, The Lunchbox among many others.
He may be essentially associated with intense dramas but wit comes easy to the versatile actor, who will be next seen in Hindi Medium. The film reflects how our society is obsessed with the thought that English-speaking public are more educated than the ones who speak in Hindi.
In a freewheeling chat with Firstpost, Irrfan tells us how important it is to know English in the film industry, working with Pakistani actress Saba Qamar, his favourite actress Deepika Padukone, and the recent Sonu Nigam-azaan row.
What is your thought on the subject of Hindi Medium? Have you ever faced any kind of discrimination or barrier due to English language?
My English was never good despite going to an English medium school. If we were ‘caught’ speaking in Hindi we were punished and hence I was punished quite a few times.
Now that I have gone to Hollywood, I need to know English well as I have to speak dialogues in English. But if you don’t trust your own language then there is a problem. If you look at the top 20 celebrities in our country, including certain top industrialists, they all went to Hindi medium schools. But our personality is doubted if we don't know English and can't pronounce well.
How important is it to know English in the film industry?
Even in our industry, English is given lot of importance, but when it comes to story-telling, the people concerned have to speak in Hindi. Most superstars are from the Hindi belt and they have good command on Hindi, be it Dilip Kumar, Rajesh Khanna, Naseeruddin Shah, Amitabh Bachchan, Dev Anand and Raj Kapoor. Today’s heroes have been educated in English, so they think in English but they don’t have the choice when it comes to dialogues.
What kind of treatment this subject has been given in the film?
It’s the content that will carry the film. The whole issue of bachcho ke school ka admission is dealt with in an entertaining way. I don’t think audiences want to watch social issues in films unless it’s done in an interesting way. At this juncture of my career I want to do films on themes that reach out to a large audience.
What did you like about your character in Hindi Medium?
He is shown to be very confident about his upbringing, culture and understanding.
He gives a damn about not knowing English. If you tell him that his English is bad, he will say I don’t care.
Do you think celebrities should react on social issues as millions follow them and take inspiration from them?
Why should only celebrities opine? Everyone should have that freedom to give their opinion. To quote a philosopher, ‘Dissent is the biggest strength of any society’. If there is some issue affecting us, then all of us should get an opportunity to voice out our opinion. It will lead to a healthy atmosphere.
Last year you were trolled when you met Arvind Kejriwal during the promotion of your production, Madaari. How do you deal with such situations?
You introspect on what you said and if you feel that you have made a mistake, apologise. If not, then stick by your stand. You have to live by your truth. Troll will disappear in two days.
What is your take on the recent azaan row and Sonu Nigam’s tweets on ‘forced religiousness’?
It is a big issue. I wonder if our society is sensitive towards sound and decibels.
Around hospitals we have discotheques and loud music playing, do we bring up that matter? If there is sensitivity taking sound and high decibels into account, then let’s take up all the issues related to it.
Why only azaan? If people are inconvenienced by something then it should be discussed, undoubtedly. But are we sound sensitive? In other countries there are lot of rules and regulations when it comes to blowing horn. It is because people over there are sound sensitive. But are we sound sensitive? Is there only the azaan or there are other things as well?
How was your experience working with Pakistani actress Saba Qamar, who is the recipient of several accolades and awards?
It was a beautiful experience. Saba comes from Punjab province, she plays a Punjabi in the film and we found that flavour while working with her. The way she gets angry and the way she fights, all of that has a Punjabi flavour.
There was some news about protests when you were shooting with Saba in Delhi.
No, nothing of that sort happened. Nobody opposed to Saba shooting in Delhi. It was all peaceful. Government was very supportive, and her visa was extended.
Do box office numbers matter to you?
Yes, because then I get a choice to work with people. Definitely, my film has to be viable and earn profits, whether in long run or short term. But I don't live in the fear that my film should earn so much, I don’t run after numbers.
There are two more films releasing on 12 May along with Hindi Medium – Sarkar 3 and Meri Pyaari Bindu...
We will see about that. There are lot of screens. From Baahubali’s example, we know how much capacity Indians have to watch movies. If the film has the meat, it will work, if not we will make another one.
Madaari was also a good film, but Rustom released along with it and took away the thunder.
No problem if that happens. We now have several platforms like Netflix, Amazon, so if films don’t do well in the theatres, it recovers in some way or the other.
Priyanka Chopra was recently in India and she said that she's doing her bit so more Indians and Asian actors find place in Hollywood.
Hollywood has always been incorporating talent from other nations, be it Mexicans, Spanish, Chinese, and now they are looking at Indians. After India it could be another nation.
What is lacking in our Hindi film industry?
There is no passion in story-telling. Nobody cares about the story. It is only the means of earning money and fame and become a star. There is no interest, passion or seriousness in telling a story.
Which is your next production after Madaari?
I am working on two scripts. I may or may not act in those. I am taking interest because stories are good and if I fit into it then I may even do a small role.
Is there any other biopic you would want to do?
Yes, I would like to do more biopics and I have some personalities in mind, but I don’t want to name anyone right now. Let us get the rights first or else someone else will (laughs).
You've always said that more than money and fame, you would like to work for experiencing life. Is it difficult to get those kind of projects?
Yes, it is very difficult. You have to wait for such projects. In that wait, earlier I would feel impatient and uneasy but now I am relaxed. I pray to god that I never reach that stage and situation when I have to work for money. I don’t want to see that day where I am accepting a project because I want money and I don’t have any conviction.
Which are your forthcoming projects?
I’ve signed few films after Hindi Medium. One is a Hindi film for T-Series and the other is for Zee, both will be announced soon. One is directed by Abhinay Deo and the other is being directed by Tanuja Chandra. Then there is a Hollywood film about which I am not allowed to talk about.
Your son is gearing up for Bollywood (Irrfan’s son, Babil, is on board for his father’s next movie, Tanuja Chandra’s untitled travelogue, as a camera assistant). So what are the plans for him?
I have no plans for my son. I will give him the atmosphere and then let him make his own plans. I will just expose him to everything, let him see where his interest lies and let him take it forward.
You will be sharing screen space with Deepika Padukone once again for Vishal Bhardwaj’s next.
I have agreed to do the film and I am excited about it because there is Deepika in it. I would like to do every film with her. I had a beautiful experience working with her in Piku and I would like to repeat it. But I still have to discuss the film with Vishal.
Will you ever write your autobiography?
No, never. I have an offer for the last five years with big publishing houses approaching me but I refused. I find it very boring.