How Irrfan Khan is the exception in a film industry that revolves around stars

Abhishek Srivastava

May 17, 2017 19:39:36 IST

The occasion was the premier of Mira Nair’s The Namesake at a multiplex in South Bombay in March 2007. The crème da le crème of South Mumbai had gathered there, thanks to Sooni Taraporevala, a long-term associate of Mira Nair.

Despite the jostling crowd and the narrow alley of the multiplex, after the screening got over, I got an opportunity to say hi and chat with Irrfan, who said something to me casually, but it still reverberates to dayte. “Yaar yeh film chal jaaye, chal jaaye toh accha rahega.” His quote had a deeper significance, according to me, even though it sounded so simple. It showed a facet of Irrfan, which was jaded, tired and frustrated with the functioning of Bollywood.

His sights and hopes were already set on Hollywood and international cinema.

Cut to many years later over multiple interactions, the actor has successfully managed to break the barrier and is now in a happy space.

How Irrfan Khan is the exception in a film industry that revolves around stars

Irrfan Khan. Image from Twitter

It was an early screening of his upcoming film Hindi Medium, where he was present to meet members from the media. Here, I saw a content Irrfan, a far cry from the anxious and jittery Irrfan of 2007.

In an industry where the ‘Khan’ surname opens many doors, the man actually renounced his surname few years back. “I dropped my surname when I joined the industry 10 years ago. I wanted my work and not my surname to fetch me recognition. I don’t believe in the power of a surname. What makes you powerful are your deeds and karma,” the actor told in an interview to Hindustan Times few years back.

My first interaction with the actor had happened in 2005 when Rog from the Bhatt camp was up for release. During the interview session I met casual Irrfan (again), and a young reporter, he gave me much to look up to.

Irrfan has always been a restless soul in pursuit of excellence, which at times others are unable to detect. The restlessness is well camouflaged by his casual attitude.

It was this search for a defined system, which made him choose to work with YRF for some time. Films like New York, Aaja Nachle and Gunday, though were not blockbusters, provided him a semblance of sanity in an otherwise chaotic industry. It’s interesting to notice that his phase at YRF also coincided with the meteoric rise of the actor in Hollywood.

Irrfan Khan and Saba Qamar in a still from Hindi Medium. YouTube

Irrfan Khan and Saba Qamar in a still from Hindi Medium. YouTube

Hindi Medium is something I could relate to. It talks about an aberration in the education system that plagues the whole of north India. The important thing to be noted here is that the makers realised that such a powerful role could only be pulled by a by an equally powerful actor. And I have many thanks to offer them for choosing Irrfan.

Irrfan is like an exception in a system where everything revolves around stars.

Currently, two Indian actors who have been pushing and promoting their careers in Hollywood are Priyanka Chopra and Deepika Padukone. While Chopra has made inroads, Padukone is taking baby steps. Yet their PR machinery remains in overdrive mode. Case in point: Majid Majidi’s upcoming film Beyond The Clouds for which Padukone auditioned. The very next day a Mumbai tabloid was ready with its spread of her washing clothes at a Dhobi Ghat in a de-glam avatar.

Meanwhile, Priyanka Chopra’s appearances and interviews on Jimmy Kimmel and Ellen DeGeneres show are followed by detailed press releases. But Irrfan is quite the contrast. He recently signed a film called Puzzle opposite Kelly Macdonald, helmed by the producers of Little Miss Sunshine. No fuss was made, no interviews were given and there were no press releases. A handful of Indian media picked the news from foreign film journals. That’s Irrfan for you.

Actor Irrfan Khan poses as he arrives at the evening's gala of the film "Bombay Talkies" celebrating a hundred years of Indian cinema, during the 66th Cannes Film Festival in Cannes May 19, 2013. Reuters

Irrfan Khan during the 66th Cannes Film Festival in Cannes May 19, 2013. Reuters

After having delivered stupendous performances in succession for years, Irrfan is now in a space where he can easily be bracketed with the likes of Viola Davis. For Viola, the color of her skin has now become redundant, and roles are specifically being written for her. While Irrfan failed to pull Tom Hanks or Ang Lee or Steven Spielberg for the premier of his Hollywood films in India unlike Anil Kapoor who brought home Tom Cruise or Deepika Padukone who successfully managed to bring Vin Diesel, his performances in these films spoke volumes.

Irrfan’s meticulous approach to acting is primarily driven by passion. But the years spent in the industry have also taught him few things.

When I casually bring in analogies between Khosla Ka Ghosla and Hindi Medium there is a flicker in his eyes. I inform him that I genuinely believe what Khosla Ka Ghosla did to real estate, Hindi Medium has the potential to do to the education sector. He smiles.

It took 16 years on the fringes of state TV and film for Irrfan Khan to finally get noticed. It was Tigmanshu Dhulia’s Haasil, which made others realise his true potential, and since then, there’s been no looking back. Despite Slumdog Millionaire, Jurassic Park, Paan Singh Tomar, Life of Pi, Talvar, Piku, Lunchbox and National Awards, he is still the same man. There was no entourage then and there is no entourage now.

Irrfan, who once was described by The Guardian as ‘that guy from that thing’ and ‘a dependable actor’ can be aptly dubbed a non-conformist. Years of hard work and struggle have now made him a person where neither failure bothers him nor does he get too elated by success.

Updated Date: May 17, 2017 19:43:28 IST