Interview By: Ankita R. Kanabar
Evidently, he’s one of the finest actors we have, who not only impresses us with a new act each time, but also makes us proud with his global presence. In a way, Irrfan Khan has carved his own niche and how! His latest film, ‘Hindi Medium’ has just hit the theatres, and we catch up with the actor at the T-series office for a chat. Dressed in a blazer, crisp shirt and ankle-length pants – (not to mention, a pair of classy shoes) – he also has his style game on-point as we settle down for this conversation. Excerpts:
“Actors like me are finding something new each time because we need something new to connect with the audience”
What did you like the most about ‘Hindi Medium’?
I have been waiting to do a film which parents and kids can watch together. Either we make a film for kids or films for adults but this film can be watched by both and they can relate to it. And the subject itself was very challenging. This subject has the scope of being preachy but that’s the last thing we wanted. My concern was that, we can’t make it preachy at any point. That’s why it took a bit of time to work on the climax. So, we got Vishal Bhardwaj to just write the lines of the climax.
You have a very unique sense of humour off-screen, so in a way, does this film also tap into that a little?
Yes, I was looking for a good comedy since a while, but the thing with comedy is that, till the time you don’t relate to it, you can’t enjoy it. And I also wanted something which resonates with people. So, it was a combination of all that. I had seen the atmosphere of Delhi, so I am familiar of the language and life here which is shown in the film.
While the Indian audience loves to see their favourite stars on-screen, you’re one of the actors who’s known more for the characters – is that what you’ve always wanted?
The audience is lured by a star’s style and his charm, and they love to see the same again and again, they feel satisfied seeing it. And actors like me are finding something new each time because we need something new to connect with the audience. Everyone has their own priority as to how do they want to approach a film. The experience of giving something new to the audience each time is also very good and that’s some sort of addiction. I find that approach very interesting for myself, while I don’t judge someone else’s approach. It’s a personal choice that I’m looking for a new experience each time.
In a way, does the director’s sensibility and getting into his mould help in creating something new every time? How was it for Hindi Medium?
Yes, the director’s approach matters a lot. Saket Chaudhary looks very serious but from within, he has the knack of telling a story in a humourous way. For me it’s important to know how a director is saying the story, and that’s what affects the tone of your character. So, your collaboration with the director is very important.
There’s also a certain benchmark which is set – that when you’re in a film, the audience expects a certain quality of cinema. How do you feel about that?
My intention when I joined films was to make people feel that when I’m there in a film, there’s a promise of exploring a subject and also entertain them. For me it’s very important that my film is viable. I don’t consider a particular figure like ‘100 crore’ as a proof that the film is successful. I’m not in that race, nor would I like to call myself a ‘100 or 200 crore’ actor but for me, it’s important that the producer gets back his money. Some stories give their producers the return on investment in the long run. For instance, take a film like ‘Talvar’. It made money at the box-office but the kind of standing Junglee Pictures got because of the film, cannot be matched in terms of its revenue. So, some films just add to the brand. Somehow, if my presence works in adding to the brand, financially, integrity or goodwill wise, I am up for it. Infact, that’s my need. Otherwise, I can’t really measure my caliber, I have no way to match that up but it’s my need to do a certain kind of character or work. It should come from within, that I will enjoy doing a certain character.
“Somehow, if my presence works in adding to the brand, financially, integrity or goodwill wise, I am up for it. Infact, that’s my need”
Do you need characters that also take a lot from you? For example, you’d once told me how it was difficult for you to come out of ‘Paan Singh Tomar’?
‘Paan Singh Tomar’ was like a mission which was challenging, but throughout you have this sense of adventure and motivation, even if you are running in 49 degrees and literally finding a corner of shade and breeze. But that was still exciting. I never wanted this experience to get over. You always want a story and atmosphere like that. ‘Paan Singh Tomar’, ‘Haasil’, ‘Maqbool’, ‘Piku’, ‘Metro’, were all surprising films. The audience didn’t expect to see me in these film or roles. So sometimes, some films stay with you and sometimes it takes time to detach. On the other hand, at times you don’t want to detach yourself. For example, you don’t want to detach yourself from the experience of ‘Piku’. You want to do some characters again.
Talking of ‘Piku’…most people thought, it wouldn’t be just as good with some other cast….
The credit for that goes to the writer and director for imagining me in that. It’s their imagination. Directors sometimes are lazy in their imagination, they just go by what they say. But Shoojit is very different. His approach towards any subject is very interesting and artistic. Somewhere, some characters reflect your personality, but that can also be a limitation. It’s important that you find a new rhythm for a character so that you don’t end up showing the rhythm you have in your personal life. For your body, and mind, that’s also an exercise that how do you find a different physical and mental rhythm for your character.
Tell us about your upcoming projects.
I will finish four films till July. I don’t want to do films back-to-back but it’s not in my hand and I had to. I had to finish ‘Hindi Medium’, then I finished a film for Zee, now I’ll do a film with Abhinay Deo, and then go for a Hollywood film. Then July will be slight of a break and then will do more films.
Despite the kind of work, you’re doing in Hollywood, you still seem to be more rooted here?
There are demands, suggestions and some kind of incentives which are given to me if I stay there. I don’t think I’ll be able to do that. I can’t cut off from India completely. My base has to be India. I will do a film and come back. I am living here, my experiences are from here. And the work I choose there, helps me explore a new area. Even if there’s traffic or whatsoever, I can live here only.
Is it the experience of working there different though?
Content wise, it’s more layered. Whatever is written, it doesn’t end there. So many layers go beneath it. Here, the industry is such that you find a comfort zone and you keep continuing with formula and work for decades. In Hollywood, you have to reinvent yourself, again and again. If you find your comfort zone, you’re dead, it’s so competitive and challenging. Take the case of Mathew McConaunhey – he was a successful actor, doing good with romantic roles. Then suddenly he felt that he should do something different and the industry should imagine him in different roles as well. It’s a risk, you might be out of work. It happens in Hollywood that you’re an amazing actor, but suddenly you’re out of work. It’s their talent which keeps them going. So, he took a break and didn’t work for two years. Then he got a story which gave him an Oscar – ‘Buyers Dollars Club’. You wait for that and you make it happen. That re-invention becomes so necessary and that’s what I also love about Hollywood.
Does that also inspire you more to keep re-inventing yourself here?
It was my instinct from the beginning. When I was doing television, every actor was doing at least 50 pilots. Everyone was making shows. I still didn’t do more than 2-3 pilots. Because I wanted acting to serve me, and keep me interested in what I’m doing. If it bores me, what will I do? Whatever money you earn, it doesn’t secure you. I could have 500 or thousand crores in my bank but it won’t secure me, it can be gone. If you’re interested in your job, and you keep getting work, that’s the wealth, and security that you have. Money is bipolar, fame is bipolar.