Irrfan Khan, who has just bagged a film with Hollywood star Tom Hanks, seems to be juggling all kinds of films. Along with Hollywood projects, he is doing some commercial Bollywood flicks too. He talks to us about striking a balance between the different types of films he does, the scenario for Indian actors in the US, and more.
Several Indian actors are now trying to make their way into Hollywood, but you seem to be the only one bagging big projects.
For me, as an actor, it’s a luxury (to get such films). I don’t make much money there. Whatever I earn in Hollywood gets finished there itself. A number of times, you end up spending extra from your own pocket, but I do it since I know I won’t get opportunities to play such nuanced roles anywhere else. For me, it’s not about survival in Hollywood.
Does it irk you that Indian films don’t offer these "nuanced roles"?
I look for other things here. Complaining sucks your energy out. I try to choose the best out of whatever I am offered by Indian directors.
Do you feel that some Indian actors throw names of Hollywood films just for publicity?
There might be a few actors — in need of some news — who use these roles as a gimmick. But another aspect is that doors are opening not just for actors, but for technicians too. The collaboration is growing. I feel that now, we will see a lot of people (from the Indian film industry) working abroad. Hollywood is keeping an eye on India to get new stories and talent. It’s just a matter of time.
Do you feel a sense of desperation in a number of Indian actors who are trying to make it in Hollywood?
Yes, sometimes I get surprised when I go to the US and local casting directors or agents say that a certain actor came over and was trying (to get a role) for two months. But the system there is way more competitive than it is in Bollywood. In India, we celebrate on bagging a role, but in Hollywood, people celebrate on getting an audition. There’s a lot of respect for acting as a craft.
Chinese and Korean cinema have made a global impact. What is holding us back?
We aren’t making films in a language (of cinema) that is universal. We are catering to only NRIs and Indian audiences. But that’s not to say that we don’t have the wherewithal or talent to do it. The Lunchbox (2013), an Indian film by all means, is a standing example. I am sure the coming generations will work towards it.
You are working with Aishwarya Rai Bachchan for the first time in her comeback film. How has it been so far?
I am having a lot of fun. The best part is that she doesn’t carry the baggage of her stardom, and that’s required for her role. She is doing it intelligently and delicately. Sometimes, even intelligent actors commit mistakes. For instance, in A Mighty Heart (2007; Irrfan also starred in the film), I feel Angelina Jolie was stronger and more heroic than the role required her to be; the vulnerability of Mariane Pearl (Jolie’s character) was missing.
You recently wrapped up the shoot for director Shoojit Sircar’s film with Amitabh Bachchan. How was the experience?
Very rarely have I had such a pleasant experience that all the actors didn’t want the shooting to end. I had a great time with Bachchan saab as well as Deepika Padukone. The writing of the film is fantastic. When I saw Vicky Donor (2012), which was written by Juhi Chaturvedi, I wanted to work with her. Fortunately, I got to do so with this film.
Amitabh, Deepika, Irrfan and Shoojit on the sets of Piku.
Does doing back-to-back commercial films work against your tag of a serious actor?
That tag would be a negative one only if I start taking up films for money. To me, a sign of success is when I do only those films that I believe in, and I am constantly doing such movies.