Bollywood actor Irrfan Khan in a conversation with Roshmila Bhattacharya...
It’s been three months since the Oscars. While Anil Kapoor and the Slumdog Millionaire kids are still riding the wave, you don’t seem to have cashed in on its success?
Several have contributed to Slumdog’s creation, so I didn’t feel right to push myself to the fore. I’m a shy guy, uncomfortable with attention. Besides, I wasn’t always available. My mother was waiting for me. I couldn’t disappoint her, so I skipped the Golden Globes.
"No, Mallika Sherawat doesn’t kiss me in Hissss. If she did, I would die. I’m spared because I’m not one of her victims but the man who saves her and his wife."
"There wasn’t much interaction on the sets because we have different tracks. But she’s one enthusiastic actress."
"The shoot was chaotic but surprisingly, it’s shaped into an interesting film thanks to the director, Jennifer Lynch, who is one strong woman. I wasn’t sure if she could pull it off but she has."
"She directed the film literally on her knees. She was suffering from a severe back problem and once, when we were shooting at Filmistan, she crawled into my make-up van to brief me. "
"I’m waiting for the teaser ads. The special effects by Robert Kurtzman will blow you away. It’s the role of a lifetime for Mallika. She plays a snake and suits the character to the T. It’s not an Indian nagin, so she won’t have to sing and dance or speak either. But she’ll get to do all the other things she is famous for."
"Mallika’s been in LA for the last few months, working on the post-production. She spoke about the film on Oprah
Winfrey’s show. Oprah was to come down to India on May 5 and travel with Mallika to Hampi to visit Hanuman’s birthplace. But she was apparently scared away by the Swine Flu. "
"That surprises me. Oprah, being an intelligent woman, should know that it’s the U S and Mexico that are bigger risks than India. She could have saved herself from the viral by coming down to India."
Even after the Oscars, Anil stayed back in LA for three months.. tried out every option available. I was missing home, I came back to Paan Singh Tomar.
(Smiles) Zindagi mein kabhi meri lottery nahin lagi. Things happen, but they take time. I’ve been reading scripts. There’s a film, A Ghost Travels Alone, being made by a German producer. The director, Anup Singh, has earlier made The Name of a River, a tribute to Ritwick Ghatak. I might do this film.
I’m also in talks for Beyond Bodies with an Italian director, based on Mahashewta Devi’s novel. We’re coordinating dates. I was to start shooting for it but tore a ligament while shooting for Paan Singh Tomar recently.
You’ve turned down a film with Gurinder Chadda.
The dates clashed with Paan Singh Tomar. It was a light role, I really wanted to do it.
How bad is the injury?
I’ve been advised rest for at least two weeks. Mallika Sarabhai’s ankle is still giving her trouble even after a month’s rest. You can’t say with such injuries.
I’ve taken bad tumbles while shooting Paan Singh Tomar. He was a National level steeplechase champ who turned into a baaghi in the Chambal valley. (Smiles) Itni chot zindagi mein pehle kabhi nahin khayi thi.
The last time, I was jumping with horses, and my judgement went awry. A Ranji player who was on the sets gave me wrong advice.. so did everyone else, including the doctor in Dholpur. Instead of ice, he plastered my leg. Since the GQ team was coming to shoot me for a cover, I slipped off the cast after two days. That saved me.
You must have felt like Shah Rukh Khan from Billu in Dholpur?
(Chuckles) Yeah, Billu had just released and people from 10-15 villages flocked to the location to see me. Thank God no one asked for a haircut. They would have cursed me then.
Billu was like watching two different films..
That’s how I felt too. Shah Rukh’s track could have been integrated better. The songs stuck out though I loved the helicopter number that heralded his entry.
He was really upset that the the music company was playing the songs in the promos. He’d made it clear from the beginning that
Billu was not his film but mine. And I respect him for the fact that he didn’t try to oblige me or cheat the audience.
I’m still getting reactions to the film. Yesterday, someone called to say he’d seen the film six times already. It stays with you.. you remember Billu’s dignity, Lara and my chemistry and the kids.
Have you benefited from it?
Yes, I’m being offered lead roles in commercial films. But I’m not going to do roles that don’t suit me.
Isn’t price an issue too?
No one paid me four times what I deserved, ever. I know what I’m worth and ready to compromise. For Paan Singh Tomar, I cut my fee by half but when I was asked to bring my fees down to a quarter for Hook or Crook I refused.
Your next commercial film will be Yashraj’s New York. Have you ever been discriminated against because your name is Irrfan Khan?
Thrice I was stopped at immigration.. twice in LA, once in New York. It’s humiliating when a cop asks for your passport, then escorts you to a room where you are made to sit for hours with other détentes and not allowed any calls, not even to the chauffeur sent to pick you up. Mine was a case of mistaken identity but it still made me feel vulnerable.
The third time it happened, I lost my cool. If I was suspect, why was I issued a visa? I guess my tone was a little curt because the officer suddenly snarled, “Is that a threat?” When he repeated it, I backed off.
I was let off shortly afterwards but when I narrated the incident to Mira (Nair), she told me never again to react like that when in the U S or I could disappear. On my part, I wouldn’t like to go through the humiliation again, not even for the Oscars.
Has there been any reshooting?
Not a single scene was reshot. Kabir Khan was very clear, even on paper, about what he wanted. Yashji (Chopra) called me when I was in Rourke after seeing the first trial. He was really happy.
You chose to campaign for Mallika Sarabhai who took on BJP supreme LK Advani.. and lost.
I knew she would not win but I’ve watched her collect Rs 11 from every supporter and account for every rupee. How could I not show my solidarity for her?
Did you vote?
Yes. I wanted to exercise the ‘no vote’ option. But it was taking too long to follow up on this unusual a request, so I was forced to choose.