He has won accolades for his powerful performance, including in the most recent The Namesake, and is recognised as a cerebral actor, but Irrfan Khan is upset that he continues to be shunned by commercial Hindi cinema.
"For me it's important to be commercially viable. The distributors should be willing to pay for my space. I still have very limited choice... So what's the point of being known as a good actor when you need to be recognised as commercially saleable? I want a better deal," Irrfan informs.
And he still regrets having missed out on being a part of Vishal Bhardwaj's Omkara.
"At first I had thought I would be in Omkara. In this film industry you can't start getting possessive about the people you work with. There's life beyond a film. Sure Vishal has worked with big stars this time. And why not? Everyone needs to have their priorities right... I don't want to play the blame game. It only pulls you down."
Excerpts from the interview:
Where did you disappear after the rousing performance in Maqbool?
I was away in NY shooting for Mira Nair's Namesake. I had to make more of an effort over that role than anything I've done recently. I had to play an unobtrusive man. When I read the novel I realised I had to play a man who's almost invisible. It was very difficult to do. Also I had to play a man who's approaching old age. That was very disturbing. The reminder that the body is prone to decay was very discomfiting. I had to keep reminding my mind and body what lies in store for me. Just before I joined Mira's unit I had to warm up for 10 days.
How was the experience of working with Mira Nair?
It was a roller-coaster ride. She has very strong convictions. She's very vibrant and has innumerable channels in her mind operating at the same time. On the first day when I reached her office I could see Mira was fatigued. But she wasn't putting off anything. She was supervising everything, including the colour of the orchids that were to be brought for Tabu who was arriving in the evening.
Our location was a 90-minute distance from the apartment where we stayed. Mira used to come at 4 a.m. and ask us all to join her for yoga. It wasn't compulsory. But we soon warmed up to doing yoga before shooting. It was very rejuvenating.
How were your vibes with Tabu this time?
Very interesting, though not the same as Maqbool where we were very demonstrative in our mutual passion. In Namesake, we aren't dying to touch each other. The feelings here are understated, unspoken and unexpressed. We play a couple beyond this life. But we never express it. In fact, in one scene she asks me if I want her to say she loves me. Then she doesn't say it.
After Maqbool, any regrets about not being in Vishal Bhardwaj's Omkara?
At first I had thought I would be in Omkara. But in this film industry you can't start getting possessive about the people you work with. There's life beyond a film. Sure Vishal has worked with big stars this time. And why not? Everyone needs to have their priorities right. Vishal needed the budget that only the stars could afford for him.
I don't want to play the blame game. It only pulls you down. Mumbai city has so many ways of bringing you down all the time. The best thing is to think positively.
Why does commercial Hindi cinema continue to shun you?
I do feel that quite often. For me it's important to be commercially viable. The distributors should be willing to pay for my space. I still have very limited choice. Even Mani Ratnam now makes projects with big stars. Everyone is into it. So what's the point of being known as a good actor when you need to be recognised as commercially saleable?
I want a better deal. The Bhatts have taken non-stars and made them hits. I like working with them. I've the freedom to say no to them and there's no bitterness about that.
I expected huge things to happen to you internationally after Asif Kapadia's Warrior.
I thought so too. It should've been made in the English language. And the way Miramax released the film really killed my chances. They waited till last year. It was too late for the film by then. Miramax was on a buying spree. The director Asif Kapadia saw through the game and he took on Miramax. Now Miramax has taken pronounced elements from Warrior in a new Nicole Kidman film called Snow Mountain.
But that's so wrong!
When money is a religion, wrong and right don't matter.
Your Bollywood films continue to disappoint?
It is. I'm flooded with scripts. But they all disappoint me after two pages. I only get projects with a budget of 2-3 crore rupees. They're main leads. But mostly cheap thrillers. I don't mind doing a 50-lakh film as long as I feel inspired by it.
Jokes aside would you be able to kiss a man on screen?
Surely. Why not? Anything for a good role. I want to do roles that will challenge me as an actor. Besides Killer there's a film called Deadline with Konkona Sensharma. I'm also very excited about new director Kaushik Roy's film. It stars the Tamil actress Shobhana and me. This is Shobhana's first Hindi film.
So the beauty and the beast?
That's right. It's a film about parenting and what pressures we put on our children. We've titled it Buddhi but I want them to change it. Who wants to watch a film called Buddhi? I'm also doing Tigmanshu Dhulia's Ghulami and his next Tevar.
I'm eagerly waiting for Tevar, which is about two brothers. It has the same rough and rugged feeling as Dhulia's Haasil which was a big moment for me as an actor.
What are you looking forward to now?
I want another milestone like Maqbool, Warrior, Haasil and Namesake. It's been a long journey. But I've a long way to go. I'm happy with life. My wife is writing for Rituparno Ghosh and Bela Bhansali. I've two kids, aged eight and three. I'm enjoying watching them grow. No experience can match that.