Somehow, watching an Irrfan Khan film has always been a solitary experience for me. Whether it was a rainy afternoon in the 1990s taking in Drishti, the MAMI festival isolation of The Warrior later Maqbool, Haasil,
Yun Hota To Kya Hota and now The Namesake, his is a cinema that I was pretty much left alone with.
So when I catch him in a surprisingly different mood from his usual intense self, I wonder..
Do you feel an after-effect now that The Namesake is out there?
When I first heard the story, I was sure Mira Nair would make something out of it. She later told me, “Your love story is working majorly,” and I was a little taken aback. I wasn’t quite expecting a love story…in a sense, that’s what it is.
Are you an actor who surrenders?
I am someone who wants to be surprised. Nothing works for me like a director who can turn a script into a film you didn’t quite expect to see.
What’s a high for you as an actor?
What my story does to other people’s hearts. Does it stay with them? Does it make them proud of me? After all, it’s not for me to create a situation when someone like Mira Nair or Asif Kapadia (The Warrior) comes and tells me that I want to work with you…
Tell us about the Warrior phase?
In fact, when The Warrior happened, I was already bored of acting. First of all, it was too long a wait post-National School of Drama. Even though Salaam Bombay (in which my role was edited), Ek Doctor Ki Maut, Dristhi and a lot of TV happened, I had already reached a point of boredom. The Warrior gave me an opportunity to completely immerse myself.
<b1>You have this aura of the mysterious...deep...dark, like the character in Maqbool. How does it work for you?
I am mesmerised by mystery...in fact, drawn to it… I am mystically mesmerised by sex.
Is that why you are nearly typecast as the intense, brooding man? Someone who has more grey?
Actually, that’s not by design…
What do you feel about women?
They are magic, they are pain, they are mystery, they are poetry. There is a special quality about a woman which perhaps only a truly gifted man can possess...a great organisational quality...the ability to do many things and do them well... maybe it’s intrinsic to their nature, or maybe it comes from years of being repressed.
A man can sleep with someone for pleasure, but when a woman sleeps with someone, it is always for a reason…
Did the character in The Namesake come easy to you?
As an actor, I need a point of reference. I need to see/feel the character I am playing. And though I read the book, my character in The Namesake was largely a mystery to me. The only thing that struck me about him was that he was non-communicative — he doesn’t say too much.
But an actor sometimes needs a character who can completely break his personality. Just like a formula film can comfort your personality. The Namesake allowed me to break myself completely—you need to crush your ego sometimes.
Do you feel like an outsider in popular cinema?
Bollywood actually reminds me of the song, I have travelled many roads, but what can I call my own? I feel that way .
But seriously I have no problem with Bollywood except with the name. And honestly, it is the best time for Bollywood; the audience wants to see different things, have different experiences. They are ready for world cinema—it is very exciting.
Are you happy with where you are?
Ten years ago, I wanted to be a huge star. But I am happy to understand that whatever happened happened for the best — it’s a design that exists…your
has given you a role to play—what you do and what you think is up to you… I am happy to stay with that feeling.
You sound almost detached.
Feeling alien is part of my personality Actually there is nothing that one can really hold on to— time slips by very fast. But at the end of the day, it is a lonely journey — even your near and dear ones cannot share your pain. If you are ill, you have to suffer. I can’t share my kid’s pain — we all travel alone.
But I long for unity — when two people become one. I have always had this desire.
But isn’t that something which happens with marriage?
It happens with chemistry. Marriage is a social thing, not a mental thing...
So, what then makes a marriage work?
Space, if such a thing exists. When somebody can allow you to spend time with yourself — that is very important for a relationship…
<b3>You have worked across borders, across directors. What to you has been the main difference between Indian and international cinema?
I guess the big difference is how it is marketed. If someone announced a Rs 50 crore film with Irrfan Khan as the lead, people would faint. But when a Hollywood studio announces a nine billion dollar film with an Indian actor, it is news.
Every market has a different emphasis. Like The Warrior was made for a European market, but had it been made for an Indian market, the emphasis would have been on different sensibilities. Even the scene where I watch my son getting killed would have been done differently .
Where would you love to be as an actor?
At a place where I can truly experience myself — where grasping life is a smooth process. Where transitions are smooth. I just want harmony…
What inspires you? Where does your fodder come from?
Recently, I have been more into watching documentaries, reading non-fiction. I would like to see things less constructed, although I know that all art is manipulated. Let’s just say that I would enjoy a forest much more than a garden…
Do you feel typecast?
I have always tried not to be. I have tried to do TV got into production. But sometimes you need to work just to be in circulation. But I won’t be bogged down by any kind of typecasting, that’s for sure.
So would you do a Yashraj film?
Actually, I am doing a Yashraj film—Aaja Nachle, but I don’t want to talk about it till things start rolling…
How come you are always linked with your heroines..first Tabu and then Manisha Koirala?
Yes, I don’t know why they did that with me and Tabu. But Manisha? I didn’t know we were linked…
How does it feel watching The Namesake on screen?
I am surprised by it — it was not fun at all. It was a lot of hard work. But I have never felt so detached from myself.
Even now, when I see my character on screen, I see new things in him. I am still exploring that guy…it’s fascinating.
What’s with the extra ‘r’ in your name?
I am not proud of that at all, but have chosen to live with it…