Irrfan Khan has never planned his career. Everything, according to him, “just happened.” “I have been fortunate that it’s happening again and again. It gives me variety, another way of looking at my work,” says Khan, who recently received rave reviews about his performance in the HBO TV series In Treatment.
“I was taken aback by how challenging the show was. I didn’t know how to do it,” admits Khan. He plays Sunil, a widower who has recently moved to the US to his son and American daughter-in-law’s house. Khan adds, “The show doesn’t go anywhere. You don’t move, you just speak; for me, it was new, I had to engage the audience only through speech.”
The show revolves around a psychotherapist (Gabriel Byrne) who, after a certain turn of events, finds himself taking help from his old therapist (Dianne Wiest).
Khan’s portrayal of Sunil, who unwillingly finds himself in therapy, has been labelled a “must-watch” by Variety magazine: “Khan’s excellence has one downside, making everything else on this year’s In Treatment seem as subtle as a sledgehammer by comparison.”
The show is written and produced by Anya Epstein and Academy Award winner Dan Futterman (Best screenplay, Capote, 2005). Though Futterman also acted in The Mighty Heart along with Khan, they didn’t interact much. Until, he got offered the show. “They told me if I was not interested, they would change the character all together,” says Khan, who was already in love with the concept.
Even though that proposition seemed tough, it was what came after, that really scared him. “The pressure came when I found out that I wouldn’t get the script in advance,” says Khan, who has worked in many International film industries apart from Hollywood. “That was difficult for me to handle. But that’s the way television works. It really made me uneasy.”
So, did he have to go through therapy to understand his character better? “No. America has turned the concept of therapy into a profession. But in India, it has few takers. So, Sunil doesn’t know. He is trying to connect to the therapist as a friend,” says he, adding, “Their industry doesn’t manipulate your acting. Once they cast you, they don’t feed or
The show may not have another season, but that doesn’t bother the actor: “It takes a lot. I don’t think I’ll do that kind of role again. Repetition becomes boring. You’ve given the experience to the audience, and you’ve had a good time. You can’t read a book a 1000 times,” he says.He claims that repetition keeps him away from theatre, even though he “longs to do a play.”
But does Bollywood saturate his need for variety? “When I am doing a film with Sudhir Mishra, Anurag Basu, Anees Bazmee or Vishal Bhardwaj, seeing how Anees looks at his film is as good as working with Danny Boyle.”
Khan, who will soon be seen in Mishra’s Yeh Saali Zindagi, has just finished work on Bazmee’s Thank You and Bhardwaj’s Saat Khoon Maaf.
When asked whether he had something in Hollywood lined up as well, he says, “I never planned to come to Hollywood and I don’t know how to sustain it, I’ll just take it as it comes.”