Salaam Bombay to Blackmail: Irrfan Khan defines what exactly has changed in Indian cinema

Slowly and steadily, Irrfan Khan became one of India’s most versatile actors, so much so that Hollywood started casting him in substantial roles.
Irrfan’s Blackmail will hit the screens on April 6, 2018.
Irrfan’s Blackmail will hit the screens on April 6, 2018.
Updated on Apr 05, 2018 07:19 PM IST
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Hindustan Times, New Delhi | By

From a letter writer in Mira Nair’s Salaam Bombay (1988) to this week’s Blackmail, Irrfan Khan’s career has been like a rainbow -- all colours and shades in one.

He struggled for a good part of these 30 years, and then he started gaining a foothold in the Hindi film industry. Slowly and steadily, Irrfan Khan became one of India’s most versatile actors. Not just Bollywood, he is the most recognised face in Hollywood as well today.

After Om Puri and Anupam Kher, he became the go-to-guy for anything Indian, and mind you it wasn’t only about playing a brown, average character. From The Warrior to Namesake to Jurassic World to The Inferno, he played diverse roles.

Surprisingly, he wasn’t getting the same kind of treatment in India. We had an actor who was rubbing shoulders with the best in the world, and here we were happy confining him as a comic relief or a sarcastic inspector with very little to add to a film’s storyline.

He had films like Haasil, Maqbool and Yeh Saali Zindagi to his credit, in which he played the quintessential ‘hero’, but these films didn’t give him the leverage a conventional Bollywood hero would have.

Paan Singh Tomar (2012) changed the game for him. By now, he had become a bankable actor with a solid appeal among the youths. It was a carefully crafted image of smirking, ruggedly stylish raw man who was running his own race.

He had achieved the same kind of following on Indian television a decade back. Remember his shows like Star Bestseller or Mano Ya Naa Mano? He was always the middle class guy with ‘swag’ to spare.

Probably no other actor would have done what he did with Qissa. Thanks to Irrfan’s performance -- a masterclass in acting -- Qissa is one of the most fantastic exponents of magical realism in Indian films.

Producing films was a natural shift. While Madaari (2016) saw the idea of representing a modern day common man on the big screen, Qarib Qarib Singlle (2017) advanced the narrative. It was more aspirational, more chilled out and more intrinsic. It also showed Irrfan’s notions about the rapidly changing social values.

With Blackmail, he is back with another film solely dependent on his acting skills. Will he succeed one more time?

Blackmail will hit the screens on April 6, 2016.

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Monday, January 24, 2022