"A film should not be like a one-night stand. It should speak to me long after I’ve watched it, or else I won’t connect to it," says Irrfan Khan
Whether he tells you the implausibly magical story of a tiger and a boy at sea in the Life of Pi, or makes you feel the pain of an immigrant father struggling to connect with his Americanised son in The Namesake, or reflects the dark and devious conduct of power in Maqbool, Irrfan Khan has always grabbed you attention with a flair for brining an integrity to the characters he portrays.
The actor who’s the face of nouveau cinema in Bollywood, and the aspiration for an Indian presence in Hollywood and British films, hits it spot on, once again in Ritesh Batra’s romantic throwback into time and relationships, The Lunchbox. In Bangalore for the film’s promotion, Khan, who’s also executive producer of the film, seems eager to gauge audience response. Excerpts from an interview:
Why do we get this feeling that subtlety is not something an Indian audience agrees with?
I think market pressure is trying to create that kind of atmosphere. And it’s not just the Indian market. The whole world is on to a speedy roller coaster ride. It’s like the time has come to the end of the cone where everything has speeded up. And this is the struggle or fight to get noticed. That’s what marketing is all about. Getting noticed. So the easiest way is to make more noise. To show things in speed. That’s why there’s a tendency to find a shortcut. An easy way out. Not let the audience think, not let them breathe, that’s why everybody is doing that. But as human beings, we need to breathe, think. We are not machines, we are not designed to register things in a particular way. But even as there’s a pressure to build up speed and make more noise, there’s more need for a quietness, for a subtlety which gives you enough time to taste it.
Are people willing to do that? Most just seem to be in a hurry!
I think it’s a personal choice. Some people want to tell stories the way they want to tell them. The way it comes to them naturally. Sometimes people want to take the easy way out. Or some people really enjoy telling a story that way. Where things are faster, where they want the audience on the edge of the seat. I personally enjoy both these kind of films. But what I really enjoy is that a film should speak to me after I’ve watched it. It shouldn’t be like a one-night stand. Like you come out of the theatre and nothing’s left of the story. I don’t connect to such films.
One thing in The Lunchbox’s script that made you pick it.
The emotions. When I finished reading the script, what was left with me was that romance. And then there was a unique way of telling it. I wanted to do a romantic film. And I wanted to do romantic films where I could connect. Where I could see a different possibility of … the film gave me all these.
As producer, what are the kind of films you are hoping to make?
Where I believe in the story, where I’d like to have my name on this. Those kind of films. Films which need my support.
This “support”, sudden bonhomie in industry, was unseen before. Karan Johar came on board for The Lunchbox!
I think everybody wants to expand their area. I don’t think Karan Johar will be supporting all kinds of films. He did it because this film has a heart and he could connect with it. It’s like you fall in love with somebody and you want to do anything and everything they want you to do. He really loved the story. He would like to do anything to help it find its feet.
What’s one factor that made you click in Hollywood? Everyone seems to think you’re the golden Indian man to go to.
I’m not sure. I don’t think there’s any one factor that could explain it. It’s much more complex and much more vast than one factor.
What kind of things then?
I think it’s the right chances at the right kind of time. And me being ready to take on those challenges, and sacrifice for those challenges. All kinds of sacrifices.
What kind of sacrifices?
Sometimes you commit yourself for four or five months (to a Hollywood project) you’re losing lot of work here. You’re not accordingly compensated for that, but, still, you want to do that kind of film because it’s offering you a new way of connecting to a story. For the love of that you’re sacrificing your money, your time, you’re taking a risk. You’re putting on stake whatever career you have here.
Is it worth it?
Oh yes! Oh yes, it’s worth it (he’s emphatic). Because there’s no way I could have experienced those kind of storytelling as an actor.
Are you getting this reputation of having the Midas touch at the Oscars?
See, reputation is something which you have no control over. And I don’t want to take credit. That’s not in my control. I’m not creating it consciously. It’s something which is happening automatically. If it’s happening, it’s happening, good… (shrugs).