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Hand over that funny bone!

One of Bollywood's funniest men says he's constantly seeking ways to entertain himself

Boman Irani: `Often, comedy comes out best in tragic situations.' — Photo: K. Bhagya Prakash

"PEOPLE LAUGH the hardest when I poke fun at myself." Hence the stream of sidesplitting Parsi jokes. Before you fling accusations about bigotry, it must be said that the above line is courtesy Boman Irani, actor, photographer, and ace Parsi. He was in town to host, along with cricket broadcaster Harsha Bhogle, Teacher's Highnights Saturday evening to celebrate the spirit of achievement.

What's so different about just another event to award to Page 3 regulars, you may ask. Well, for one, you realise what `high on life' really means, thanks to the free-flowing drinks and hilarious on-stage tête-à-tête between the hosts. And when Boman finished off by serenading the audience with "We are the World... " complete with flawless impressions of Ray Charles, Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen and Tina Turner, mouths fell open. From Let's Talk to Munnabhai MBBS, Lakshya and Main Hoon Na, from fashion photography to theatre, and the newly discovered crooning ... Boman Irani is all over the place! Not that anyone's complaining.

Since you were a photographer, how did the jump to films happen?

I think photography, theatre, advertising and movies are all interconnected in some way. Photography was just a hobby that turned into a profession. I actually stayed away from film for a long time because I knew that my photography would get derailed. Na ghar ka, na ghaat ka condition. The movies are definitely lucrative, but unless you are enthusiastic about it, no point even looking in that direction, right? So when I thought I might just have fun, I took the plunge.

So has the actor taken over the photographer?

I hate to admit this, but photography has taken the backseat. But theatre is still in full swing. I still perform I'm Not Bajirao on stages all around the country. All I know is that I love showbiz and get my thrills making people smile. I think I'm designed for it!

Would you be bored doing serious roles?

Oh, my roles needn't be funny. In a movie I'm doing now, I'm playing a treacherous man. And I'm smacking my lips about that! Comedy is just something I do well, so I milk that. Some people tell me that it doesn't matter what role I take up because the moment I come on screen, people clap and laugh. Hello! But that's not a compliment. It's just a sign that I have to swim harder against the tide.

Don't you think most of Bollywood humour is too slapstick and sometimes downright mean? Do you see any changes in the approach?

Oh pleeez... what is with people and their complaints about Bollywood? Why doesn't anyone want naach-gaana anymore? I can't imagine a childhood without Haqeeqat, Sholay or Anand. It's a part of us. See, just let people do their own thing. You can improve the quality, but shouldn't go change the format. There can be different forms of expression... alternative cinema is there for that. But you can't ask the cabby whose mummy-daddy fight to go watch Let's Talk and see a parents' fight there also. Why does everyone want to take the fun away from the movies?! Manmohan Desai did the fantastic... you think he didn't know what reality was? People want their out... so why not give them that?

Is there a dream role you'd like to do?

No, no... I've decided never to have a dream role. If a role is done by someone else and I say: `Ohh... I want to do thaaat,' it's kind of pathetic.

Coming from a Parsi background, was language a problem?

I always thought I had a problem with Hindi. I was always nervous that it would be anglicised or I'd say "Humku idar dhaba do" (drop me off here) in the typical Parsi way to the cabby. But I realised soon enough that it was all in my head. But it was important to think in Hindi.

What do you do when you're given lines that the scriptwriter thinks is hilarious, but you can't even giggle at?

Ahhh... that's a tricky situation. If talking to the director about it doesn't help, I try to improvise. Said within the context, even a non-joke can be hysterical. In Munnabhai, only about 40 per cent of the lines were meant to be funny. In scenes where I was getting angry, I really was getting carried away with the anger. And people laughed. You know, lots of times comedy comes out best in tragic situations. It's not so important that the audience laughs. I just want them to identify with the scene.

Any plans to turn director?

Hmmm... now that you tell me, maybe I should give it a shot. It'll happen some time... two years, 10 years, 20 years... who knows? I don't like to plan anything. I'm constantly finding ways and means of entertaining myself. I'd die if I get bored. But I'm not saying, `Hey folks! Watch out for my next movie!'

Everyone keeps saying how theatre is a higher, more intellectual form of expression compared to movies...

Frankly, I think that's all nonsense. Some theatre is just abysmal. I'm from theatre, but that doesn't mean I'm a higher being, with higher values. Lots of plays are horrible and lots of movies are fabulous. It all just depends on which side of the fence you are on.


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