Actor Irrfan Khan made a rare appearance at an art show recently. And professed that he prefers art that he can't understand

Dressed in black and white, as Irrfan Khan closely scrutinises each and every work of art mounted by Kolkata-based Jagriti Art Initiative in Delhi's Lalit Kala Akademi this week, one senses his deep interest in the medium. Is that a fad in the film industry now, or a mere exercise in PR?

The query doesn't anger the actor. He replies serenely, “It works both ways. Sometimes our PR people tell us to be present at prestigious exhibitions, sometime an organiser wants to give ‘face' to their art events and sometimes an individual has a personal interest in art. For me, the concept of this exhibition (Metaphoric Shifts and New Imagery), which is a tremendous mix of old and new artists in the simplest possible variety, is new. They have Husain's old work (1969) that we barely get to see, against an Egyptian artist's tiger, which looks like a sad philosopher pondering over his own extinction. The texture in simple nudes are worth a close look. Actually, I don't like art that I can understand easily. I want it to make me ponder over it. Moreover, the exhibition is brought by a friend, Gaurang Jalan, who is responsible for producing most of Tapan Sinha's films. I knew that it would be more than just a show.”

Irrfan's own interest in the visual arts in his early days was only accentuated by his experiences at the National School of Drama in the early '90s. Hence, he says visiting art exhibitions isn't an alien exercise. “At NSD we were trained to visit art shows. I was very good at copying images, but as I didn't understand head or tail of it, I started getting bored of copying. Moreover, I didn't have the patience of an artist, as I was more into sports.”

But being an actor he often realises that art direction in films is barely talked about by the media. “Film journalism still hasn't reached a place where they can understand the intricacies of what art direction does to a film. Even producers don't value it vis-à-vis business. We actors too don't think how we can contribute to the sets we work on,” he admits.

Post “Slumdog Millionaire”, Irrfan is looked at with great interest internationally, but he says that doesn't mean he has one foot in Hollywood. “Generally, award winning people start taking themselves too seriously. I think if they had made ‘Slumdog…' here, it wouldn't have had that quality and we wouldn't have got noticed. Post ‘Slumdog…', I got many offers from Hollywood but none of them were as interesting as ‘The Namesake'. They suddenly want to make films with some Indian angle. They offered me stereotypical roles such as a psychiatrist who addresses a foreign patient, a man who is a mismatch to a foreign wife so their kids suffer, or a typical Indian villain. I turned them down. I don't want to do foreign films just to be in circulation there. I don't mind doing it in Bollywood though.”

NRI filmmakers have a reputation for making good English films with an Indian angle, but Irrfan insists they are also getting stereotypical. But in Bollywood, Irrfan assures us, he is safely positioned. “I have unique films like ‘Pan Singh Tomar', ‘Hisss' and ‘Dar Badar' in my kitty. I am well employed,” he signs off laughing.

RANA SIDDIQUI ZAMAN

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