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‘Irrfan Khan The Man, The Dreamer, The Star’ review: Kite runner to actor

A book about a person without a chance to interview the subject is a challenge that can be handled in many ways. Aseem Chhabra does it through interviews with directors, co-actors and by fleshing out synopses of prominent films starring Irrfan to take us through the actor’s journey thus far.

Chhabra, who spends time between Delhi and New York, met Irrfan in 2007 when the actor was part of a junket to promote A Mighty Heart.

While most of the press fluttered around Angelina Jolie who plays the lead, Chhabra was among the few to speak to Irrfan, who was a recognisable face in New York, as The Namesake was also in theatres at that time.

Chhabra’s interaction opened a window of communication with Irrfan that continued sporadically over telephone messages. Thus, though he realised he would not be able to get any interview sessions for the book due to the actor’s ongoing treatment, his tacit consent to it helped Chhabra get easy access to other interviewees.

‘Brahmin among the Pathans’

This is both a good and bad thing. We read with some surprise about the boy who preferred to fly kites than go hunting with his father, prompting his father to tell him he was a Brahmin born in the family of Pathans.

But the storyline that Chhabra embarks on ends abruptly. Much of this period is eked out from the actor’s television interviews.

The writer should have walked the extra mile to connect with members of Irrfan’s family to get a more nuanced idea of his early days. Especially because the segment about how his crooked elbow, broken during a fall while flying kites, affected his acting and his persona during his National School of Drama days, is such a valuable insight into the shaping of Irrfan, the actor.

Chhabra spends time delineating Irrfan’s key roles though his career — from roles in forgotten films to Haasil his first break, courtesy his NSD friend Tigmanshu Dhulia, who directed the film. Irrfan’s handling of this role would lead to Vishal Bharadwaj casting him in Maqbool. The rest, as the cliche goes, is history.

Mita Vashisht, Naseeruddin Shah, Mahesh Bhatt, Dhulia, Ritesh Batra (Lunchbox), Marc Webb ( The Amazing Spider-Man) are among those who talk about the actor and his work.

In fact this is where the book is weighed down with too much commentary and too little narrative. While cinema students may find much gold to mine, the Irrfan fan will find little about the man and his ways.

One aspect that does come through repeatedly is Irrfan’s constant and relentless search for new and challenging roles. This places him on a level all his own, as one of our finest actors who can deliver a character effortlessly, and also spring surprises in the adroit way he has avoided typecasting.

A word of praise for the cover. Much has been said of Irrfan’s brooding, hooded eyes in the book. The cover catches this spirit perfectly, giving us, much more clearly than the content, the man behind the actor. It’s a picture worth a thousand words.

Irrfan Khan The Man, The Dreamer, The Star; Aseem Chhabra, Rupa, ₹500.

The writer is former editor of Femina.

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Printable version | Jun 14, 2021 7:44:16 PM |

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