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The big league beckons

Life has taken an unexpected turn for Irfan Khan, with offers coming from international directors.

AND WHO, I can hear you asking, is Irfan Khan? This, you may not know, even if you are an avid Hindi filmgoer, because Irfan has not exactly set the cinema screens on fire in India. But pose the same question to a cine enthusiast in Britain, and you may be in for a surprise. Chances are that you will get immediate nods of approval and recognition.

Irfan played the lead role in Britain-born Indian director Asif Kapadia's film The Warrior, which won accolades in the acclaimed British Film and Television Awards (BAFTA) and catapulted him onto the international arena, even as he was struggling to make his mark in Bollywood.

A small town boy who grew up in Jaipur, Irfan studied theatre at the National School of Drama and played prominent roles in films such as Gunah and Kasoor. But life took an unexpected turn when Asif Kapadia, scouting around for the lead actor and not coming up with much success, happened to meet Irfan. Within minutes, Kapadia began to visualise Irfan in the role, and realised that he had zeroed in on that particular presence that he had been looking for.

The big league beckons

The film has minimal and functional dialogue. The role of the warrior needed a strong, stern presence, as it unfolded the story of a man shedding his violent past, in an Asoka-like transformation, and embracing a different set of values altogether. Even when he witnesses his child's killing, he shuns all thought of avenging the deed.

The role was an introspective and analytical one, and Irfan had to learn to contain and control himself — very different from the exaggerated and over-the-top acting he was compelled to do, playing negative roles in Hindi films. Offers from international directors are beginning to trickle in, and Irfan has appointed an agent in London to look into them.

Right now, his film Haasil is playing in Bangalore, and even hardcore, crusty critics have praised his performance unstintingly.. On his part, Irfan says that his role, that of a student leader embroiled in violent campus shenanigans in a small north Indian town, was reflective of the milieu he himself came from, and the role was close to his heart.

The big league beckons

He is close to completing his role of Macbeth in the Indianised film version, called Mian Maqbool, directed by Vishal Bharadwaj.

Another project, Dubai Return, was picked up by leading international distributors at Cannes recently.

Irfan must be one of the very few NSD graduates for whom the stage footlights do not beckon. He would like to do serious theatre, but it is a huge commitment, one he can ill afford right now, as he is concentrating on building his film career. He has a slew of films with young, debutant directors who are bringing new and refreshing story lines; Irfan is visibly excited about this new breed.

The big league beckons

Towards the end of our meeting, a pretty young thing in a pretty young outfit, came up to Irfan and presented him with a flower (presumably picked from the hotel gardens). She then gushed over his performances, while I stood embarrassed. He politely but firmly sent her on her way.

I asked him how he handled such situations. "I just filter the compliments... after all, I am my own sternest critic, and that is what matters."

SANDHYA IYENGAR

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