Irrfan Khanís talent was spotted when he was only a college-goerÖ when Mira Nair offered him a role in Salaam
Bombay. Unfortunately, his part was edited out
of the final print. But there was no looking back for Irrfan. He worked his way up in Bollywood with films like
Maqbool and Haasil. And now, his acting
career has come full circle as he does another film with Mira Nair Ė The Namesake.
You started you career with Mira Nair's Salaam Bombay, 20 years ago. How does it feel playing the lead
role in a Mira Nair film all over again?
When I was about to shoot for Salaam Bombay they decided that the framing was not right. I was supposed
to play the role with little kids. Because of my height
as compared to the kids, the framing was looking odd. So they cut the role off in the last moment. I was really hurt
when they cut my role from Salaam Bombay. I
cried a lot because we did the workshop for two months with the street kids, and I just came out of school. She
picked me up from the school performance and just after
that I got this role. So for me it was great! But when the role was cut it was a huge disappointment for me. But when
she offered me the role for The Namesake,
she said I owed you a role. After so many years Mira told me that I owe you a role and this is it. So I am offering you
How did your casting in the film happen? Did Mira Nair remember you from your Salaam Bombay days?
No I think she must be aware of my work. She must be watching it because she is a very well aware woman and she
sees whatever is happening. So I think she must
have been updated with my work.
Wasn't Abhishek Bachchan supposed to play the role earlier?
Not this role. He was supposed to do another personís role. Mira didnít think of anybody else for my role.
So you were the first choice?
The Namesake is based on Jhumpa Lahiri's award winning novel. Have you read the novel?
Iíve read the novel. Incidentally, that was the time when I was reading the novel and I was offered this role at the
same time. Then I was curious to know how she has
adapted the book because itís a very tough thing to adapt a book. Especially this oneÖ The Namesake.
So how easy was it for you to get into the character?
It was not an easy thing in the sense... I havenít done such a role before.
You were reading that novel and you knew about the roleÖ
Yes, but even in the novel the character is not well defined. You cannot really know him as he doesnít have much
space even in the novel. He is very volatile kind of
person, he doesnít express too much.
Give us a gist of your character Ashoke Ganguli in the film?
Ashoke Ganguli... For me it was a tough thing to get hold of him, in the sense what kind of rhythm he has, what
goes in his mind etc. And sometimes the novel writers
explain you the character, they tell you whatís going on in somebodyís head. But in this case it wasnít there
because Ashoke Ganguli is a very silent and calm person. So
to play that silence was challenging for me. I was playing all kind of roles where presence is very important. I did
Charas, and then I did Maqbool after
that. So for me to become very silent and calm and not noticeable kind of person was a bit challenging. But finally it
came out well.
Tell us little bit about The Namesake as you have the insight about itÖ
It starts with Ashokeís journey from India to New York. He comes back, he gets married then two people getting
married without knowing each other, how they discover
themselves. He heals himself by raising his family. He had a trauma, he had an accident and he carried the trauma
for a long time. How he deals with it and then they
have children, the children are born in New York so they have a different kind of approach to life. They have different
values and to deal with those values and to come
to terms with their childrenĖ because there is always a communication gap between parents and children, that is
what the film is about. And then how the son falls in love,
he finds his partner and then what happens to him and how he discovers his own roots living abroad. Itís about an
Indian guy who is born in America so what are his
roots. And you have to find your own roots, you have to understand that. There is a line in the end when he tells his
mother that you are going and everybody has gone
now. It is devastating. But itís the first time Iím feeling free! And he takes the journey that his father took. So itís
about finding your own self getting in touch with your
The film is shot in New York and as you said you actually had some problems in speaking English and Bengali
accent. Was it difficult?
I never thought that this man will be speaking in a Bengali accent. So Mira told me, no I need Bengali accent. So to
require and accent which is not your own it can look
very false. It can look very put-on kind of a thing, and I was very-very worried about it. I was petrified, I thought that
the accent I put on will look like a caricature of
Bengali people. Then I worked hard and by Godís grace it turned out to be okay. The Bengali people are okay with it.
They say ďArenít you Bengali? We thought you
are BengaliĒ. I said Okay bach gaye!
And how was it being paired opposite Tabu?
Excellent, we have great chemistry and we know each other. We have a certain comfort zone because of knowing
each other and I really respect her as an actress. She
hasnít got an opportunity I guess. She has not been given comedy roles and I think she has a great sense of
humour, nobody knows that as there is a comic person. She is
Since the film has already released overseas, how was the response of the audience over there?
The mail, which I got in the morning says itís an excellent film. Paris, New York, LA, it is fantastic.
With films like The Namesake and A Mighty Heart are you making a conscious decision of
working in international films?
No. Iím lucky enough that Iím getting these offers. I will never ever say no to films which are done for an international
audience, which are made for larger audience and
which are done from a different angle Ė which I wonít be able to do here. International audience, has different
sensibilities and they want to reach to you. It is more
universal. So you are lucky if you get those kinds of films whether itís a Hindi film or itís an English film. Films like
Lagaan have international appeal or films like
Rang De Basanti. So you would always want to do films, which have larger appeal with a limited kind of
You are doing national as well as international films. How do you feel?
I feel ecstatic, I feel good, and I feel happy about it.
You have done Hollywood films. So what do you think, how does the West perceive us?
With respect to quality, our films we still have to make a mark. But India is getting noticed and itís high time that we
make some original films and create our own
identity. China was in fashion in the West earlier but they had their film industry which had its original films. So they
could enter there into Hollywood. In American now
they go to theater to see Chinese films, the Chinese actors, they are acceptable. So itís a high time that we make
films which are original and which leave an impact and I
think we have that much of talent here. We just need to make stories which are innovative and which are original.
How was it working with Angelina Jolie in A Mighty Heart?
She is a tremendous woman. She has a history and the kind of work she has been doing is great. But I think the
press has not been in Angelinaís world, they have never
been in cordial terms. So she doesnít have very good relationship with press. But she is a very strong and intelligent
woman and she is tremendous actor, a very good
actor and as a person she is very strong.
You were one of the few people who got to interact with Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie during their trip to India.
Was the experience flattering?
When you are working, you donít think about those things because you just want to take them as a character. I
myself am an actor so I can not think of such things.
When you are doing this kind of film where a lot of research is involved, where you know you are always on your toes
then you donít think who is Angelina Jolie, then
you just work there. Then you leave the rest for the world to do guessing.
So tell us a bit about this filmÖ A Mighty Heart.
This is a story about Daniel Pearl. We have completed the shooting of this film and now it is in post production. Iím
waiting to know how it shapes up because it is a
difficult film. It has a lot of information, lots of characters, hundreds of characters. If you see his film, you will
understand what Iím talking about. I am playing an ETS
Officer who actually without any support from anywhere cracks that case. So that was his struggle, that was his real
big case he worked on. I donít want to reveal his
name because he is a real person who is dealing with so many pressures right now in Pakistan.
In Anurag Basuís 'Metro' again, you have an interesting character who meets his life partner through a marriage
portal. Tell us something about that?
In Metro when Anurag offered me the role I had my fears. I thought may be this character doesnít have the
meat, may be they might edit it. I wasnít feeling safe
but once I went on the sets, and the kind of chemistry me and Anurag had, I had fun and really just left myself and I
quiet enjoyed that film, because the character is odd.
He is a person who will come across as an odd man if you meet him for the first time. But then you slowly know
whatís there inside him. You discover him slowly. He is
so blunt that it might offend you but then when you think about what he said then you might have a different view
about him .So itís a very interesting man.
How was it working with Konkona Sen Sharma?
Oh, I love her. She is fantastic; I think I havenít seen an actress like her. She is so easy. She has some relationship
with the camera, I donít know what. There is some
magic in her and it just comes out when you look at her through camera. When you see her on the screen there is
something else. She is so interesting as a character and
Even your son makes his debut in a cameo role in the film. Did he enjoy working?
No he didnít. He wanted to ride a motorcycle and I donít have motorcycle. So this was just for a shot and he did it
just because he loves motorbikes. There was this kid
who was supposed to ride with me, he was supposed to be my kid, but on the sets he started crying. So I
immediately called up home and I said there is a shot. So I asked
Anurag should I call my kid. He said ďokay, call himĒ. So he came and he was fascinated. He said donít shoot
because he knew that if we start shooting then he has to
come back. He wonít have a longer ride. So he hated the shoot but he wanted to ride. So he had a great time.
Do you want him to be an actor?
I donít think so. Unless and until it comes as your need it can become a horrible thing to achieve. Unless you cannot
live without being an actor it is not a thing to attempt.
It can be a painful experience.
What about your forthcoming films?
MetroÖ then there is film called Tumse. It stars Deepal Shaw, Ranvir Shorey and Lucky Ali. Itís a film
about relationships but itís the way the story is told
that is unique. The structure is quiet unique you havenít seen that kind of a structure. Then there is A Mighty
Heart and a Hollywood film called The Darjeeling
Limited. Then Dubai Return might come soon. Iím honestly hoping that it comes out.
How was it working with director Wes Anderson in The Darjeeling Limited?
Wes Anderson. He has completed the film and I loved working with him and I still have to see how it shapes up. I
love his films.
Your character in the filmÖ
I am playing a father of a kid who changes a life of these people who come here for this unique experience, some
spiritual experience they want again how debate this
person and how he changes there prescription about India and about there own journey.
And what about your character in Dubai Return?
Itís the person who is not in sync with himself, or with time. He is a person who takes himself too seriously and
nobody takes him seriously. So thatís his tragedy and he
thinks he has something in him but he doesnít have anything. He is too naÔve.