…..we are not saying it. These are candid confessions of Irrfan Khan. Ya, the actor Irrfan Khan. Whats more, he even dared to ask his mother once, Did you enjoy sex with my father? Hard to believe? We also could not believe but then we read the interview. Check out the new issue of GQ. Irrfan Khan is on the cover. Its one of the best interviews we have read in recent times. The interview is by Iain Ball. Its a long one but a must read.
And those of you who cant get GQ, here is the full text of the interview. Courtesy GQ. Hope Iain can take a workshop for Filmfare guys on how to interview the stars/actors.
FADE IN:A muddy field at midnight,outside Dholpur in Rajasthan, swarming with hundreds of policemen and men with kerchiefs over their faces. At the edge of the field, towering lights and reflectors are blurred by dense, shimmering clouds of mosquitoes. The constant background roar of car engines, PA systems and frenetic activity lends the scene the feeling of a rock concert soundcheck crossed with a riot. But here, the rioters are doing the crowd control, barking orders and waving lathis at the police to herd them through the mud. The cops are in fact extras, here for the climax of Tigmanshu Dhulia’s Paan Singh Tomar, the true story of the athlete-turned-bandit who went from running for his country to running from the law.
The man playing him is Irrfan Khan, without question one of the country’s most talented, versatile and watchable actors. Through a series of memorable performances – The Warrior, Life In A Metro, The Namesake, Maqbool, Haasil, A Mighty Heart and, of course, Slumdog Millionaire, Khan has steadily redrawn the limits of what Indian actors can achieve both at home and abroad, bridging the gaps between character actor and star, commercial cinema and art house, Hollywood and Bollywood.
The first thing that strikes me about Khan is his stillness; he radiates a quiet inner calm, coupled with a military-erect posture and a sense of humour drier than a martini. He seems wiry, slimmed-down, muscular, with none of the usual flabby trappings of the movie star: the ego, the entourage, the endless insecurities. He changes into costume – dull khaki fatigues – not in a vanity van but by the side of a car on a dirt track. This is a physically demanding role – he had to learn how to steeplechase to do it – and he’s limping with a strained ankle. The doctor has told him he needs complete rest, but he makes do instead with a thin hash joint. To Irrfan Khan, all that matters is the movie.
What happened to your ankle?
It’s an action movie, mostly, and I had a fall because I didn’t rehearse the action. I was doing a scene in which the police are shooting at us, and I was supposed to get up and run to help my brother, who has been hit by a bullet. There’s always a lot of adrenaline in an action scene, and I didn’t realize how loose my trousers were. Suddenly my legs got locked and my foot got caught in some stones. You can see in the shot what time I leave the ground and what time I land. Everyone was stunned and sure that I had done something terrible to myself.
But nothing happened. It was a perfect landing, actually. I just got a bruise, and the director has used that shot in the film. I hurt my ankle playing badminton at the hotel.
That story was a total red herring.
I’ve got a cheeky question. That was a joint you were smoking earlier, wasn’t it? Is that supposed to help your acting or something?
Tonight there won’t be any scenes where I’m required to do anything except run in shadows, so I thought I’d have a very small joint and talk to you and chill and then go back. Generally, I don’t smoke. If you give me one tola, it stays with me for three years. This was given to me by a director, an aspiring director who wanted to work with me on a movie about drugs – an anti-drug film. That was two-and-a-half years ago. I can’t tolerate hash regularly. I start having strange fears, strange paranoias. And I don’t want to speak. If I was doing a scene, I would be like, “Why do I have to say this line? I’m just here…”
Are you a big drinker?
I have done my share of drinking. Drinking’s not a gentleman’s game for me – you know, two pegs every evening. If I start drinking, I drink till I drop dead. So generally I don’t drink, because the next day I don’t like my body, I hate myself. When I was younger I could keep drinking all night and it wouldn’t hit me that hard.
You’ve been in Dholpur for over three weeks now, and there isn’t a hell of a lot to do around here, is there? There isn’t even a decent cinema. How do you pass the time off the set?
Well, I can’t indulge because of the schedule. So generally, I go to the hotel by 9.30pm, maybe take a walk for an hour. Then I have scripts to read, calls and SMSes to return. I have some films I catch up on. Then I sit and dream…
What do you dream about?
When I was younger, I only used to daydream about sex. Nothing else. I started thinking about it when I was seven or eight years old. I was always thinking about sex…
Since you were seven? And when did you finally have some?
I think I was 20. Maybe 21. Earlier, I could have made love to any damn chick, but now, unless some kind of union happens, some kind of communication, sex has no meaning.
Is that better? I suppose it sounds better.
Yeah, it’s much better. I used to feel caged by it. I used to wonder, when this desire finally goes, what will be left of me? It was so overpowering I thought I would be dead. I used to ask old people what happens when the desire goes away. And I have never got a very positive answer. I used to think, “Shit. When this desire goes, I’ll be nothing.”
Tell me, now all the hubbub has died down, what difference has Slumdog actually made to you?
I think it’s going to take some time, but it’s definitely going to make a difference – not just for me but the Indian film industry. Hollywood will be curious to have some more collaborations because it’s “in”. So, by default, you know our technicians and actors are going to get some benefit out of it.
Forbes magazine named you one of the top six Bollywood names with international clout. Have you now become the go-to South Asian character actor for serious Hollywood roles?
I am very, very eager to break that, in the sense that I won’t continue doing these serious and brooding roles. I have broken that run in India, but internationally, I am looking for an opportunity. Something which doesn’t repeat what I’ve already done.
Is Peter Rice [the head of Fox Searchlight] talking to you about doing another project with you in the leading role?
He came to me after the Academy Awards and said, “We must do a film for you.” He was very generous in acknowledging me, and I almost thought, “Is he joking?” It was genuine and I felt nice about it, but I don’t have any idea or any story right now.
I kept seeing you on TV with Anil Kapoor during the PR for Slumdog, and Anil was loving it, hogging the microphone, while you always seemed to be in the background. Was he shouldering you out of the limelight?
If he was shouldering me out, I would have noticed. It was his enthusiasm. You know, he’d never imagined what the film could do. At first he wasn’t even familiar with Danny Boyle’s work, and then after one leap, he was on the Oscar stage. And you have to pump your PR, so he had his reasons for doing it. Everybody has their own way to survive.
Why were you so much more reserved?
There was no reason for me to be like that because I’m not such a big part of the film. If I was playing Dev Patel’s role, maybe I would have been dancing around. But for me, it was like, you know, somebody else is getting married and you’re the one doing all the dancing. Also, temperamentally, I just can’t. I don’t know why, but I’m a shy guy. Maybe I became an actor to deal with that. I can be exuberant in some of my parts, but in real life, in front of people, I’m really shy.
So the whole self-promotion thing doesn’t come naturally?
After drama school, I used to go and meet people for work, and I’d always make a mess of it. I thought, I’ll convince them that I’m a good actor, they’ll give me a part and I’ll make a good job of it. But it never used to work. Not that I didn’t try, like hiring an agent, doing a portfolio, or hiring a PR and, you know, trying to present yourself as something you’re not. But it just makes me embarrassed. The only thing that has worked for me is my work, so whenever a job has come along, I put whatever I have into it and that has given me another opportunity.
You were thinking of quitting acting back in the Nineties, weren’t you? Why was that?
Yes, I was. I was bored of the kind of acting I had to do on TV, where you have to announce everything verbally instead of through your behaviour. It’s verbose. So I was thinking I’ll do directing because that involves you much more than acting. But directing doesn’t come naturally to me. I started acting because I was fascinated by the way actors behaved. I used to imagine that they must be going through some mysterious experience, something out of this world. I was fascinated by that and I just wanted to experience it.
Were you obsessed with films as a kid?
Well, no, but just because we were not allowed to see films in our house. My mother’s family was supposed to be very refined, so they used to look down on films. Nobody imagined that someone in our family would turn out like me.
How did your parents react when you told them you wanted to be an actor?
That was a difficult time. I was doing plays in Jaipur, and I made up my mind in my second year to go to the National School of Drama to learn the craft. But my father died before I could tell him. I have never experienced grief like that. But this other part of me was also saying, what will happen to my plan now? I thought I wouldn’t be able to go because I was the eldest and I’d have to take care of the family. For me, it was a question of life and death, because I couldn’t stand being in Jaipur for a single day longer. I used to think, if I don’t get admission to NSD this year, I’ll go mad. Everything really used to pull me down there. I just wanted to get away. But slowly things eased off and my brother took over my father’s tyre business.
What was wrong with Jaipur?
It was repetitive. There was nothing new. Every day we used to go after the girls. Then we’d come back and stand at a friend’s shop in the main market. Then we used to go to some restaurant and talk, pulling each other’s legs. Then we’d spot a girl and go after her to see her house and get all excited, you know.
What career did your mum want you to have?
My mother wanted me to be a lecturer. I fooled her when I went to NSD. I told her that once I did the course it would be considered a master’s degree – which was true – and that I could come back to Jaipur and become a teacher of dramatics. So she said OK. I was lying.
So what does she now think of your success?
Well, it’s nice for her. She feels important when people bring her garlands. But if she came to know I’m working with an injured ankle, she would have a fit. She’d start scolding me. She’s happy, but her desire, her greatest desire would still be for me to go back to Jaipur and do a normal job like a teacher.
What? Even after you’ve been feted at the Academy Awards?
You have to meet her to believe it. She’s a dissatisfied soul. What she has lived, I would detest in my own life. I don’t want to repeat that. I love her, she’s the dearest person in my life, but I don’t want to become her. We used to have a lot of arguments. Earlier, I made a big effort to communicate with her. I was able to discuss sex with her at one point, when I was at NSD, after my father died.
What did you talk about?
I asked her, “Did you enjoy sex with my father?”
Uhh… you were able to ask her that?
It was a straightforward thing for me. I never had guilt about sex, never ever had guilt about sex.
How did she react?
She said, “Why are you asking me such things?”
And? Why did you want to know?
Because I was at an age when I also was discovering sex. I wanted to know whether it was possible to stay in a relationship where the sex is not working. Or where the sex is enjoyable, but you still have conflicts.
So you wanted to learn from her experience?
But it was also this enthusiasm for the fact – which I couldn’t communicate to her – that I have fucked! I think I wanted to share this enthusiasm for having grown up. Maybe that. I don’t know why exactly.
So? Did she enjoy it?
You know, it’s OK for men to say that they enjoy sex, but for Indian women it’s taboo.
You’re descended from a line of nawabs, aren’t you? Were you rich?
No. My father didn’t take even a pin from the family. He did everything on his own. We were not rich; we were, you know, middle-class kind of thing. My father was a businessman, but he never took care of the business the way other businessmen did. He was a passionate guy and he did what he liked. He used to like hunting, so that’s what he did. I remember coming down in the morning and seeing the cat terrified, with its tail all puffed up, and I knew that meant that my father had brought a panther home. The smell used to terrify the cat, even though the panther was dead.
What’s your take on the big mainstream Bollywood stars?
I find them very committed, very sincere and very honest. Hrithik Roshan is very earnest. All these stars – Hrithik, Shah Rukh Khan, Aamir Khan and Akshay Kumar – are very, very serious about their work. And they’re clever. They’re able to reinvent themselves.
Who in the younger crop of actors do you rate highly?
Imran Khan has something. He has a very charismatic, very likable face. I think he has the potential to become a superstar.
Would you like to be regarded as a character actor or a movie star?
I’m fortunate to be working in these times, when the line between actors and stars is getting more and more blurred. I want to bridge that gap, ideally, so that I can be both. Even some stars are trying to move to the other side and portray characters in their own way. And that’s a very positive thing. Some stars are fascinated by themselves and don’t mind playing themselves again and again. For me, playing myself is boring, really boring.
If you played yourself, what kind of character would that be?
A cynic, one who likes straight-faced humour. Or an intimidating guy. I’ve been given a lot of roles like that. I have that kind of image because I’m not a very talkative man, and people are threatened by silence. If you’re sitting in a group and you’re not saying anything, people start getting insecure. They start thinking, he’s a snob. Or, he’s thinking something negative about me. Silence brings out your devils.
But really it’s because you’re shy?
Exactly. And also sometimes I just don’t feel like talking. I enjoy the quiet.
Do you rely on your wife [screenwriter Sutapa Sikdar] a lot?
Work-wise? She is the best acting critic. I think she’s got a better sense about acting than me. When I was at NSD, I always used to ask her about my performance and she used to give me very diplomatic answers. That used to bug me a lot. She only started appreciating my work after Haasil .
So, for about 19 years, your wife never really liked your acting.
She used to say, “Well, he’s got something.”
When you look in the mirror, do you think, “There’s a good-looking guy”?
Yeah. Sometimes I do. Not in the mirror, in some photographs. My wife hates actors because she thinks they are far too engrossed in themselves. She used to hate the fact that whenever I see a mirror or a reflecting glass, I look at my face. She says, “Why do you have to look at yourself so many times?” But that’s how I am, I am going to look at myself. I’m not going to feel guilty about it. Maybe that’s why I became an actor.
Woohoo…can we have some more!