The biggest thing happening to Irrfan Khan‘s career as an actor is that he has been roped in to play the lead in Ang Lee’s 3-D screen adaptation of Yann Martel’s LIFE OF PI. Our Correspondent pokes him over lunch at a Cairo hotel recently.
The poker-faced actor, who speaks without pitch or tone, holds his tongue firmly in cheek and sometimes chooses to smile. Besides Ang Lee’s film, he is also playing one of the two villains in Marc Webber’s remake of SPIDERMAN! But the actor of SLUMDOG MILLIONNAIRE and NAMESAKE does not seem to be excited. He’s been there, done it.
You do not seem to be overly excited about these two important happenings in your life. May we ask why?
I am basically an actor looking for good roles under good banners in good films. The origins of the producer do not concern me. The first film I played the lead in, THE WARRIOR was an international production. Hardly anyone knew me then. The film won several awards and was screened in India much later. It is not the glamour of the banner that attracts me. It is the role. I also worked in A MIGHTY HEART and NEW YORK I LOVE YOU apart from SLUMDOG MILLIONNAIRE and NAMESAKE. I recently completed a TV series called In-Treatment which stars Gabriel Byrne and Debra Wenger. It is a series about therapists and patients. So, what’s new?
But you are going to share screen space with Gerard Depardieu, one of the greatest actors in the world in LIFE OF PI. Does this not excite you?
I feel deeply honoured to share screen space with him, not excited. I think it will be an excellent learning experience. Depardieu is playing Chef, an important character. I am looking forward to my first 3D film to be shot majorly in the ocean with small, lightweight, RED Epic cameras. Lee says that LIFE OF PI will change the way people look at the sea. I am honoured to have been chosen by Ang Lee to play the adult Pi in this Booker Prize winning novel. A large chunk of the novel takes place on the sea. I am no longer the age when everything seems exciting.
Are you disappointed when your films do not do well at the box office?
Its normal, isn’t it, for any actor to feel disappointed when his film does not do well? But the disappointment is momentary and you cannot let it get you down. Life goes on and you are constantly working in different films so you look ahead, not behind. So, I concentrate on the assignments I am working in at that point of time. A film is a very intriguing commodity. No one can tell whether the film is going to work for the audience or not. Even when everything seems perfect on paper, after editing and post-production, the whole thing might suddenly change and the audience reacts to it in a completely different manner. A great deal depends on the strange chemistry that sustains between a film and its audience.
What about the disaster HISSS turned into?
What about it? I do not regret having worked in the film at all because it gave me the wonderful opportunity of being directed by Jennifer Lynch. It was a brilliant experience. The way she saw the story was amazing. The film had marvellous special effects that should have appealed to the audience for shock value. It was a horror film, but it talked about many things like life, death, respect for animals and respect for nature. There were many layers to the film. You cannot rubbish it just because it did not do well commercially. I was looking forward to other films like 7 KHOON MAAF and KNOCK OUT too. Neither of them turned out the way they were expected to. It’s all in the game.
You are said to be very choosy about accepting films. Why?
I am choosy because I cannot afford to repeat myself as an actor. I cannot afford to get typecast though some films have featured me as police officer but the characterizations are different. My name sells because filmmakers and my audience like my acting. I do not have a face that can sell tickets, let’s face it. I tried out a new look in KNOCK OUT and the director liked it. Vishal Bharadwaj presented me very differently as a poet in the public domain and a pervert in private life in 7 KHOON MAAF. I am constantly looking for stories that portray me in characters I have not done before. The co-star matters a lot to me too and I am particular about who I share a lot of screen space with especially when some scripts demand more of interaction between and among actors than action and reaction. For me, working with Chitrangada Krishna after a long gap for YEH SAALI ZINDAGI was a wonderful experience.
We would like you to tick off your personal favourites over your career spanning 25 years or so.
HAASIL is the first film that established me as an independent actor on the big screen. The others are THE WARRIOR, MAQBOOL, LIFE IN A METRO, NAMESAKE, SLUMDOG MILLIONNAIRE, MIGHTY HEART, BILLU, DIL KABADDI, 7 KHOON MAAF, THANK YOU and PAAN SINGH TOMAR.