Irrfan Khan is the other Khan; an actor instinctively leaning towards cinema of realism and natural performances. But those who have been tracking him, in film after film, would not be surprised to find him more in commercial movies of late than the kind that first established and sealed his reputation.
The Om Puri-Naseeruddin Shah school of actor has switched loyalties to the Akshay Kumar training centre where anything risqué passes off as comedy. Irrfan, by policy, has nothing against commercial cinema. In fact, he is happy to work in potboilers every now and then; films in which he fetches up as a cheating husband or a listless cop.
“The idea is to just work and do well. I want to work in a space where I am happy and it doesn’t matter if it’s commercial or something else.” Then, he spills out the real reason: “If anybody tells you that he doesn’t need money, he is lying. I am no different. And if you look at it, every film I do is commercial and that’s how I treat it because you see, anything in which money is involved becomes commercial.”
What Irrfan says about moolah is hardly something one can argue against but his occasional transgressions to be a more mainstream hero, can never take away his position as one of Hindi cinema’s most powerful performers on the scene currently. Indeed, for every thankless ‘Thank You’ he gives you the superlative ‘Yeh Saali Zindagi’ or ‘Mumbai Meri Jaan’.
Tigmanshu Dhulia’s upcoming ‘Paan Singh Tomar’, a gritty account of the life of an outlawed runner in the dreaded Chambal Valley, is poised to be another winner. The film, Irrfan’s third with Dhulia after ‘Haasil’ and ‘Charas’, was narrated to him in just “two lines” and that was enough for him to say yes.
“Mahesh Bhatt saab once told me that if a story appeals to you in its first two lines, then you don’t have to think too much about it. What struck me about ‘Paan Singh Tomar’ was that here was a record-holding sprinter who becomes a dacoit and I remember telling Tigmanshu, “What a story.”
As they began work on the film, Irrfan realized it’s not just an extraordinary story of a man’s journey, but also an extremely engaging one. “Emotional,” says Irrfan, “That’s what it is. It’s a moving story.”
After Shekhar Kapur’s ‘Bandit Queen’ in 1994, there were virtually no films on dacoits, and Irrfan believes that’s precisely why ‘Paan Singh Tomar’ assumes significance.
“More films like these should be made. As an actor, I crave for such roles but you get them only once in a while.” Known for being a “difficult” star because of his diffident nature, Irrfan protests that he is always there for promotions whenever he is needed. “I am a believer in the fact that promotions are fine but if a film is not good, no amount of marketing can save it.”
Yet, he says if given a chance, he would like to be home, with his wife and children Ayaan and Babil. “I am a very private person. At times, it becomes difficult for me to open up and talk because I am expected to. Hero ho tum, people tell me (You are a hero). I tell them straight-on that whatever I have to express, I do it through my acting. When I am not on screen, I am shy and please let me be that way.”