MUMBAI: Irrfan is probably India’s most successful export to Hollywood, having tasted success with experimental roles in several critically acclaimed films such as Slumdog Millionaire and A Mighty Heart.
But the 40-something actor said he has no plans to move to Hollywood. His last Bollywood outing, Paan Singh Tomar, based on the true story of an Indian athlete who turns into a dreaded outlaw, pleased critics and was a sleeper hit at the Indian box-office this month.
Irrfan spoke to Reuters about “naive” Indian audiences, how Hollywood gives him rare experiences and why he doesn’t use his last name any more.
Were you surprised by the kind of success that Paan Singh Tomar has seen?
Surprised, in the sense, I was pleasantly surprised. The film has taken care of all the worries and doubts we had.
(Director) Tigmanshu (Dhulia) has said he was surprised that urban audiences liked it as much.
I wasn’t apprehensive about urban audiences at all. Cinema is changing every week, and multiplex audiences are demanding something new all the time. Although they are very naive, they are also very forgiving. They aren’t like Western audiences, where you have to do so much to bring the audience to the theatre.
Your approach to acting seems very academic. Does that work in Bollywood?
When I went to the National School of Drama and I dreamt about myself as an actor, I never imagined myself in a suit. I always imagined myself in a different look. But when you come to an industry where things are valued or judged on the basis of how your film has done in the first three days, you do try to imbibe certain things, because you have to survive as an actor.
So doesn’t doing films like Thank You go against what you believe in?
No, I enjoyed playing that character. I was trying to entertain people. There have been certain films I have done where it was just a fashion parade and I have done films where I was detached from the story, but I had no choice. I didn’t enjoy those experiences, but I was just trying to stay in circulation and trying to make my presence felt.
Do you regret doing those films?
No, it’s part of the game — you have to survive. You have to save yourself for better opportunities, you have to experiment and you learn from every experiment.
Are you using the same approach with Hollywood?
I am very careful. I am privileged to be in Hollywood. I do get a lot of incentives to shift my base there and I could be very busy there. I could keep on doing films there but then I will be repeating the same mistake. Then I’ll have to do films just for my survival and that I can do here. America has a lot more to offer; it gives me a rare experience and is also a door to different industries like Europe.
You’ve dropped ‘Khan’ from your name, preferring to be called only Irrfan. Why is that?
This isn’t recent; I did it 10 years ago. People are just realising it now. It seems to me that caste, creed and colour are all tools to misuse ... people are trapped in these brackets and then misused by those who have the reins.
I don’t like being called as part of a group, where everyone is told that one group is superior to the other. Maybe that’s how I am. I am just here to question.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 26th, 2012.
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