film-companion-irrfan-khan

Over the past couple of years, Film Companion has had the honour of several interactions with Irrfan Khan. Every time we met him, we came away more enriched, learning a little more about the craft of filmmaking and how he engaged with it. The actor had a tremendous journey from the National School of Drama to Hollywood, and was always happy to share his wisdom on life with us. Here are some of the best lessons on being an artist that we got from him.

There’s no one formula to acting

“As an actor, there’s no one formula that fits when you’re working on a character. Each and every character needs a different kind of approach to reach him. There are some kinds of revelations that have happened to me — I was doing a movie with one of my favourite directors, Anup Singh, and he narrated the story and I realised that I could not work on this character because his narrative was musical. He saw music in everything. In an earlier film, Qissa, I was not ready to do that. It was too dark a subject. But when I saw the way he was shooting it, suddenly, it was not realistic. The next film that I did with him, in Rajasthan, I didn’t work on that character. I just went to the sets blank. I went there, looked at the environment and did it spontaneously. And that gave me a lot of freedom.”

There’s more to films than box-office numbers

“I don’t have a benchmark that if my film makes this much, I’m an actor of these many figures. What a scale to judge yourself by! You are taking away all the mystery of storytelling. It’s not a product which, if it sells, you’re worth that much. Sometimes, some stories are not made to make that kind of money. There are certain stories that make money that you couldn’t even have imagined. Films are an experience, it’s a job which has a mystery to it. You can’t judge storytelling from those figures. Figures are just a by-product. A  story is a live thing. It interacts with you.”

Enrich your soul through your job

“When you see actors doing wonderful roles, people changing themselves completely, that cannot happen spontaneously. You have to work on yourself intelligently. But when I’m not doing characters, I should be able to keep tuning myself because I have abused my body a lot. Now I have slowed down, but I’m a very reckless man. I used to carry a lot of anger which I have controlled now. You have to take care of your soul also — enrich your soul through your job. Otherwise, you aren’t doing justice to your job.”

Create your own USP

“You create your own USP as you start discovering yourself. It’s a natural thing to imitate other actors, you find confidence when you resemble somebody. Somebody gave me this wrong idea that my face used to resemble Mithun Chakraborty, and I used to feel so good about it. I used to say his dialogues, ape him. There’s a kind of gratification to it. Suddenly, you want to skip the whole process and become Mithun Chakraborty. But as you start discovering yourself, there’s a kind of an organic start to reflecting on your characters. That becomes your USP.”

There’s a difference between being an artist and an entertainer

“Art only comes when you start making things personal, when you start reflecting on the life around you. Then you somehow communicate that observation, your own point of view about society, about human beings, through those stories. If that is not happening, art is not happening. You are just an entertainer, actor, celebrity, but art only happens when you start reflecting, personalising things. You have to compartmentalize. Otherwise, you’ll get confused, you’ll confuse the story and you’ll confuse the audience also.”

I wanted to keep doing things that stay with the audience 

“Initially, when I was training as an actor,  I thought I’d made the wrong choice. I couldn’t get over the shyness and self-consciousness. I am still a very shy person but practice teaches you. But, I think for me what has become more important in this process is what the story is doing to the audience and what experience it’s giving them.

I remember I used to watch some commercial cinema and I used to get engaged and involved, but as I came out of the theatre, I used to yawn a lot. I kept yawning and I felt as if something had been taken out, like something had been sucked out of me. But there is the cinema which I started watching in drama school, which used to create a spell around me and I used to be in that spell. That is what I want to achieve as an actor, to keep doing things which stays with the audience and which starts interacting with the audience after they come out of the theatre.”

I wanted to redefine commercial cinema 

“It takes time. But being an outsider is one thing and then there is another cross we are carrying which is that we don’t want to do the formula thing. We don’t want to do it the way stories are being told right now. I don’t want to tell a story like that. I want to redefine it. When I was doing Haasil with Tigmanshu Dhulia, the first thing we used to discuss is that we should redefine commercial cinema and the idea of entertainment.”

Allow yourself to react to a situation in a scene

“The interval scene of Piku wasn’t written exactly like it happened in the movie. It was going towards the improvisation stage and in that improvisation, the lines were not coming out clean and proper and the scene did not look well-constructed. So after one take I suddenly realised that my body was too caged. It was not reacting to the situation, it was trying to generate an emotion. So, I took a little objective view on the situation and my body started moving differently. Ranveer Singh once asked ‘what were you doing at that time with your body and how it was moving?’ So I said that was my item number.”

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