He greets you with warmth and you don't even have to remind him that you've met him before. That's Irrfan Khan in person.
Known for his impressive repertoire, the Jaipur-born actor doesn't behave like a star. He listens to all the questions attentively. Thrilled to be back with Tigmanshu Dhulia in Sahib Biwi Aur Gangster Returns, Irrfan acknowledges the need for 'challenging' stories. Irrfan opens up about cinema and life.
Question: Last year was a busy one for you. Will 2013 be any different?
Irrfan Khan: Last year was hectic, yes, with Paan Singh Tomar, The Amazing Spider-Man and Life of Pi happening one after another. On top of that, I was shooting for my upcoming films as well. This year I'm taking things slowly so naturally the numbers are going to come down. I haven't signed any new project yet as I want to take time to ponder. Sometimes you work in a film half-heartedly and you can't even leave it midway. I want to eliminate that aspect and concentrate on films that will keep me engrossed.
Question: You're one of the very few in the country who is active in Bollywood as well as Hollywood. How do you prioritise?
Irrfan Khan: I don't have a set mantra or anything to fall back on. I just go with the flow and the scripts that are being offered. If they excite me, well and good. If not, then I say sorry. Like I couldn't agree to The Last Knights even though it had names like Morgan Freeman and Clive Owen attached to it. For me, my character - no matter how small or big his screentime is - makes all the difference. I might do a Rajasthani film tomorrow if somebody comes up with an excellent story.
Question: Do you worry about getting stuck with an onscreen image?
Irrfan Khan: That's a universal fear for all actors. What I can do is try my best to pursue challenging work. And that's precisely what I've been doing over the years.
Question: Wouldn't you like to try comedy for a change?
Irrfan Khan: Why only comedy? I'd love to do a high-octane action film or a musical too where I'm lip-syncing. Or a film with a lot of dialoguebaazi and herogiri. My sole aim has always been to challenge myself in spheres unfamiliar to me. An actor can't afford to get comfortable. The moment that happens, his craft begins to stagnate.
Question: What was your initial impression of Sahib Biwi Aur Gangster?
Irrfan Khan: My first reaction on watching it was: We don't come across a female character as strong as Mahie Gill's in Hindi films nowadays! She was so beautifully written. When Tigmanshu came up with the idea of a sequel, I agreed without even reading the script. That's something I don't do often.
Question: To you, what sets Tigmanshu Dhulia apart as a director?
Irrfan Khan: He is one of those directors who are sensitive to what's happening around. Thus he makes an extra effort to inculcate those elements onto the big screen. That's why his films are not hollow. They entertain but not at the cost of the art. This is so also because of the fact that he's a brilliant writer.
Question: Do you feel you've received your due as an actor?
Irrfan Khan: I think I've received more than my share. Every single year has been remarkable. I neither have regrets over the films I've been a part of nor am I outrageously proud of them. What more can an actor ask for?
Question: And what is your opinion of the 100-crore club and award functions?
Irrfan Khan: Some films make it, most films don't. (Pauses) But it's not the ultimate benchmark. I can say the same about the awards - be it critic or popular - handed out at the beginning of the year. Most of them are there just to accommodate as many people as they can. Even the award categories mentioned are not always honest nor are they supposed to be taken seriously.
Question: Speaking of awards, why weren't you present at the Oscars this year?
Irrfan Khan: The invitation came in too late. I had already planned something else by the time it reached me. But it's OK as I've already been there before (for Slumdog Millionaire).