Interview Hindi

Irrfan Khan: A character doesn’t remain foreign to me when I am playing it

The actor gets talking about his forthcoming film Hindi Medium, the issues it raises, and his method of getting into the skin of a character.

Picture: Shutterbugs Images

Keyur Seta

Irrfan Khan needs no introduction. After entering the acting arena with the TV series Shrikant (1987) and Bharat Ek Khoj (1988), he began getting meaty film projects like Salaam Bombay! (1988) and Ek Doctor Ki Maut (1990). Today, he has completed 30 years as an actor and there is hardly a character he hasn’t tried. Be it the gangster in Maqbool (2003) or the helpless, ageing office employee in The Lunchbox (2013), he gets it right more often than not. On top of that, he has made India proud abroad too in films like Slumdog Millionaire (2008) and Jurassic World (2015).

Khan will be seen next in Saket Chaudhary’s light-hearted drama, Hindi Medium, which also stars Saba Qamar and Deepak Dobriyal. He spoke to about the film, the ever-increasing demand for the English language in India, the never-ending debate over India’s national language, and his method of getting into the skin of a character. Excerpts:

How did the film come your way?

Saket [Chaudhary] and Dino [Dinesh Vijan], the producer, brought this script to me. I loved the subject because I was looking for a comedy. I was looking for a subject which can be watched by parents and kids together. And I was also looking for a subject which is relatable to them. When you watch a film, it can be a story of anybody where you don’t relate [to the character] but you get entertained. But I was looking for a subject where they can relate it with their story. We had a combination of all this in this script.

What is your character in the film? From the promos, he seems to be someone who doesn’t know English.

He struggles to speak English but he doesn’t give a damn about it. He is okay with it. That’s what I liked about the character. He doesn’t have any complex that he doesn’t know Angrezi. This is because he has been successful without knowing the language. He is a desi banda [rooted individual] and he has built this empire through his desi-ness. He likes it. But his wife has a complex. She feels that my husband should know English and should belong to a particular class. But he doesn’t give a damn about this too.

It looks like the film has many layers and a message too.

Yes, it’s not just about the subject. It has layers. It is dealing with 2-3 things. It’s also about the slave mentality as far as English is concerned. We find it superior. It’s also about the education system. How we, parents, have the misconception that only school can make their kids better persons. So, it is dealing with all these issues. Whether or not there is a message depends on you. We have made a film around an issue. So, there will surely be something on that issue. But what message goes out is left to the audience. We can’t decide what the message should be. Then it would be boring.

What are your personal views on education?

I have an opinion about education. I feel education should be able to explore a personality, possibilities, and to discover your interests. You need to introduce different subjects to kids. You then need to see what is his possibility and where does his interest lie. So, this is what education should be all about. But our education is mostly about preparing a worker for corporations.

With Dishita Sehgal and Saba Qamar in Hindi Medium

There has always been a debate about whether Hindi should be our national language. What is your take?

It is difficult to say which language should be our national language because there are so many people from different states. We have to find a way that could be to give equal respect to all regional languages. India doesn’t have one language. But whatever region you are in, you should be able to relate to that and be familiar with that [language].

Do you think the subject has the scope for being adapted to other Indian languages? Since India doesn’t have just one language.

This subject has a possibility of getting adapted to any other country as well. It will be liked in countries like Japan, China, Pakistan, Bangladesh or Europe. This is because every region has this complex that Angrezi is a better language.

What do you look for in a film before signing it? The script? Or your character?

It is as per the script. I first see how the script is. Then the director and producer. Obviously, I look at the character too and whether it would be fun playing it. Actually you don’t know what is exciting. It’s just an instinct. When you read some role, you want to do that role. There are so many reasons for that. And I have never deciphered as to why [I would do a role]. You just get excited about it and do it. Every role is not challenging. Some roles are challenging, some are fun to do. You don’t even prepare for those roles. But some characters demand so much of preparation that you feel even a year won’t be enough.

What is your take on actors who think in English, see and follow English cinema, but work in Hindi cinema?

You have to accept that if you wish to take inspiration from English cinema you will have to watch it. It’s not necessary that you only watch Hollywood. There is also European and French cinema. It’s a good thing to be well-versed with films from different countries. When it comes to thinking in English, you are bound to do that if you studied in an English-medium school. Who are you to comment on that? This is their background and circumstances. They didn’t choose, their parents decided to enrol them in English-medium schools.

Does this hamper Hindi cinema?

This would have happened if they were speaking in English instead of Hindi. They have to speak in Hindi in the movies. Even if you are from the English medium, you have to speak Bhojpuri in Bhojpuri movies. This might be a problem for them that they are thinking in English but have to speak in Hindi (laughs).

How do you manage to get everything so right? Be it comedy or something like Mumbai Meri Jaan (2007).

Ho sakta hai mera time theek chal raha ho [Maybe my stars are aligned] (laughs). Jokes apart, I try to make things personal. It doesn’t remain a foreign body to me when I am playing a role. It’s like when I am speaking in a Delhi accent, I am familiar with it. It’s not that I have never heard it and I am just pretending. You will easily realize that this person doesn’t belong there. You need to make efforts to make the subject matter personal. I was not familiar with the language in Madhya Pradesh in Paan Singh Tomar (2012). But if I had tried speaking it while sitting here in Mumbai, you might feel, what is he doing? If you are from that region, you would say isne chutiya banaya [he made a fool of us]. You have to personalize the character and build a relationship with it. Be it the character’s language or profession. For example, Paan Singh’s profession was to run. But if I don’t familiarize myself with running, you will notice the faults.

Which other biopic would you like to star in?

We did a biopic [Paan Singh Tomar] and a trend followed. I don’t know when I will get a chance to do a biopic [again]. But if I get an opportunity to do a quality biopic, I will surely do it. But for the time being I am not in search of a biopic.