Interview Hindi

Kailash Satyarthi deserves a biopic, I would like to play him again after Jhalki: Boman Irani

In an exclusive interview, the veteran actor explains why he agreed to be a part of Jhalki without hearing the story and how he handles the task of playing real-life characters.

Keyur Seta

Earlier this year, Boman Irani was seen as industrialist Ratan Tata in the Vivek Oberoi film PM Narendra Modi. Now, he is playing Nobel Peace laureate Kailash Satyarthi, a man who has rescued thousands of children from bonded labour, in Brahmanand Siingh's Jhalki, which was released on Children's Day, 14 November.

Jhalki tells the tale of a girl named, well, Jhalki who is searching for her kid brother who has been abducted by child traffickers. Child artistes Aarti Jha and Goraksha Sakpal play the siblings while artistes Sanjay Suri, Divya Dutta, Tannishtha Chatterjee, Govind Namdev and Joy Sengupta play the grown-ups in the film along with Irani.

Interestingly, Irani’s upcoming film '83 (2020) will see him portray yet another real-life character, former India stumper Farokh Engineer. And, truth be told, even the recently released Made In China (2019) saw Irani play a character loosely based on the nonagenarian sexologist Dr Mahinder Watsa.

In an exclusive conversation with, Boman Irani spoke about why he believes the cause promoted by Jhalki is important to him, so important in fact that he agreed to be part of the movie without even hearing the main story. Excerpts:

You have acted in a wide range of films. How important is Jhalki in your filmography?

I think this film is very important. Some films are made purely as art. Then the world will say India is making good cinema. It’s like a cinematic experience. There are some films made purely for entertainment. They are like [the] Housefull [series], where you just go and enjoy. Some films are like a mix of both. Like 3 Idiots (2009) and Made In China (2019), where there is entertainment and a social message.

If I say Jhalki is a non-entertaining film, it would be wrong, because you can be entertained in many ways. This girl’s journey is also a part of entertainment, but not entertainment as we know it. This film is important because it was made primarily so that the world and the people of this country are made aware that this is what is happening and this is our fighter, Kailash Satyarthi, and this is the reality. But it has to be told in an entertaining way, else you can make a documentary.

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I am very proud of the maker and the producers who put money on this film, the actors who decided to be part of it. And today I am very proud of the journalists who have come to spread the word about this film.

How did you get associated with this film?

That’s a weird story. I was writing something while it was raining one day. The phone was near me and it flashed. I regretted keeping it near me while I was writing as I got disturbed. I didn’t even read the whole message. I only read, “Would you be happy to be a part of a film on child trafficking and child labour?” I don’t know what happened, but I instinctively replied, “Yes, no problem. I will call you in one hour.”

At that time you didn't know that you were being offered the part of Satyarthi?

No, I didn’t even know the story then.

Boman Irani at a recent event organized for children with cancer

What was your reaction when you came to know you were to play Satyarthi?

Bahut darr gaya mai [I was frightened]! I was told the character appears at the end, to which I said no problem. The cause is more important. I haven’t done this film to show off my acting ability. The cause is the main reason. I didn’t even know who Brahmanand Siingh was. I didn’t know how the film would turn out. That was not the point. The film has been made well and has won 13 awards, but I didn’t know any of this at that time. The producers also are not looking at a big profit.

How did you prepare to play a real-life character like Kailash Satyarthi?

It was very difficult. There was a lot of preparation required. Brahmanand helped me a lot. But even after that it is very difficult to play such a character. The general population doesn’t know how he talks. So, I thought it was important to catch his mission and what drives him.

I had a great time. I used to see his [Satyarthi’s] videos and wonder what are we all doing with our lives! This man is doing so much! We should be ashamed. He reaches wherever he is needed. I haven’t seen such a brave person before. People have tried to kill him with guns.

Considering the incredible life and mission of Kailash Satyarthi, do you think a biopic can be made separately on him?

It definitely has to be made! It’s very important. Kailash Satyarthi is one of the greatest living Indians. He is a Nobel prize winner.

Would you like to play him again if a biopic is made?

Why not? If they don’t take me, I will make a separate film questioning why they didn’t give me the role!

You also played Ratan Tata in PM Narendra Modi (2019). You are playing Farokh Engineer in the upcoming '83 (2020). Even your character in Made In China (2019) was loosely based on Dr Watsa. Is this just coincidence? And how challenging is to portray real people?

It’s just coincidence. Sometimes you take inspiration from some character. It becomes easier. But sometimes it also acts as a trap. Like we stick to how the real person used to do certain things. Then we become stuck, rigid. But I am trying to play it within the story. That [real] character wasn’t in this story. He is there [in real life].

You said you agreed instantly to Jhalki for the cause. But otherwise what do you look for in a film before agreeing to be a part of it?

First I ask the director why he or she is making the film. If the director says to spread awareness but I can’t find any in the story, then don’t give me that [lie]. Just tell me honestly ‘I want to make an out-and-out entertainer.’ I am okay with that. At least you should know what you want to make.

The cause is important but that alone can’t make a good film. The screenplay should be tight. Screenplay is very very important. There is a huge difference between story and screenplay. How you spread a 15-minute tale over two hours is the most important thing.

Of course, you should also feel that the director is intelligent enough to convert this screenplay into film. And the people [you are working with] should be good. I don’t like working with arrogant people.

You once worked at the Taj as a waiter, then you did photography, followed by theatre and movies. How do you look back on your personal journey?

It’s a common man’s journey. It’s not as incredible as Kailash Satyarthi or Jhalki. Even your story must be interesting, I am sure. Your personal story, your struggle. Everybody has a struggle.