Everything has come to me late in my life-Irrfan
Garima Sharma (BOMBAY TIMES; October 24, 2012)
Post Slumdog Millionaire, Irrfan’s popularity as an Indian actor in Hollywood has only increased steadily, much like the appreciation he has received in Bollywood post Paan Singh Tomar. In a chat before the release of his next international project, Life Of Pi, the actor talks about working with Oscar-winning director Ang Lee, pouring his entire being into a role that lasted 10 days and always getting fame late in life.
In all honesty, with the international recognition that has come to you post Slumdog Millionaire, there must have been some point when success went to your head?
If success would have come early in life, it would have. But, everything came to me a little late. It’s a pattern with me — things always come late to me. When I was doing TV, I longed to do films. I was even ready to become a henchman. At that time, if I would’ve got the role of a villain, I would’ve wasted my life just playing villains. But, I think destiny is taking care of me, even if it is giving me things later in life, even if it is testing me. I have never been in a situation where success could go to my head.
Has Hollywood impacted your Bollywood prospects?
An actor looks for recognition. And when you do work like this, it creates a perception about you in the audience’s mind. That’s it. But, it gives me a choice to do stories which I would’ve never got here. I would’ve never got those directors and stories to explore here. I don’t want to find a formula for success and keep repeating that. I love being with these directors, who are brave in a way, like Ang Lee (the director) in this film. It’s all so new to him – the 3D, the subject matter, the adaptation of the book. But he took up the challenge so well.
You don’t get such work in Bollywood?
They don’t ask variety from you. I am just fortunate that I don’t need to, for my bread and butter, depend on Hollywood. For me, it’s a luxury. I choose films, which give me what I am looking for. That’s why I am not living in Hollywood. If I go and stay there, I would be shooting all year long. But I don’t want to do that. For me, as an actor, I need challenges where you can trust your director and take a plunge. It’s exactly like Pi, who has been thrown in this sea with these animals, and he doesn’t even know how to row a boat and he has to find his shore.
How important is Bollywood to you?
It’s important because that’s where I earn my living from. This industry is everything to me. When I dreamt of becoming an actor, I thought of being popular in India and nowhere else.
Cliched as it gets, was the role of Pi the toughest of your career?
Yes. The contract said they needed just 10 days from me. But, you can’t say, ‘No, I have to prepare for two months or three months, so you pay me for that’. It was literally only 10 days of work, but it took me months of preparation. Ang was also exploring it with me, so, initially he told me to find a French-Canadian-Indian accent. I kept trying for months, and it was really torturous; finally he chose not to use that! But, it was an experience that I learnt a lot from.
This has been one of my most challenging roles. I did stuff earlier, which was mostly for adults. I want to now do films for children as well as grown-ups so that my children can also watch them.
Tabu has played your lover twice in films — Namesake and Maqbool — and now she plays your mother in this film. How was that experience?
She plays my mother, but we don’t share screen space at all.
It was said that you were unhappy with the way your role turned out in The Amazing Spider-Man?
I never said that. Whoever spoke to me, I just said that the director told me what scenes they were eliminating and why they were eliminating, and I had no problem with that. I could understand why they were doing it. They did that even in Slumdog Millionaire, so I had no problem with it. I never said I was unhappy with the role.
After all your preparation, was it easy to understand your director Ang Lee’s vision?
What’s special about Ang is that when he dreams a film, he tries to go deep and find something from it. Relentlessly, he is trying to create something new in his project, to find some relevance in today’s time, and that’s what I call brave. He is a brave person. It’s like there is a playground he is exploring, which he is not very familiar with, but he will take the plunge. When you work with him, you feel like he is trying to pull out something new, something unexplored from the ground, something which people in today’s time can relate to. And yet, with this kind of a story, which is only about an Indian family, he retains all the complexities, and yet tries to give it an international connect. As far as vision goes, it cannot be a like a picture which I show to you and you can understand. He brought his world, I brought mine, I tried to relate to what he was saying and then I poured my entire being into the film. That’s where dynamism comes. That’s what Hollywood understands.
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