He has been fascinated with actor Irrfan Khan from the time he saw his electric performance in Maqbool, watched his heart-breaking interpretation of Ashoke Ganguli in The Namesake and the loneliness of his character Saajan Fernandes in The Lunchbox.
And that is what made writer, journalist and film festival programmer, Aseem Chhabra ‘examine’ Irrfan — the actor in his latest book Irrfan Khan: The Man, The Dreamer, The Star, that takes the reader through his childhood, his training as an actor and then revisits key films in his life.
“At all times, I am exploring the life or a phenomenal actor who after years of struggle was able to achieve his goals, realise his dreams. I had met and interviewed him in the past, but I really learned a lot more about Irrfan — the person, while researching and writing the book,” Chhabra tells.
The book tracks his childhood and college days in Jaipur, his move to the National School of Drama, his years of struggle while he worked on television shows and finally his film career, from a supporting actor to the lead, his work in India and abroad, plus a look at the recent years when he was slowly transforming himself into a romantic and comic actor.
“The book focuses on key films in his life. And I talked to many directors and actors who had worked with Irrfan — names such as Tigmanshu Dhulia, Mira Nair, Meghna Gulzar, Ritesh Batra, Ang Lee, and Naseeruddin Shah,” says the author.
In fact, Chhabra spoke to the actor in the summer of 2018 when the latter was under treatment and he suggested the names of some people the author should interview.
“He also recommended some articles and interviews with him. But he was not in the right place to give me an interview. I had interviewed him in the past but unfortunately, I was not able to speak to him for this book,” remembers Chhabra.
The book talks in detail about Irrfan’s acting method and his process and Chhabra feels that the actor’s greatest quality as an actor is that he never reveals all his cards at once, but slowly gives the audience small tastes of what his entire performance will be like.
There is no ready-made idea about Irrfan’s character that is revealed to us. Instead, his gestures, look, postures and every breath he takes to construct the character and all of it before our eyes.
“By the time he speaks his first few words, you begin to sense the rhythm of the performance. That is the beauty of Irrfan, the actor,” says Chhabra.
Though mostly he has acted in films with strong scripts, the writer admits that he has also acted in several mainstream films that were critical and box office failures.
“Irrfan acted in some loud comedies as well as other films that he does regret. But all actors sometimes take projects just for money or other personal reasons,” notes the writer.
The author, who has to his credit books like Shashi Kapoor: The Householder, The Star and Priyanka Chopra: The Incredible Story of a Global Bollywood Star, stay away from gossip despite the fact that his subject matters have been global stars.
He adds, “In all the three books I have written, I celebrate the actors and their talents. I only look at their personal lives if I can see any direct impact on their work. But I do not write juicy gossip to push the book sales.”
Though India may boast of several film magazines, sadly most of them don’t go beyond details of actors’ personal lives. Chhabra feels that there is definitely a space for serious periodicals on cinema in India.
“I think there is a large market for serious film analysis, but such a magazine will need the support of individuals or businesses that are not purely driven by profit. We need investors and publishers who are also motivated by good conversations on cinema as an art form.”
As the ‘new wave’ in Indian films introduce Indian audiences to stories from the soil, with fresh writers bringing a new perspective, and directors willing to look at things differently, Chhabra says that such films are gaining popularity even among international audiences.
“Oh yes, many of these films are playing at major film festivals in Berlin, Cannes, Venice, Toronto, Locarno, etc. In fact, there are several Indian film festivals in North America and Europe that also showcase such films,” he concludes.