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Director Farah Khan plunges into acting

The first-time actress and veteran comedian say their mature romcom reflects reality

  • Farah KhanImage Credit: Supplied
  • Director Bela Sehgal on set with the stars.Image Credit: Supplied
  • Farah Khan and Boman Irani star inthe romantic comedyShirin Farhad Ki TohNikal Padi.Image Credit: Supplied
Gulf News

On the surface, Shirin Farhad Ki Toh Nikal Padi, a romantic comedy about forty-somethings has very little going for it. Unlike the massively popular traditional Bollywood musicals, there are no exquisite faces filling up the big screen or exotic locales to distract us from the script.

Instead, rotund and frumpy choreographer and director Farah Khan awkwardly getting to know rather hairy 45-year-old Boman Irani star in the mature romance, releasing on Thursday in the UAE. The facts don’t escape the lead actors.

“Between you and me, I said yes to the role because I was confident that nobody was ever going to fund this film,” said Khan of her acting debut.

The director of blockbusters Main Hoon Na and Om Shanti Om may be a formidable force behind the camera, but looking picture perfect has never been her thing. She doesn’t even know why her own heroines take so much time doing make-up.

“We both are nowhere next to those good-looking Bollywood actors and actresses. I am not a beauty queen and everyone knows that. But the fact is that this film is not about a beautiful woman. It’s about a Parsi spinster who missed her bus in terms of relationships and love. She’s a real person,” said Khan.

The 40-year-old mother to triplets even borrowed clothes from real Parsi women in Mumbai to lend authenticity to her geriatric (by the Bollywood scale) character. Khan, who plays an ageing Parsi secretary, Shirin, says she was at her heaviest when the filmmakers approached her for the role.

“My first instinct when I said yes to Sanjay [Leela Bhansali, co-producer and writer] was, ‘Oh My God, everybody is going to laugh at me.’ I know from experience as a director that it often stopped actors from taking up opportunities. We just want something familiar to hang on to. I was like a round ball after my pregnancy — but nobody was giving a d**n about it,” said Khan.

Her self-deprecating nature is further highlighted when she admits to going under the knife to get rid of post-pregnancy weight.

“I saw the movie and I looked at myself. After that, I just ran to the doctor for a nip-tuck job. I said, ‘The time has come to remove my fat,’” said Khan.

She may be critical of her expanded waistline, but her on-screen hero Irani says the two have played it to their advantage. In most Bollywood romances, beefy heroes whip up poetic dialogue at a moment’s notice while wooing their sweethearts.

“But we are not looking at each other with rose-tinted glasses — we are clumsy with each other and we have our own awkward moments. We are often unsure about what we are saying to one another and it was very much like our day-to-day relationships,” said Irani.

He plays Farhad Pastakiya, an ageing lingerie salesman with a domineering mother to boot. His life gets a boost when the well-endowed Shirin walks into his store and straight into his heart.

“The structure of the film is simple: boy-meets-girl, there’s a crack and then reunion. But the point of the film is that you are never too old to try something. In this case, love has no expiry date,” said Irani.

The film, with its unconventional casting, doesn’t fall prey to caricaturing India’s Zoroastrians, known as Parsis, either.

“All the actors in this film are Parsis and therefore you don’t have to be extra careful. You are careful only if you are unsure about what you are doing. We all knew how a Parsi should be depicted and how they would react to situations,” said Irani.

Often Bollywood films employ quirky Parsi sidekicks to induce laughter. Khan, born to a Parsi mother, agrees.

“In Bollywood, we tend to take a community and then make caricatures of it. In the past, we have been making fun of Madrasis [South Indians], Sardarjis [Sikhs] and now our latest fad is to make fun of homosexuals. It’s our tendency, but we have tried not to do the same caricaturish moves here,” said Khan.

The original script was set in a Punjabi household but was later changed. “I am glad they changed it, because there is too much Punjab floating around in Bollywood. Punjabis are lovely but Parsis are good too,” said Khan.

She claims it was her husband, Shirish Kunder, who prompted her to make her acting debut.

“My husband was the only person who supported me and said, ‘You should do the film.’ My brother to my mother and lot of friends just rolled their eyes and said: ‘What’s she thinking?’ But now for those people to come around and say that the promos look lovely is a redemption of sorts,” said Khan.

She may have doubted the credibility of the project, but Irani says she was firing on all cylinders when facing the camera.

“As I say, you can only take an actor to the lake but you cannot make her drink. Farah just drank up the entire lake. We made a connection and I can’t take credit for anything. It’s eventually her own work,” said Irani.

Their fondness for each other was on full display as Irani confessed that they even thought of concocting affair rumours between them to boost their pet project. In Bollywood, publicists are often accused of planting rumours about off-screen romance between leading actors to generate buzz.

“So I kept teasing her: why not spread a rumour that we are both having an affair? But nobody is listening. It’s somehow not working, so I guess it’s all on the movie to take it forward. If this film does well, it will open doors for Bollywood. It will prove that films with unconventional casting can be made and will do well.”