Actor Irrfan Khan Image Credit: Ahmed Kutty/Gulf News

Bollywood actor Irrfan Khan, who has shown an incredible acting range in films such as Oscar-winning Life Of Pi and Mira Nair’s The Namesake, has a bone to pick with directors.

“They don’t know what to do with me,” said Khan in an interview with tabloid!. The 46-year-old star certainly doesn’t look like the traditional buffed up Bollywood hero. He cannot dance or sing at the crack of the choreographer’s whip, nor does he travel with an entourage or have a publicist who monitors our conversation (“I tried having them around, but it doesn’t work for me”).

“When Life Of Pi released, many directors started offering me old person’s roles. When D-Day and Sahib Biwi Aur Gangster came out, it was evident that they were lost and didn’t know how to use me. They [directors] are in a difficult position. It’s ok. I need to find characters that engage me,” said Khan rolling up his tobacco powder. But he doesn’t dwell on the popular belief that he is one of India’s most under-utilised actors.

“That thought is not going to do anything to help me. Is it going to create a better situation for me? I had rather look for roles that engage me.” Enter films such as Qissa, the disturbing India-Pakistan partition drama that had its premiere on Sunday at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival. Khan plays Umbra Singh, a Sikh patriarch who’s forced to flee his village in 1947. His intense desire to have a male heir propels him to raise his girl child as a boy.

“When I read the script, I found my character dark and disturbing. I thought it would be difficult to play that role. But Anup Singh [director] was very keen that I do it. Qissa deals with partition in different ways — partition of the land, partition of the mind.”

Khan, who dislikes watching his own films, made an exception last Sunday in Abu Dhabi, and sat through his own performance. He couldn’t do it at the Toronto International Film Festival as he was busy promoting love story The Lunchbox, the winner of the viewer’s choice award at the Cannes Film Festival.

While The Lunchbox was the only Indian film to be selected for competition at the London Film Festival, it was ousted in India’s Oscar nomination race by the Film Federation of India, which chose Gujarati film The Good Road — although it hasn’t gone quietly. The producers (more than half a dozen, including Karan Johar and Anurag Kashyap) made their discontent known.

“I was disappointed because we lost a chance that could encourage filmmaking that went beyond the Indian market… The film would have changed the perception about Indian cinema in the global market. Unless we push films that speak a universal language, we won’t be able to change the perception. But finally, it is up to the jury and they have to decide. I wish I could do some kaala jaadu [black magic],” said Khan with a laugh. Though he refused to be drawn into commenting on The Good Road, he felt that producers should emulate the model of The Lunchbox funding. Bosnian director Danis Tanovic, Dubai’s Dar Motion Pictures head Arun Rangachari and Indian production houses such as UTV Motion Pictures and Johar’s Dharma Productions are some of the film’s stakeholders.

“They should have chosen a film that represented the new, upcoming talented generation… The Lunchbox and its success has created a great atmosphere for Indian cinema. It shows there’s a section of an Indian audience that has moved on and that some fatigue had set in among those who were tired of seeing the same kind of musicals. The Lunchbox has become a symbol of that variety.” He admits to having watched The Good Road, but prefers to keep the verdict to himself.

“Sometimes, whatever I say becomes controversial.”

The National School of Drama graduate, who made his debut in 1988 in Mira Nair’s Salaam Bombay and is credited with hits including Paan Singh Tomar and Life In … A Metro, has always been vocal about issues related to his craft and beyond.

Ask him about the Dark Is Beautiful campaign (launched in 2009 by activist group Women Of Worth to dispel India’s obsession with light skin) that’s gaining momentum in India and he says that he won’t be a part of any such movement.

“The colour of your skin cannot make you superior. By saying dark is beautiful, you are trying to condition and create another partition. It’s like saying — women are downtrodden so let us create a feminist movement,” said Khan. But he detests fairness creams.

“The idea that fair is better is a regressive idea. What’s so great about skin lightening? Just by giving a crown to an Indian girl at a beauty pageant, the whole cosmetic industry in India erupted and exploded. No dark nor fair for me. It doesn’t matter what the colour of your skin is. Sometimes people are so gullible,” said Khan.

While he has never been skin-lightened on a magazine cover, he says as actors are often looked upon as animals in a zoo.

“When I came into the acting field, fame and money were alluring. But as I got trained, I understood that the cinema is bigger than just getting noticed. You are dealing with the world of stories and it’s a phenomenal business of sharing. Storytelling is so precious that it makes you feel as if you have transferred emotions. My experience becomes somebody else’s experience. Even if you don’t know my language, you know me because I did something to your heart. My religion is stories and I am willing to go to any part of the world for it.”

However Khan, who is considered one on India’s most famous global exports, claims he doesn’t court Hollywood (and no, he isn’t in touch with Angelina Jolie after acting in A Mighty Heart).

“Hollywood is a kind of a luxury. It is a relief for me. it gives me an opportunity to go deeper into filmmaking.”




“She’s after Shah Rukh Khan,” said Khan when asked if he would reunite with director Mira Nair for a project. They worked together on the acclaimed movie The Namesake, based on Jhumpa Lahiri’s novel.


“I am not a social person. I won’t say good morning every day if I don’t feel so good.” Khan.