Irrfan talks about his upcoming film Madaari, how we can change the world‘s perception of Bollywood and the one genre that he really wishes to do
Box Office India (BOI): Nishikant (Kamat) told us that you and producer Shailja (Kejriwal) approved the story first because you wanted to make this film. How did it all come together?
Irrfan: This is the first time it happened like that. It when I was doing Paan Singh Tomar and UTV supported us. This was the first time UTV had funded research. That was a big deal because we don’t have a culture of research… subject aaya toh banao film, par nahi yeh subject aisa hai ki research karna padega because it’s based on a real-life character and nobody knew of him. We couldn’t even Google him, unka toh naam hi gayab hai. Do baar national champion hai aur uska naam hi nahi hai Net pe.
So UTV supported us, bohot mehnat ke baad utha patak ke saath film bani and it then got stuck. I felt helpless, not only me but the team and director, ki humne itna kiya and we wanted to buy that film. We showed it to certain people who might be interested lekin that helplessness made me feel I should at least have a say ki agar mujhe release karna hai film maine itni mehnat ki hai apna paisa diya hai, then I should at least have a right to share it with the audience. I thought I should have enough control over the fact that the film should be seen.
Dheere dheere halaat bante se bante hai and we kept exploring ideas, and we brought in Ritesh Shah, who loved the idea. He was as moved by the idea as we were and he too believed that his film must be made and shared with the audience.
Thus he wrote it and I remember getting goose bumps the first time he narrated it to me. I took it as a sign that the film should be made. Next, we started searching for the director and the first person that came to mind was Nishikant, and I approached him. He too liked the subject and how passionate we were about it. He felt as if it was his story. This is how it all this came about. Game palat gaya. Jamura madaari bann gaya, madaari jamura ban gaya!
BOI: Was it easy to get the other producers on board?
Irrfan: This is not a regular commercial Hindi drama. I would call it ‘new commercial cinema’, which has been evolving for the last two to four years. Since it was not a regular film, it was difficult to convince corporate houses. Corporate me ek aadmi toh hota nahin hai jisse main baat karun. There are so many people involved. Usually, corporates look at the entire package, iss package ki kitni value hai and, sometimes they fail to spot the potential.
So we thought we would make this film ourselves and then take it to the corporates. Instead of wasting time going from one corporate house to another, we decided to raise the money ourselves and make it on our own. Then my part was over as a producer. Then I was not involved as Shailesh (Singh) raised the money. Then the ball was in his court.
BOI: It is said that films don’t fail but budgets do. Were you involved in the budgeting of the film?
Irrfan: Yes, I was very aware of its budget. Kyunki aapke film ki recovery hai lekin uska pattern hai so you should be very careful. What can happen sometimes is you have a brilliant subject and you can cast the biggest superstars but if the subject doesn’t have mass appeal, it’s a big mistake. So the subject and the budget are always correlated.
Let me give you an example… jaisi ki Guzaarish. Guzaarish was a very beautiful subject but I don’t think it had the kind of mass appeal to justify an investment of `100 crore. If that film had been made on a budget of `30-40 crore… some subjects have limitations. Or let’s say Haider. You can’t make Haider in
`100 crore. You have to keep the budget intact, and that is very, very important.
BOI: You said your struggle during Paan Singh Tomar and some of your other movies prompted you to become a producer. But being a producer is not easy. Has your struggle ended?
Irrfan: I don’t get into the recovery etc, that’s why you need a partner to rely on. And I have no idea what difficulties he faces while he’s raising the money. I think sometimes it’s difficult and sometimes it’s easy. Right now, it seems easy. If I select a subject and approach producers, there are producers who are willing to invest the money. So, for me, it’s becoming increasingly easier.
BOI: Nishikant says you are a very logical actor.
Irrfan: ‘Logic’ is not the right word because logic has mathematics; it has two plus two is equal to four. But performance has nothing to do with logic; it has to encompass the whole mystery of it. It has instinct and instinct is not logical. Instinct is far more serious. I don’t approach my character with logic.
When I graduated from drama school, I had a tendency to be very logical and analyse things, agar usne yeh kaha hai toh yeh kaise keh sakta hai, agar aise hua hai toh aisa kaise ho sakta hai and because we were groping in the dark, exploring and trying to understand the craft, the first thing we did was used logic to analyse a character.
But logic has its limits and that’s why I didn’t like my performances in my early days. I would look at the mathematics ke agar asia kiya toh waisa kiya. You don’t see the craft. It just happens… We don’t know how it happens, why it happens, and you don’t want to know. Sometimes you wonder how to approach a character and how to work on a character and what the formula is, because in India we don’t have a tradition of realistic acting and there is no method. In Western countries there is a method, there are techniques you can follow. In India, our cinema is influenced by Parsi theatre, it came out of Parsi theatre, and we used to depend on melodrama.
Therefore, there is a fantasy element in our films, it is also in sync with our culture as we have a celebratory culture. We celebrate everything, including death. Even our gods are dancing with gopiyas. We don’t have a method, we haven’t developed it.
For me, it is basically trial and error. I don’t have a technique. For every character, I have to find a new way to get into it. Sometimes characters are less demanding. They are, like, ready, tum idhar palat ke dekho me aata hu, so it’s like that ki bas merei taraf nazar maaro aur main aa jaunga. But some characters and some stories are very detached, and you have to put in a lot of effort to see their face dikhao toh sahi surat tum, kaise ho tum.
So, every time, you have to find a new way and that’s instinct. I never know how I will be able to see through what is there. Sometimes it’s there in the script but there’s still something lacking. Like for Piku, I did the film as I loved the script, there was a great flow and music in the lines and I could smell the character. Yet it did not come to me. Then I felt the need for a narration from Juhi (Chaturvedi, writer) and that really helped.
BOI: Your character in Madaari… was it demanding or did it flow easily?
Irrfan: The character was not demanding, but the story was. It was always difficult, it tested us. It always tested us chahe woh uska climax ho ya title ho ya chahe uska structure ho. Every day, Nishi (Nishikant) bolta tha set toh lag lag gaya ab kaise hoga. The structure was not regular, so we didn’t know how it was going to fall in place. Some films are like that.
Life Of Pi was one such film, woh bante hue logo ko laga kya hoga iska banne ke baad bhi laga kya hoga screening bhi ho gaya New York mein and the screening was a hit but we were still having doubts and wondered ki yaar kya hoga iska. When the film finally released and people started reacting, it showed us ke what it is. Sometimes it just doesn’t reveal itself. So the structure of the film kept us on our toes.
Similarly, the Madaari climax didn’t come to us, we kept working and working and working aadhi film ho gayi, location book hai, shoot hona hai but the climax is not ready, pura cancel karna pad raha hai phir soch me chale gayee phir introspect kar rahe ho aap then you start working.
Then Ritesh, Nishi anad I came up with ideas for it to fall in place. Next, we were worried about the title. I repeatedly told Ritesh title de, title de. Then, one night, I decided ki poori raat jagunga jo karna hai karunga and I came up with 10 titles and I shared them with Nishi. He takes his time and I asked him ki Madaari kaisa hai aur bhi diye thhe maine ache ache title usse jo abhi koi aur bana raha hai. He said mujhe do din do and then he said Madaari was the title for us.
BOI: Nishikant said you kept raising questions about the film and the character. What questions id you ask throughout the making of the film?
Irrfan: Depend karta hai, depends on the situation. I don’t remember. As an actor, there is a situation where you are reacting and the director is looking at a situation in a particular way. You offer your perspective and he has his own way. Sometimes he incorporates your suggestions and sometimes he doesn’t. We started with a section in the middle of the film, a very intense section. There were a few things on my mind and I shared them with him. Maybe he was referring to that. You are always thinking and you don’t know what you might come up with next.
BOI: Nishikant said that when the film was complete, you loved it but when you went to the sets, you were struggling with the climax.
Irrfan: There was a climax but we were still wondering whether it was correct. I was the one who felt that it would not be satisfying for the audience.
BOI: You also shot at various locations…
Irrfan: Yes, we were in the city, then in Delhi, Jammu me hum log gaye thhe, and Rajasthan bhi gaye thhe and aur jagah bhi gaye thhe. It’s a small-budget film but we managed.
BOI: With so much experience, has it happened that script ke mid me jaake you just know what is going to happen to your film?
Irrfan: Yes, you sometimes figure that the film is a wrong choice, sometimes you know from the beginning that it is blessed and it remains blessed throughout. Like Piku… from the day we started to the day we ended, the purpose of the film was to provide happiness, happiness, happiness. It was such a blessed film. So there are times when you realise that a film you are doing is a mistake and not what we had imagined it to be.
With this film too, we imagined it was different but Nishi has his own way of telling a story, so we felt we should let him shape the film his way. That’s sometimes difficult because you have invested so much time and the writer always visualises the film and hands its over to the director, and then it’s the director’s vision that takes over. But that’s the beauty of filmmaking; it’s such a collaborative art form.
BOI: You have done some very intense roles and then suddenly Piku came along, where your character had a heavy dose of romance and some comic shades too. How do you straddle both worlds?
Irrfan: Yes, I desire romantic and lighter roles. It’s a journey. I am not in a position to create subjects for myself. Things are getting better. If I want to work with a director who is making a Rs.100-crore film, he won’t work with me because I won’t bring in that kind of money. So I am waiting patiently and I do desire to do romantic roles.
I am doing a few films after this which are romantic movies. I want to do humorous films. But it needs to have the kind of humour I can relate to. I can do Thank You once or twice but I need to find a subject which I relate to and also entertain my audience. So I am waiting.
BOI: You have also tried comedy. Do you want to try it in future too?
Irrfan: Oh yes, I want to do humorous films. I want to entertain people but I should be able to relate to it. I simply cannot do the kind of comedy that works for other actors. I need to find my own thing. I have had comedy films offered to me but I thought I may not have been right for that kind of comedy. I enjoyed doing Thank You at the time but now I need something else, I need Piku.
BOI: How creatively involved are you in the films offered to you?
Irrfan: I am not a writer, so I don’t sit with the director and start writing. I do have a take on the story, on whether it’s engaging to me or not. Sometimes people come with great ideas but they have a different interpretation of the story. Then I try to change it if I do not relate to it. But I realise it’s a futile exercise because that the other person is a storyteller and it should come from him. I cannot hold his hand and ask him to make a film which I want. All you can look for is whether you are relating to what the director has in mind.
BOI: It is said that the audience is changing and evolving. What, according to you, is the reason for this?
Irrfan: I think they are exposed to world cinema. Hollywood films come to India and there’s the Net that allows you to download everything. Thank God they can download! But please don’t download Hindi films (Laughs). Please don’t download Indian films, please. So they desire and they also expecting our industry to start giving them substance because they want to see themselves in… kab tak Hollywood ki dhot odhe? The audience needs stories that relate to our society and are about our people. That’s why films like Piku,and Neerja, and Talvar are working. Stories like these resonate with them and they identify with the characters. Earlier, there was no audience for these stories and now there is a growing audience for them.
The only alarming thing is we should not lose our youth to Hollywood films. We might do films which release with big stars and jo festivals mein release hoti hai, festival pe toh kabza hua hai na aaj kal ki yeh mera hai yeh tera hai. Either those films will be making (money) or family films but the youth might only start watching Hollywood films and that is a warning sign, an alarming sign. Hollywood ka jo history raha hai they have eaten up all the (film) industries all over the world.
BOI: Their films are earning Rs.100 crore in India.
Irrfan: Aap har week ki kahani uthake ke dekhiye Hindi films could not compete with them aur koi bhi film wahaan ki aa rahi hai jiska maine naam bhi nahin suna, but humari audience wahaan ja rahi hai. Now we have to pull up our socks and make films that engage the audience, entertain them and resonate with them. The audience is hungry but we are lagging, and the most important thing jo mujhe lagta hai that the Hindi film industry should come together for these things.
Like what is happening with censorship issues or even with publicity budgets. Look how the South Indian film industry has sorted out these issues. They have done some really good things for their industry. We should create an atmosphere where a small-budget film creates a trend and has the tendency to experiment because when you experiment, you find a new way. When I was in drama school, I saw elements of Govind Nihalani’s films in Subhash Ghai’s cinema. So one thing influences another. We should create an atmosphere where new talent can prosper.
BOI: Speaking of Hollywood… Bollywood too has grown and now the world knows about our films. How has their perception towards Bollywood changed?
Irrfan: Our cinema hasn’t changed the perception of our films. The Lunchbox was the only film which was seen by their local audience. We haven’t given that kind of cinema and stories like that to the Western world. If we had, we could have started changing their perception of us. So when they say it’s ‘Bollywood, oh Bollywood!’ it’s not very good to hear that.
Hindi cinema has tremendous appeal all over the world but it’s a section like Germany mein Shah Rukh ka fan base hai aur Japan mein Rajnikanth ka iss tarah ke pockets hai. The locals there don’t watch Bollywood cinema like we watch Hollywood movies, they don’t watch Hindi films. There is an NRI audience in some sections watching Hindi films.
BOI: What’s next in line for you?
Irrfan: Two romantic films and one film that I haven’t yet singed but I might. It has sexual overtones but in a funny way. I am really dying to do that film thoda time lag gaya usko hotehue but once I sign it, it’s going to be very funny, where sex is part of the story.
BOI: Anything in Hollywood?
Irrfan: After Inferno, I haven’t singed anything. I don’t think I will be able to because ab mere ek ke baad ek hai yahaan films hai India mein. So I won’t be able to do anything there right now.
BOI: One of your romantic films is Hindi Medium.What is the other one?
Irrfan: Usko announce karengay. Abhi toda thoda kar ke sab control mein aa raha hai usmein. Jab sab khaanche fit ho jaenge then aaram se we will announce it.