He’s come such a long way since he began his acting career on television. Now he’s among only a handful of Indian actors who are doing Hollywood films. For Irrfan Khan, make that Life of Pi and Spiderman 4. But right now, Khan is busy promoting his upcoming film, Paan Singh Tomar. In an interview to Box Office India, Khan speaks about his journey, playing a dacoit and much more.
What made you sign a film with such a different concept?
Mahesh Bhatt once told me, “If a story doesn’t attract you in two lines, then you should never do the film.” I believe these words are very true. When I heard the story of Paan Singh Tomar, that he was in the Army and an athlete, and how he became a dacoit, I listened to only two lines and I decided to do the film.
What kind of interaction did you have with Paan Singh Tomar’s family?
It was a natural conversation. Initially, they were afraid to say anything but later his brother told me about him. I wanted to make myself look like a dacoit and an athlete too. The character wanted someone who didn’t have conventional looks. I met a few ex-dacoits too, to get into the character.
What was it like working with Tigmanshu Dhulia?
I like him because he is a straight-forward guy and he tells you exactly what he wants. It wasn’t easy shooting in the Chambal but still he told me, “I want you to get into the character so we will stay here and do research every day.” He stayed with me while I rehearsing. He has a vision, which I like about him. I will be working with him in his next, Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster 2 too.
You are now a Hollywood actor and have been applauded for your acting talent. But you don’t have a PR person. How do you manage to get work in Hollywood?
It’s my work which is getting me all these roles. I don’t have a PR person even in India. But, believe me, I have worked really hard. I just do my work and God decides the rest. God has been kind to me, finally. I have shot for Spiderman, where I play the role of Nels Van Adder of the Proto-Goblin. When I was once in New York, my manager told me that Marc Webb was to approach us. I thought I would be a fool to say ‘no’. When I met him, he sounded very interested. That’s how I zeroed in on this film. If you have the urge to work, nothing can stop you from going places.
Why do you stay away from the social circuit?
Do I? I attend private parties. I find it very weird to attend big parties where you can’t hear what people are saying because the music is too loud. Besides, I have a family. So when I am not shooting, I spend time with them.
What’s your take on the changing trends in Bollywood films?
I think audience has grown up today. That’s why their tastes are changing. Multiplexes prefer short films, and the audience loves watching something different and they don’t appreciate lifts from Hollywood films because nowadays, everyone watches Hollywood films. Paan Singh Tomar is a new and real person. So his story will definitely excite the audience. Today, the audience loves a variety of small-budget films, such as LSD, Ragini MMS and Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster. The audience wants quality cinema.
Do you believe in marketing a film?
Yes, I do but I believe in spreading the word about my films. If you look back, there have been films which had big stars and were promoted and marketed well. But when they released, the audience hated them. So marketing a product is not a big thing. The question is: does the product’s quality stand up to the marketing? That’s the point.
What was it like working with Gerard Depardieu in Life of Pi?
He is a great actor but when I met him, he was very humble. Life of Pi will release in 3D, and I am very excited because the film has been shot in the ocean with red epic cameras. Director Ang Lee says this film will change the way the audience looks at the ocean. It was a great experience working with them.
You have done so many films in Hollywood and you are regular in the Hindi film industry as well. How does Hollywood look at us?
I don’t think they have noticed us yet. We make different films, they want to watch different movies. So tastes are different. But I believe we should stick to our drama, dance and songs because that’s what makes us different from the others. Music plays an important part in Indian films but we should polish our cinema style and stories. I once attended a Live show in Amsterdam. It was the biggest and finest show I have ever seen. You will not believe that the show had elements from Hindi cinema songs and dance. So we score more at live shows there, not cinema.