If Hollywood films were made in Hindi, Irrfan Khan would have won an Oscar, writer Sutapa Sikdar often told her actor husband, as she thought the English language was a “barrier” for him in the West.
Sutapa, in an interview with journalist-author Shubhra Gupta, published in Pan Macmillan India’s upcoming book ‘Irrfan: Life in Movies’, said the iconic actor took time to learn the English language.
“His mother tongue was Hindi, he thought in Hindi. So personally, I felt it took him a while to get fluent in English. Very strictly my point of view. I think the language was a barrier,” Sutapa said, as quoted in the book.
Irrfan, who died of cancer in April 2020, transcended geographical barriers and was admired internationally for his roles in films like Pi’s life, jurassic world, Hell and oscar winner Slumdog Millionaire.
“I always told him, ‘Hollywood For picture butr No Mein bolti na, ab tak tujhe Oscar mil gaya hota‘ (If Hollywood movies were made in Hindi, you would have gotten an Oscar by now),” she added.
Sutapa also found flaws in Irrfan’s 2006 Bengali film The namesakebut acknowledged the actor’s hard work in rendering his English effortless.
She recalled Irrfan’s conversation with legendary Hollywood composer Hans Zimmer over a family dinner during the filming of Helland how nervous she was, fearing the actor made a “grammatical error” – which he didn’t.
“He was talking and I was getting nervous: abhi ye kuchh galat bolega hi bolega! (He will definitely say something wrong.) But it was amazing the way he talked about various things and then he told (me) it in the car ki ‘Tu toh aise baithi hogi apni ungli pakad ke ki ye kab grammatical error.’ (You had to wait, holding your breath, for me to make a grammatical error),” she recalled.
Talking about her favorite Irrfan performances, the 55-year-old writer said she loves him in American drama TV series Processing, Karib Karib Single And maqbool – where she felt in some scenes that he even surpassed his idol Naseeruddin Shah.
However, it was the actor’s performance in National Award-winning Paan Singh Tomar which made Sutapa – also Irrfan’s batch mate from the National School of Drama (NSD) – emotional.
“I do not want to say, ‘Arre wah, kya kamaal kar diya toon!’ (What a remarkable performance you gave!) Until I really felt it, you know? As in Paan Singh Tomar, I felt that this character lived, and I cried. And he cried because he said it was the first time I recognized his performance,” she said.
“Irrfan: Life in Movies,” slated for release June 7, offers a compelling account of Irrfan’s life and accomplishments – from his days at the NSD to his nearly decade-long stint on television and to his gradual rise in the film industry.
It engages key people, including director Mira Nair, Vishal Bharadwaj and Anurag Basu, in a conversation about the art, craft and legacy of acting.
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