Book Review: Playing the vast gamut of emotions

In his third biography of an Indian cinestar, Aseem Chhabra, who has previously come out with works on the late Shashi Kapoor in 2016 and Priyanka Chopra in 2018, writes about Irrfan Khan about whom not much is known, except the multi-faceted characters he portrays on screen.

In the ‘Formative Years’ section of the book where he dreamt of an acting career, the actor says he felt that physically he did not have the traits to become an actor, let alone a star.

He knew he had a dark skin tone, his hooded eyes were often red in colour from all the time he spent out in the sun flying kites and he was rather shy.

But film-maker Mira Nair told the author that she was first drawn to Irrfan’s hooded eyes. He has learnt to depict a range of emotions using them and even Tom Hanks, his co-star in Inferno said, “I’m just beguiled by his magic eyes.”

Book Review: Playing the vast gamut of emotions

In one of the many anecdotes, soon after the success of Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire, Irrfan Khan was once sitting in the same restaurant as Mark Ruffalo in New York and hoped to meet the Hollywood star. As he was about to leave, a disappointed Irrfan was surprised when Ruffalo reached out to him and said, “Hey man, I love your work.”

Another anecdote is about how Irrfan, an understated, subtle actor, got out of his comfort zone to get into the character of Raj Batra, a loud Punjabi man, who desperately wants to get his daughter admitted into an English-medium school.

Much of it has to do with the pressure from his wife Mita who wants to ‘move up’ in Delhi’s high society. In a scene from the film Raj throws a party and when the DJ plays a song, Raj is supposed to break into a typical wedding-style dance with his daughter while Mita and the other guests stand around, looking quite uncomfortable. Once the NSD-trained actor got in to the groove, it looked like he had always been dancing—on and off screen.

Speaking of the range of his films, in The Namesake, he and Tabu transformed from their violent characters in Maqbool to a calm couple living in suburban America and in a precious moment during a visit to the Taj he says, “Other husbands also love their wives, only they cannot afford to build Taj Mahals.” Also, The Lunchbox was his ode to lonely people in large cities.

About a book on his life, Irrfan had said, “No, it is too boring for me. It should have other things as well like people who contributed (in my journey so far), circumstances.

It should be a story of times and not me.” So this well-researched biography seems to fit the bill as it takes us along on his journey from a small household in Rajasthan’s Tonk to drama school in Delhi to Mumbai and then becoming a globally recognised artiste with his billboards now in Hollywood.

It is not only a celebration of one of the finest actors of our time, it will also take readers on a journey of the thinking actor and star in his various shades, his life and career.

It also aims to narrate the story of the actor through the arc of time when (as per an interview) he barely had money to watch Jurassic Park in 1993, to his playing a part in the franchise in 2015.

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