Boman Irani is in the vanguard of contemporary film artistes who have proved that you don't need to be youthful, have six-pack abs, and sport designer hairstyles to be popular and respected as actors.
A foodie, Boman has the best of both worlds and lives by the credo, "Baddhu je hoy, te baddhu khawanu.' (Don't fuss, make the most of everything on your plate.) And he extends this variety-is-best principle to his roles too as is evident in the rich haul of roles in his two-decade long career.
On Boman Irani's birthday, I would like to recount some of the pearls of wisdom that he shared with a young batch of eager-beaver young actors at the media workshop that I hold regularly. The young actors were captivated by his oratorical skills throughout the session that lasted over an hour.
The professional stage actor that he is, Boman, in ‘The show must go on’ spirit, turned up on the date he had committed to me though he had hurt his back so badly that he required a wheelchair. I had shifted the venue from Versova to Prabhadevi which was closer to his Dadar residence to accommodate him and arranged a tall chair for him to facilitate a good back rest. The last-minute change of venue had me on pins and needles but when he arrived, on the dot of time, he had the acting aspirants hanging on to every word of advice that he generously spouted.
Boman may be a funny man onscreen at most times, but off-screen he blends his witticisms with razor-sharp observations and shares knowledge that can only be acquired from a chequered career that brought him fame when he was in his 40s. Clearly a thinking actor Boman had obviously given the art and craft of acting a lot of consideration. He demolished the notion that acting is about reacting to every line another person says or any act a person does. He posed a rhetorical question: “In real life are you reacting 24x7?”
Boman bluntly said, “There is no magic bullet to become a star.” He instead exhorted the participants to focus on “educating yourself and find the confidence to face the camera.” Pointing out to Om Puri’s son, Ishaan, he said, “He is here because he wants to learn. His father Om Puri, one of the greatest actors, too learnt at the NSD."
He sagely advised, “Aim to be a working actor. Today there are no heroes or character actors, we are all actors.”
Boman’s career is an exemplar of wise choices and intelligent spade work. He revealed that after the success of Munnabhai MBBS, he was offered six roles that were but variations of his character Dr Asthana. The thespian also shared that he learnt to write with both hands simultaneously for his character in 3 Idiots...it went largely unnoticed but he wasn’t disheartened. It didn’t deter Boman from continuing to add a dimension to all his character in tandem with his directors.
Researching his roles is imperative for Boman; the response his performance garners is secondary. He suggested, “Ask yourself whether you have done your homework and researched your part, or are you relying on guesswork. If you can honestly say that you have, that's all that matters..”
He expostulated, “Reflect on your character as long as you can. Ask what your character would behave in different situations even if those scenes are not there in the film. Internal is more important than external. If you internalised the character, the externalising will follow automatically.”
That day the reason behind Boman’s successful performances became a lot clearer.
(Dinesh Raheja is an Indian author, columnist, TV scriptwriter and film historian. In 2017 he initiated The Dinesh Raheja Workshop in which he teaches Bollywood aspirants everything related to the media.)