Director Anup Singh: "One of the things Irrfan Khan did through his performances is make us understand our own darkness and luminosity"

Director Anup Singh: "One of the things Irrfan Khan did through his performances is make us understand our own darkness and luminosity"

Anup Singh, the writer-director of The Song of the Scorpions, talks about the late Irrfan Khan, their friendship, the actor’s last shot, and shares his final message to him

Roshmila BhattacharyaUpdated: Saturday, May 13, 2023, 06:55 PM IST
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It’s a conversation on Zoom call. But since the subject of the conversation is Irrfan Khan, geographical boundaries melt and emotions bind us as Anup Singh remembers the friend who made his cinematic journeys unforgettable.

Excerpts from the interview:

What was your last shot of Irrfan Khan in his last film, The Song of the Scorpions?

It was the last shot of the film, Irrfan as Aadam, healed by Nooran’s singing, slowly rising to his feet in the desert. He was from Rajasthan and as he told me later, being back in that space brought him great joy, it opened up something within him which had closed up while working in the city.

How does it feel bringing the film to the theatres on the eve of his third death anniversary?

One of the things Irrfan did through his performances is make us understand our own darkness and luminosity. He’s gone, but while watching his films, we are still receiving from him. So, while there is the grief of loss, there is also a great rejoicing that I had the opportunity to be with a man and artist like him.

Had he still been around, which film would you have made today?

The one we were talking about just before he passed away, with him playing a professional dancer in the folk tradition. It would have given him great joy facing one of his deepest fears, that of dancing. Secondly, as the story is set in the world of Ras-Leela, here’s a man who dresses up like a woman and devotes himself/herself to Lord Krishna. For Irrfan, this idea of devotion was important.

He was not religious in any sense, but one of the most spiritual persons I’ve come across. He felt that if he could find that ecstasy of devotion of our love legends and saint poets, he’d be able to communicate that devotion is more than just commitment, it demands imagination and creativity. And unless you enjoy every moment, we can’t really call ourselves devotees.

What is it that you miss most today as his friend?

Irrfan was one of the few I could sit with, for an hour, even two, without speaking. He’d glance at me, then look elsewhere, and I’d know he wanted me to see what he was seeing. Or he’d shift and hold a certain position, and I’d understand he was probably thinking of us. We had found a way of communicating and, many times, we knew what the other was feeling, and many times, we were also free to imagine what the other was feeling. Our meetings were never functional, I never knew what they would lead to. They were meetings of silence, spending time together without the necessity of any social interaction.

One sees a young Irrfan in Babil. Will you continue your film journey with his son?

I’ve known Babil since he was a kid. Many times, when I visited Irrfan, I had a book for him, usually a book of poems. And watched his excitement as he read some of them. I don’t think I’ll ever cast Babil because he reminds me of Irrfan. He has a way of looking at things, a gesture, which has nothing to do with his father, but would have brought Irrfan great joy. He’d have said, “Arree, yeh toh actor hai.”

Do you have a script for Babil?

Not yet, but I’m sure it will emerge at the right moment. 

Is there something Irrfan had wanted from you desperately before the end?

He wanted The Song of the Scorpions’s release after he was diagnosed with cancer. Having to tell him, again and again, that we hadn’t found a distributor in India was really difficult for both of us. Finally, a distributor we both trusted, who’s still with us, came to us, a week or two before Irrfan passed away. By then he was not speaking. I texted him the good news. I don’t know if he saw the message, I hope he did and there was a moment’s contentment that our film was finally releasing.

While watching the film, I felt Irrfan was back in the desert, a bird flying through the vastness..

Strange you should say that, but one very early morning, we had just started shooting, when suddenly, the desert was full of screeches as a flock of 30-50 migratory cranes circled over us. For almost 45 minutes we tried to shoo them away as we needed the lighting, shouting and banging on vessels. But that only made them more curious.

Finally, admitting defeat, we went and sat in the shadow of the dunes. Suddenly, looking up, I saw Irrfan walking to the tallest dune with a kite. He started flying it, giving it string. The birds were immediately drawn to it, moving away from us to circle the kite. After a while, Irrfan climbed down, walking deeper into the desert. Once he was far away, he broke the string and the kite drifted away, the birds following it. That moment of him, a small dot in the vast expanse of the desert, the blue kite floating away, into the horizon, the cranes above circling him, is an image I will always carry with me. Today, I feel that he is up there in the sky. I can hear the flutter of joy...

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