Irrfan Khan has not had a release since the vigilante drama Madaari in July 2016 which performed decently at the boxoffice.
His new film Hindi Medium again tackles a social issue, the craze for and obsession with admitting children to English-medium schools. It’s interesting to see Irrfan gravitating towards lead roles in Bollywood , though in his own way. He speaks to Subhash K Jha
Your leading lady in Hindi Medium is a new Qamar, Saba Qamar
(laughs) Actually she isn’t new. She has done wonderful work on television in Pakistan. She has a huge fan following. I’ve never had so many of my friends requesting me for an introduction to a co-star. The television soaps over there have very strong content and performances.She has a terrific command over the language. She came to the sets with her lines memorized. I love that.It makes the job of acting so much more pleasurable.
Most of our actors today think in English?
Koi baat nahin, kya farq padta hai.
When actors like you take a stand you get into trouble, when you don’t you are accused of fence-sitting. What’s the solution?
I don’t think there is a solution. Some of us have a strong voice. And we have to use it. As far as people’s criticism is concerned Rajesh Khanna had a good answer in the film Amar Prem when he sang Kuch toh log kahenge logon ka kaam hai kehna.
Interestingly you were the face of Madaari . Now the same seems the case with Hindi Medium?
It’s not me. It’s the content that will carry the film.The whole issue of bachcho ke school ka admission is dealt with in an entertaining way . I don’t think audiences want to watch social issues in films unless it’s done in an interesting way.The subject is serious but the treatment is light and entertaining.
Is this an attempt to enter mainstream cinema?
I am trying to understand what mainstream cinema is.
Is it the social issue that attracted you to this film?
Not primarily.I’ve done so many films on issues. But at this juncture of my career I want to do films on themes that reach out to a large audience. I did it for the package. I liked the producer Dinesh Vijeyan and the director Saket Choudhary, They came to me with the subject long back.We kept working on it. We didn’t want it to be preachy or didactic. It took us time to get to a script-level that we all felt would be palatable to a mass audience.
Your contribution to the development of the script must have been remarkable?
I did take interest because I wanted this very important idea of children’s education to go out to a large audience.
What is your take on the education model whereby the English language becomes the criteria for acceptance?
Education has become an industry , a business. Education follows the principles of entrepreneurship.As far as giving primacy to the English languages goes, knowing any language is good. But in our country if you don’t know English then you are not taken seriously. This is a tragic colonial legacy. A new language is supposed to create a different circuit in your brain, it expands your horizon. In India we learn English only to feel superior to those who don’t know the language.
When do we see you direct my film?
Meri ichcha hai hi nahin(I don’t have the urge).Taking on the tension , telling a hundred people on the set what to do, doesn’t come naturally to me. It’s the behaviour of the actor , the skills needed to perform, that attracts me. I am not saying I will never direct.Maybe I’ll come across a story that will impel me to change my mind. But direction is not an idea that appeals to my personality. I am not a multi-tasker by nature. I like to focus on one thing. And that one thing is acting right now.
But you are also being very choosy as an actor?
It is true that I’ve always been wary of signing new films. But I’ve signed a few films after Hindi Medium. One is a Hindi film for T Series and there is a Hollywood film that I am about to sign. I am also doing a film directed by Abhinay Deo.
Tell me about the Hollywood film?
I can’t talk about it yet. But I can tell you that for a change it isn’t a big-studio film. It’s an independent Indie film. And yes, it gives me a chance to do something I’ve never done before.It is very important for me not to repeat myself.
Are you happy with your progress?
I think things are moving well. My aim was to be excited by the choices I make as an actor. I am able to do this better now than before. Yeah, I am doing the films that enjoy acting in. I’ll also continue to produce films.