Irrfan Khan

Irrfan Khan’s next Hollywood film, “Puzzle,” had its world premiere at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival last month in Park City, Utah. One of Khan’s first Hollywood films was “The Namesake,” in which he co-starred alongside Indian American actor Kal Penn. (Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images for DIFF)

The unconventional pair – as naysayers would say – were first seen on screen in Shoojit Sircar’s critically acclaimed 2015 film, “Piku,” and now Vishal Bhardwaj is set to direct Irrfan Khan and Deepika Padukone in his next film, which reports say is a biopic on Sapna Didi, a feared Mumbai mafia queen of the ‘80s.

Be it Padukone, or Malayalam actress Parvathy Thiruvoth, or Pakistani actress Saba Qamar, Khan, an actor par excellence, makes for a fantastic pairing with any actress.

The actor, who just turned 50, has proved his mettle not just in Bollywood – Khan received his first Filmfare Award for ‘Best Actor’ at the 2018 edition of the award ceremony – but in Hollywood, too. Though he entered the world of showbiz doing television serials, and progressed to offbeat or non-mainstream cinema, and eventually found success as a solo lead with films like the quirky love story “Hindi Medium,” Khan has been striking a fine balance between Bollywood and Hollywood for a while now.

First seen in Mira Nair’s 2006 film, “The Namesake,” this powerhouse talent soon found favor with several Hollywood casting directors.

In “The Namesake,” which was based on Jhumpa Lahiri’s book of the same name, Khan starred alongside Tabu and Indian American actor Kal Penn. In the film, Khan and Tabu play first-generation immigrants from West Bengal to the U.S., and their American-born children Gogol (Penn) and Sonia (Sahira Nair).

In 2012 came “The Amazing Spider Man” in which Khan portrayed the role of a sinister villain, Dr. Rajit Ratha.

And even though it wasn’t a full-fledged role, director Marc Webb acknowledged that he has been an “enormous” fan of Khan and says he roped in the Indian actor as he had the sophistication and commanding presence needed for the role of Dr. Ratha.

“I have been an enormous fan of Irrfan for a very long time. I first saw him in ‘The Namesake,’ ‘The Warrior’ and in TV series, ‘In Treatment,’” Webb told PTI. “For Dr. Ratha, I needed someone who projected sophistication, had a lot of strength and a very commanding presence and Irrfan fit that bill.”

In “Life of Pi,” which released the same year, Khan played the older version of Pi Patel, who survived being lost at sea with a Bengal tiger, and narrates the tale to a curious writer, played by Rafe Spall. The film, packed with stunning visuals, also made Hollywood sit up and take notice of Khan’s fine art of storytelling. While describing his role in the Ang Lee drama, wrote that the “framing goes against the fundamental rule of filmmaking — show, don’t tell — but for Khan, it was the ultimate challenge. As expected from a skilled performer…Khan makes the dialogue-heavy moments as mesmerizing as the film’s awe-inspiring visuals.”

Khan, who has chalked out his own path in Indian films by defying what a “Bollywood hero” should look like, also starred in the 2015 high-profile sci-fi thriller, “Jurassic Park,” in which he played the flamboyant park owner Masrani, who helps to bring on the colossal mess that comes from creating a new species of dinosaurs.

Nothing describes his career arc better than his own admittance that when the first “Jurassic Park” came out, Khan barely had the money to watch it, and “Now I’m playing a part in it.”

Most recently, this National School of Drama graduate starred alongside Tom Hanks in the mystery thriller, “Inferno.” In the 2016 film, based on the eponymous 2013 novel by Dan Brown, Hanks was seen reprising the role of Robert Langdon, a professor of symbology at Harvard University. Khan played Harry “The Provost” Sims, head of The Consortium, a morally ambiguous private security firm.

Such was his aura that Hanks told the media that he rejoiced in being the “coolest guy” on the set of the film until Khan walked in.

A self-professed fan of Khan, Hanks went on to note that “As soon as I walked up to him, I said, ‘Irrfan Khan, I’m going to steal from you everything I possibly can. I’m going to start speaking very quietly in films. I’m going to wear very nice suits. And I will draw out the last sound of every sentence that I say.’ And, by doing that, I will be doing a very pale imitation of the coolest guy in the room.”

Comedy, drama, thrillers, Khan eases into every role with finesse. 

“For me, a comedy needs a playful mode even on sets, so it is not demanding. Intense roles are tougher as they consume more of me. I need an unwinding, a kind of detox to come out and refresh myself,” the actor told India-West in an earlier interview. “When I had called my family for a few days to be with me during the shoot of the show, ‘In Treatment,’ I lost my ‘sur’ (key) and I had to reshoot.”

The Jaipur, Rajasthan-born actor also admitted to India-West that it’s only natural to have expectations from his films but also added that “thinking about box-office outcome only leads to anxiety and does not change anything at all.”

“Ideally, all actors must vanish for a week after a release and only then come back and find what happened. Leave it all to God and the audience,” he said.

His next Hollywood venture is titled, “Puzzle,” in which he will be seen essaying the lead alongside actress Kelly Macdonald. The film, which will have its world premiere at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, will tell the tale of a 40-something woman who is consumed with caring for the men in her family. When she discovers she has a gift for assembling puzzles, her world begins to open up and her entire family is forced to adjust and grow as well.

(See earlier India-West interview here.)

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