MUMBAI — He plays a Sikh again — this time on the right side of the law — in “Santa Banta Pvt. Ltd.,” a crime caper released April 22 that cashes in on the ‘Santa-Banta’ brand synonymous with jokes. Boman Irani, matter-of-fact as always, met India-West in his vanity van during the hectic promotions.
Excerpts from the interview:
Q: “Santa Banta,” the brand, is all about gags. How different is the movie?
A: We have only retained the humor element of the trademark names that spell fun but have no faces. I still do not think that Vir Das as Banta and I as Santa have become the faces of the brand, because our characters have a definite and different graph. You cannot string up gags to make a feature film. I need a story, and this is about these two contrasting yet interesting characters who are undercover agents trying to solve a crime and going to Fiji for that.
The best part is the cast that has an ensemble of talents, each with their own kind of humor. I was fascinated by the real smorgasbord of good performers. There is a maniacal Sanjay Mishra, a straight-faced yet angry Vijay Raaz, Vijay Patkar and Vrajesh Hirjee in small roles, my friend Ram Kapoor and Johny Lever, who even guided me when I was finding some sequences a bit difficult. I had no qualms in asking his help, and he explained that it was because I was not emphasizing certain words! There is no shame or end to learning, right?
Q: What was your take on Banta?
A: That’s the first question I asked my director Akashdeep: Who did he have in mind for Banta? When he told me it was Vir Das, I was fascinated by his thought process, as I realized it was an interesting contrast. He is young; I am older — c’mon, that’s not a crime! I am tall; he is (Pauses)… not so tall! I am big; he’s small. We come from different schools of performances and yet have to become one character in the end.
So I told my director that I wanted to meet Vir first to see where he is coming from and asked him, “Do you trust me?” If we have to spend a couple of months together, it should not be unpleasant. We had to be a team, and there cannot be competition between a team!
Q: All your recent films have been comedies. So is your next — “Housefull 3.” It’s a long time since we have seen you in dramatic roles.
A: I know, but I cannot turn down a great comedy offer for this reason! I cannot tell them it’s time for me to do a drama! Yes, I want to do drama, because I want variety for my own growth and satisfaction.
Q: Would you be open to doing something else like directing?
A: I do want to direct at least one film, and thanks to my diversity of professions — photography, theater and cinema, I have a good idea about technicalities, performance and script. But I do not want to become a full-time director, and I am willing to put this dream on the backburner if I get great acting offers.
Q: So it IS a dream.
A: I was a reluctant actor when I began to receive offers as a photographer. I always wanted to become a director from my schooldays and would be a follower of great directors rather than great actors and study scripts through my college days. Then life went into different zones, each chapter being a part of my journey and well spaced-out.
As you know, I was a waiter, then a shopkeeper for over a decade, then a photographer for 14 years during which I got theater offers. When my plays began to do well, I got film offers. My first film was Ram Madhvani’s first film too, “Let’s Talk,” which released in 2002. Another film, “Everybody Says I’m Fine," released earlier in 2001, and my Hindi debut happened with “Munna Bhai MBBS” in 2003. Now, I have been acting in films for 14 years. It’s time to try out something else too. I owe it to myself. It’s never too late!
Q: In this profession, have you developed true close friends?
A: Friendship, for me, is measured by people enriching you emotionally or educationally. You get influenced by them for the right reason and vice versa. I should have the freedom to tell someone, “You are acting like an idiot. What the hell are you doing?” if he is doing something stupid. A good friend is someone who values your opinion or teaches you a little more about life. Friendship is about the most basic things. Like Johny Lever calling me up just to say that he wanted to hear my voice — he has enriched me by saying he cares. You share a journey with someone, and he does the same with you. That’s a friend!