On the 56th birth anniversary of actor Irrfan Khan, his eldest son Babil Khan took to the stage to talk about his unconventional upbringing, the challenges and perks of growing up as a celebrity’s son, fond memories of his father, and the process of accepting his loss.
Irrfan, known globally for his acting in Bollywood and Hollywood films, died in April 2020 after a two-year-long battle with Neuroendocrine cancer. Babil, who recently made his acting debut with the Netflix film Qala, remembered his father through a 10-minute on-stage talk, titled ‘Baba, My Bestest Friend’, at the Kommune India Spoken Fest 2022.
Growing up as a ‘weird’ kid
“I was a weird kid, man, when I was growing up, and I think it’s because my parents kept me away… from societal conventions and norms, saturated food, friends, people and a normal education,” Babil said, throwing light on his unconventional upbringing.
He joked about going to a school that taught the Rudolf Steiner education system. “While my friends were studying Geography, Maths, History, I was learning how to climb trees and pluck Jamun.”
His unconventional education alienated Babil from his friends, who did not understand his life, and led to his dad Irrfan buying a house in Madh Islands, where Babil felt like Mowgli from The Jungle Book.
“He was filming all the time and when he was not there, I would have nobody to talk to,” Babil remembered.
Meeting God with Irrfan Khan
Owing to his father’s busy schedule, a pre-teen Babil decided to tell God about his loneliness. “So, one day, after his night shoot, Baba came back and I was like, ‘Baba, I want to pray. I want to talk to God. I want to see God.’” Irrfan then took Babil to his farmhouse in Igatpuri and led his son to a stream nearby.
“He laid me on the water with my back on the water and he let me go. And as soon as the river started to take me, I hesitated. I splashed around and I tried to regain control,” Babil recalled.
This activity went on for nine days straight till Babil got bored of the exercise and allowed himself to float on the water. “Baba watched me float away and as soon as a rock was about to hit my head he lifted me off the water and he said, ‘Today, you have prayed. Today you surrendered. Today you met God’.”
Drifting away from his father
After moving back to Mumbai, 16-year-old Babil went to a private school and started experiencing the social perks of being a movie star’s son. In order to live up to the expectations of his new friends, Babil turned into a socialite. “I started buying expensive clothes and riding around in Baba’s SUV, and I started partying relentlessly and hung out with models.” This new lifestyle created a distance between him and Irrfan.
“Baba somehow caught on to the desire that I wanted to become an actor. So he’d come to me and when he’d missed me too much, with the sweetest smile on his face he’d be like, ‘Babilla come, we’ll practise this scene. We’ll break the scene down and you do the scene with me,’ and I would shrug him off,” Babil said.
A teenage Babil would constantly tell Irrfan that he would do it later saying, “Jaldbaazi kya hai? (What’s the hurry?) Baba was around forever. He’s going to be around forever.”
Dealing with the loss
“The only friend that I never had to change myself to fit in with disappeared forever from my life,” Babil said. Irrfan’s death led to a hollow within Babil, whose once thriving social life now exhausted him. At his absolute breaking point, Babil decided to go back to the place where he and Irrfan had found God.
“My feet were dipped into the water and I said, ‘Baa, I can’t find the ground beneath my feet.’ And at that time I heard a voice in my head, Baba’s voice from the 10th day of our exercise, ‘Today you surrendered.’ So my heart loosened its grip and after all these years sitting at that river bank again, finally I understood what Baba was trying to teach me that day. So I allowed the river to take me,” an overwhelmed Babil ended his speech.
Watch the video here: