regular-article-logo Tuesday, 03 October 2023

Babil Khan

In Abu Dhabi, the actor chats with The Telegraph on the art and craft of acting and why rickshaw rides are therapeutic for him!

Priyanka Roy  Published 30.05.23, 09:12 AM
Babil accepting his IIFA Awad for best debut — male for Qala in Abu Dhabi last weekend

Babil accepting his IIFA Awad for best debut — male for Qala in Abu Dhabi last weekend Sourced by the correspondent

I was greeted with a huge hug from Babil Khan when I walked into his room at W Abu Dhabi — Yas Island last weekend. This was a few hours before the always affable and unaffected Babil — a welcome breath of fresh air in an industry dominated by stereotypes — was to receive the best debut award at the IIFA Awards, which was held in Abu Dhabi this year. Babil’s act as Jagan in Qala may have had short screen time, but it was hugely impactful, reminding many of his genius father, the late Irrfan. After pleasantries exchanged with his mother Sutapa Sikdar (of course, in Bengali), The Telegraph got down to chatting with Babil, with Sutapa pitching in.

Babil Khan

Babil Khan

Babil, have you had the chance to explore Abu Dhabi yet?


I had the chance but I didn’t take it (laughs). I would rather be holed up in the hotel. I have just finished shooting a very taxing project and I am very exhausted. I can’t talk about the film yet, but I can talk about the exhaustion! (Laughs)

Exhaustion, in varied degrees, has become a part of everyone’s lives....

That’s true. Specifically for this film, the emotional exhaustion is the kind that I have never experienced. As an actor, for this film, I had to go to places so dark within myself, something which I haven’t done before. This is the kind of darkness that one, as a human being, wants to protect oneself from, but as an actor, I had to go there. And that was every day, for 22 days. It took such a big toll on me!

Physically I am fine, but emotionally, it’s been crazy. In an action film, the exhaustion would be of a different kind. But one can’t compare.....

Was Qala equally exhausting emotionally?

Not so much for me. It was much more for Triptii (Dimri, who played the title role). I would be in that zone for one day and then I would have a four-day break, and that cycle continued. But for this new film, for 22 straight days, I had to be in that zone because we were shooting as many as five scenes in a day. I was getting 10-15 pages to do every day. I had to wrap scenes like that (snaps his fingers) and also be in that zone all the time. You won’t believe it... I have cried for 18 takes! It was so tough.

I remember Baba (Irrfan) would only insist on doing one take. He would say: ‘Bas camera on kar do aur chale jao... main kar lunga’ (smiles). But here I had to do 18 takes... man, it was something else...

And you cried for 18 takes?

Ya! Actually, this film is such that it depends a lot on the mechanics of the script... the beats and the rhythm and where to cut and the pace.... We had a few problems where the pace would be off or we would lose focus. The technical errors of an emotional scene are so difficult to deal with... you have given your entire spirit to it and then you are told that focus is off or you didn’t hit the mark....

Is there now new-found respect for the art and craft of acting?

When you get into an art form, you respect it automatically. This film has enhanced my understanding of what the craft entails. The understanding of how much you apply your art and how much you have to know the craft. You have to be honest about it and let that shine through organically. The expression of your spirit and journey... that’s all art.

When you have to do that under certain circumstances — you have to catch the light, you have to hit the mark, if you go a little bit more, then you lose focus because the aperture is 1.8 and the lens is 135, you have to hold the phone or a book on camera differently from how you hold them in life so that the audience gets to see it.... Within those building blocks and that structure, when you have to express your art, then that’s really commendable for those who can do it, and do it so well.

It’s early days for you, but when you get so deep into a character like you did for Qala and this new film, are there days when you feel you should have opted for some other profession?

I thought I would quit acting after this film! (Laughs) In that moment, I really thought I was going to....

We all have those days....

Yes. In retrospect, you do understand that this is what art is. The real meaning of art is to go into spaces that make you uncomfortable. But when you go through it, your mind is just trying to survive through extreme anxiety and fear. That would rattle me so much. Ask mama (looks at Sutapa)... she would walk in and I would just be weeping! After 4am after a night shoot, she would walk into my room and find me crying. That’s because of all the emotions I had felt while doing a take and I would remember and go through them. I would be weeping all the time!

Sutapa ma’am, what would you advise him at that time?

That what seemed like pain then would be gems when he saw them in retrospect.

So Babil, how do you also handle the glamorous aspect of your work, like this glitzy awards show that you will be at this evening....

That’s also part of the profession. Acting has never been just about acting.

Are you as naturally inclined to this side of the job?

I think I am. I don’t know about the glamour bit of it, but I am a people’s person. I have been like that even before becoming an actor... I love making people laugh, I like to see joy in their eyes and I know that I have to do this part of what my job entails in order to connect with a larger audience. If I have to expand my audience, this is very important. And just the understanding of that sails me through.

We have spoken too much about stress. What do you do to relax?

I sing and I play the guitar. I read poetry, I write.... I like to go to mama’s farmhouse in Igatpuri (near Mumbai). Sometimes, at midnight, I take a rickshaw ride around Bombay with my music plugged into my ears. So it’s just me, the wind and the music because the streets and highways are all empty.

I have a designated midnight rickshaw guy (laughs)... and I love that, man! I sometimes even go up to Thane and take the whole trip to Bandra....

A rickshaw ride through Mumbai can actually be pretty stressful for most!

(Laughs) I know! But I love that time of the night!

Sutapa: He does a lot of meditation also...

Hopefully not in the rickshaw!

Babil: (Laughs) But meditation should not be considered an activity, right? You can be doing it throughout the day. Like right now, I am trying to be in a meditative space. The moment you bring yourself back to your breathing and detach yourself from what your mind thinks is reality, then you are meditating.

I know that both of you are big on travel. What’s on the travel wishlist this year?

Babil: More than me, Mama is big on travel. I want to fulfil the wishlist she has.

Sutapa: When they (Babil and his younger brother Ayaan) were younger, whenever there would be a holiday, we would go abroad. Now, it’s time for me to show them India. Arunachal Pradesh is on the list in July.

Follow us on: