Much like his character Jagan in Qala, Babil Khan exudes an air of innocence and pure honesty. The young actor’s answers are unfiltered and forthright and humility is a trait that clearly defines the late Irrfan’s son, who makes his acting debut with the Netflix film that has won him much praise. The Telegraph chatted with Babil on Jagan, being his father’s son and the responsibility that comes with his legacy.
Jagan in Qala has relatively less screen time, but makes an impact. What have you been hearing about your debut effort?
The overall response has been very kind. I have received a lot of love, and there is immense amount of gratitude for that love. But it doesn’t delude me into not thinking where I am as an actor (smiles). I am well aware that I have a long, long journey to make. Because I am working on my craft every day now and I am growing as an actor every day, I now look back at what I did in Qala, and I just feel that the response has been very kind from everyone (smiles).
The one constructive criticism that came my way was how I sang the songs... I knew that I could do so much better. People are really loving what I have done with my eyes in the crying scene. But I feel everything could have been so much better! I am so self-critical! (Laughs) So when people praise me, I am like, ‘Oh my God! I didn’t know I did thaaaat well!’
These are my first wobbly steps into the industry, and to have received so much love and acceptance simply gives me strength and motivation to do my absolute best going forward. But there is such a loooooong way to go!
You are just being too critical of yourself!
Everybody tells me that! But just because of who Baba (Irrfan) was, I can’t help but think of how I can do so much better!
But you are your own person, Babil....
I agree. I am not saying that I have to be an actor like Baba. I am saying that I need to be the best actor that Babil can be. I need to express Babil’s art through my craft. Baba’s craft was very different from mine.... Baba was a very intelligent man and he used that intelligence in front of the camera. He would use his intelligence to get into the skin of the character and play it. I also use my intelligence, but I believe that my instinct as an actor and my spontaneity is my strongest suit.
Coming back to Qala, Anvitaa Dutt’s scripts are always rich in detail and colour. Was there any scope for you to improvise on set as Jagan?
I did ask her: ‘Ma’am, can I do improv?’ but actually, there was no space for that because of how precise Anvitaa was trying to make this world. Every backdrop, the little Easter eggs that were strewn in were so well planned.... Me being such a new actor, I don’t think that I could have done it as well.
Honestly, it’s been two years since I shot for Qala, and since then, I have worked a lot on the craft. Me finding myself as an actor has made me realise what I am capable of. I know that I have to have some space for improvisation in what I do next because the creation of your character in front of the camera happens a lot through improvisation. Going forward, I will sit with my director before I start shooting so that we can develop the character together.
Babil Khan with Triptii Dimri in Qala, now streaming on Netflix
What is it about Jagan that caught your attention the most?
When I met Anvitaa, one of the first things she told me was the God Particle thing (“Babil has, what I call, the God particle — that special something you can’t explain in words, but you can sense it every time he is in the frame,” Anvitaa has stated on record) and I was completely overwhelmed. I was like: ‘How will I play God Particle?! What is that?!’ (Laughs) She told me that because of who my father was in this industry, I would invariably need to grow up very fast.
What was the most important thing about playing Jagan was my ability to retain and hold on to my innocence. At that time, that was the most challenging bit for me and that attracted me the most about this character.
Anvitaa doesn’t like quoting references but she did tell me that Jagan had similiarities with a singer in the 1940s (a music prodigy named Master Madan who recorded just eight songs before he was killed by mercury poisoning).
Did it ever play on your mind that Qala wasn’t a conventional debut?
My upbringing has been from a very different school of thought. To be honest, I never thought that I would have a launch like this. With Qala, I have always emphasised that I never wanted it to be called my debut because it then brings the attention on me...this is a team effort. I got the part after three auditions and I was simply excited to work as an actor in a film that was directed by Anvitaa Dutt and led by Triptiii Dimri... it was just so exciting for me! There was no plan like: ‘Ab main debut kar raha hoon... chalo main isey plan karta hoon.’ I had always wanted to be an actor, but I was somehow running away from it for a long time.
That journey to accept what I really desire and to face my fears and jump into the world of acting was so much more than simply planning a debut. That was my entire growth and that made me a much more evolved human being than if I had made a conventional debut. And conventions anyway change, you know.
What do you think your Baba would have said about this performance and what did your mom think of it?
Since I had trashed my performance so much before, I had scared the shit out of Mumma! I was like: ‘Mumma, you are going to hate my performance!’ (Laughs) And when she (Sutapa Sikdar) saw it, she said: ‘Babil, it doesn’t seem like this is your first film.’ That was a huge, huge thing for me. Baba and I were so close and to see me act would have given him great joy. I had a very short cameo in his film Qarib Qarib Singlle and when he watched it, he was so happy. He would have been happy after seeing me in Qala and we would have probably gone to our farmhouse and celebrated.
Does your legacy sit easy on you —of course, it must make you proud — but is it also a huge weight to carry so young and so early in your career?
Baba used to hate the word ‘proud’ (laughs). He used to hate it! Once we were in Canada and he was shooting Thank You and I asked him: ‘Baba, why don’t you ever say that you are proud of me?’ I used to see my friends’ parents always using that word. And Baba was like, ‘Babil, what is the meaning of proud?’ Pride has never been in my family. But this legacy is a big responsibility Once we lost Baba, I went through a major phase of selfdoubt because my protection was gone and I had to be my own man. I did get scared and the pressure and the expectations did weigh heavy on me. But as I have evolved, I have learnt to look at it as a responsibility.
The connection that Baba had with people was pure love. It was honest and truthful. It was not about being a star, it was pure connection. Baba gave his characters to his viewers and they gave him love for it. The responsibility towards the love that he got from people is what I carry with me now.
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