Here's looking at you, Irrfan!

We last played host to him in May when he walked in to chat about Hindi Medium. That film became a bona fide hit and on Friday, Irrfan Khan had a date with t2 again — for his November 10 film Qarib Qarib Singlle. The trailer of the Tanuja Chandra-directed film, that marks the Bolly debut of Malayalam actress Parvathy, has already grabbed eyeballs, with Irrfan’s eccentric romantic Yogi bringing on the ha-has. Dressed cool and casual in black pants and grey kurta, sporting blue reflective glares, Irrfan engaged in a fun chat, even as he bit into some Koraishutir Khasta Kochuri.

  • Published 30.10.17
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Formula bores me. People expect something extra from me. Even if I do formula, I will break and redefine it and make it my own.... There is no guarantee …  a thousand stories could be hatke, but you don’t know which one is the one

We last played host to him in May when he walked in to chat about Hindi Medium. That film became a bona fide hit and on Friday, Irrfan Khan had a date with t2 again — for his November 10 film Qarib Qarib Singlle. The trailer of the Tanuja Chandra-directed film, that marks the Bolly debut of Malayalam actress Parvathy, has already grabbed eyeballs, with Irrfan’s eccentric romantic Yogi bringing on the ha-has. Dressed cool and casual in black pants and grey kurta, sporting blue reflective glares, Irrfan engaged in a fun chat, even as he bit into some Koraishutir Khasta Kochuri. Also on the menu: Blueberry Mishti Doi, Gulab Patti Sandesh, Daab Sandesh, and Chhanar Cutlet, all courtesy Balaram Mullick & Radharaman Mullick.

What made the adda even more special? The presence of Irrfan’s wife Sutapa Sikdar — screenwriter and a co-producer on the film.

Priyanka Roy (Team t2): Welcome back to Calcutta… and to t2! This time, you are actually spending three days in our city and that doesn’t happen often…

Irrfan Khan: (Laughs) That’s because we decided to promote Qarib Qarib Singlle primarily in Calcutta, Delhi and Bombay. I have shot films here that have really worked… like The Namesake and Piku. Then I’ve just done a Bangla film called Doob that released today. Qarib Qarib Singlle has a very Piku-ish kind of energy and I feel the Calcutta audience will appreciate it a little more. Some special memories have been made in Calcutta (smiles)….

Priyanka: Sutapa may not be from Calcutta but does the fact that she’s a Bengali have anything to do with your love for this city?

Irrfan: (Looks at Sutapa and they both laugh) Actually, she wants to come to Calcutta all the time (smiles). So that’s also a major factor for my bond with the city.

Chandreyee Chatterjee (Team t2): Qarib Qarib Singlle seems to be the kind of romance that hasn’t been seen on the Hindi film screen. Was that a reason to sign on?

Irrfan: Oh yes... for sure! It’s a sunny, happy, funny film. I don’t get those kind of scripts too often. As an actor, you constantly want to surprise people and do movies that give you a happy feeling. They (Irrfan’s Yogi and Parvathy’s Jayashree) are not teenagers. It’s not the first time that they are falling in love. The film is in a very fresh space…
Sutapa Sikdar: It’s a very out-of-the-rulebooks kind of love story…. We’ve tried to change, break and redefine the conventional definition of a love story (smiles).

Priyanka: Yogi seems so much like Monty from Life in a… Metro, who we absolutely love even today! Irrfan: Oooh, Monty! (Laughs) You know, Monty is a character that everyone feels I should have played in some other movie. Sabko lagta hai ki woh poora hua nahin… uska dose poora hua nahin.

Priyanka: Monty does deserve a film of his own!

Irrfan: Absolutely! Even Anurag (Basu, the film’s director) feels the same and that’s why he keeps announcing ‘Metro 2’… ‘Metro 2’! (Laughs out loud) Woh hamesha lalchaa deta hai… thoda sa tease karta hai aur phir banaata hi nahin hai! Gayab ho jaata hai! (Smiles) I would love to play Monty again. I wonder ab woh kaisa hoga itne saalon baad…. I don’t want to lose the chance to work with Anurag… he’s one of my favourite directors. Par woh thoda sa unpredictable hai… main toh hoon hi, lekin woh usse bhi bada hai! (Laughs) He sincerely comes to me and talks about a sequel all the time. He came to me even two months ago… narration suna di, announced the cast and even fixed the dates… aur phir gayab! (Laughs) But I like the way he works… bahut improvise karta hai but he never loses control of his film.

Priyanka: Yogi isn’t a morning person and he laughs at his own jokes! Are you anything like him?

Irrfan: I never laugh at my own jokes!

Sutapa: Never! (Laughs)

Irrfan: There are many things about Yogi that are like me and then there are some that I would love to acquire. And then, I can’t identify with him at all… like he loves talking! That’s why it took me some time to connect to this guy. When I read the script, I found him very amusing but for months I kept wondering, ‘Yaar, kya hai yeh aadmi?!’ He was an amusing character and yet uske jokes mujhe funny nahin lagte thhe (smiles).

Priyanka: But his ability to crack a joke with a straight face seems to be very you!

Irrfan: You are feeling like this because I finally managed to catch his sur. If I hadn’t, you would have asked, ‘Arre, yeh kya ho gaya hai Irrfan ko?!’

I used to keep asking her (looks at Sutapa) about what she thinks of this man. I wanted her to give me references. How he treats girls… that’s something very special. He doesn’t let you feel you are a girl… male-female ko beech mein aane nahin deta. That’s a wonderful thing about him.

Chandreyee: We loved that bit in the trailer when Yogi tells Jayashree to go with him and meet his former girlfriends. Has Sutapa met any of your past girlfriends?

Irrfan: I’m not sure if she’s interested! (Laughs) ‘Past’ hone ka toh mauka nahin mila. Toh ab mera time aaya hai! (Looks at Sutapa and laughs as she throws him a mock angry look) Now that she’s produced the film, I will make sure I make her meet them!

Priyanka: Sutapa, are you looking forward to meeting his exes?

Sutapa: I am! Honestly, I have no idea why exes need to be hidden… or be bad memories. That’s what this film says… that heartbreaks are not so bad that you have to turn into Devdas. Past relationships can be looked back at fondly too.

Zeba Akhtar (Team t2): In what ways did you identify with Yogi?

Irrfan: The way he treats his past, his unpredictability… he’s not someone who is programmed by society in terms of what he says or even in his appearance. He has a natural instinct to get out of conventions and discover his own path. He also tries to take the girl (Jayashree) out of her programming. She’s stuck somewhere… she hasn’t dated anyone in a long time….

Sutapa: Yogi is actually a non-intellectual version of Irrfan! (Everyone laughs)

Priyanka: Which is a good thing or a bad thing?

Sutapa: (Pauses) It’s a good thing because Yogi is easy to live with (laughs when Irrfan makes a face). Arre (looks at him) I am talking in terms of characters! (Laughs) I like that he’s not burdened by his intellect.

Irrfan: Aur daaru peekey bhagwan ke baare mein zyada baatein nahin karega! (Throws a knowing glance at Sutapa and they both laugh) You know, she’s not a good drinking partner… I always have to find someone else (smiles).

Priyanka: The awkward coffee date in the trailer is hilarious. Do you remember your first date?

Irrfan: Actually, I’ve never been on a date. I swear!

Priyanka: Not even with your wife?!

Sutapa: No. We studied together, so what date?! (Laughs)

Irrfan: It was a constant date! (Laughs)

Sutapa: Ya, 24-hour date! (Laughs)

Irrfan: On the (matrimonial) website, he (Yogi) is an engineer, educated, put-together, prim and proper to look at. But when he lands up for the date, he’s actually been jogging. He jogged to his date! That’s exactly like me. I don’t think I will ever dress up to go for a date. The girl is shocked, ‘Kya socha tha aur kya aa gaya!’ (Laughs) I need to explore how I would go on a date. I’ve never done it.

Priyanka: It’s not too late… you two can still go on a date!

Sutapa: No! We going on a date will be so boring! A date has to be with somebody new. No? (Chuckles and looks at Irrfan)

Irrfan: Ya! (Laughs)

Sutapa: Yogi is actually a non-intellectual version of Irrfan! It’s a good thing because Yogi is easy to live with (laughs when Irrfan makes a face). I like that he’s not burdened by his intellect
Irrfan: Aur daaru peekey bhagwan ke baare mein zyada baatein nahin karega! (Throws a knowing glance at Sutapa and they both laugh) You know, she’s not a good drinking partner…   I always have to find someone else

Priyanka: So what was your courtship like?

Irrfan: Very intense and engaging and comforting, with a lot of intellectual jargon… from her side! (Irrfan and Sutapa both laugh out loud)

Priyanka: So Sutapa, are you the one who keeps him grounded?

Sutapa: He is very grounded. I want him to fly! (Laughs)

Chandreyee: Everyone says comedy is a very tough genre. Is romcom tougher?

Irrfan: I never looked at this film as a romcom. I looked at it as a very interesting, odd-couple journey.

Sutapa: Very slice-of-life.

Irrfan: Romcoms have their own traps. Tanuja (Chandra, the director) always referred to it as a romcom. I never argued with her, but I never took it as a romcom, because then you would have to define it.

Sutapa: You’d have to put it in a structure of a romcom, which is, three lip sync songs!

Irrfan: Formula bores me. People expect something extra from me. Even if I do formula, I will break and redefine it and make it my own. This film… you’ll be satisfied with it as a romcom, but it will not fall in that structure.

Zeba: What was it like working with Parvathy, who is very popular in Malayalam cinema?

Irrfan: She is a very good actress and she has done some wonderful work. I have seen her films like Charlie and Bangalore Days. As actors, you say your lines and watch the scene emerge on its own. That happened smoothly with her. Of course, there were hiccups, and she used to pose questions to Tanuja… loaded ones! (Smiles)

Irrfan stops to take a snack break, digging into the Koraishutir Kochuri. “The food in Calcutta is unbelievable. I have eaten so much today! I think I went through 10 dishes. I loved the shukto and the jhinge shukto…

Sutapa: Not jhinge shukto! Shukto and jhinge posto…

Irrfan: Jhinge posto… sorry. Then there was chutney and mishti doi. Even after that, I am eating here!

Rushabh Shah (third year, Bhawanipur Education Society College): ‘Qarib qarib single’ is a very interesting place to be in… committed yet single or the other way round. How would you define it?

Irrfan: It’s the best stage of a relationship for me. When two people are excited about each other, but they don’t want to commit or even indicate. You look at that person and something happens to you. You look for excuses to interact or to even fight… but you don’t want to commit. You’re not in a hurry. That’s the best part of it. There is no hurry to reach somewhere.

Rushabh: What is your relationship advice to young people who are confused in a relationship?

Irrfan: I think they are very fortunate to have that many options. They really don’t come from that place ki koi mil gayi, pyaar ho gaya, janam janam ka saath ho gaya. They know that we have to explore a lot of options and they are not in a hurry to commit… and that’s a good thing. Especially girls!

Priyanka: This film is about Yogi and Jayashree’s life-changing journey. Has there ever been a journey that changed your life or gave you a new perspective?

Irrfan: My journey from Jaipur (his home town) to Delhi, when I came to drama school (National School of Drama). Life was completely changed and the day I was leaving, it suddenly dawned on me that ‘Shit, I’m not coming back!’ My relationship with Jaipur changed for eternity and it changed my life. (Pauses) Journeys do change you. I think that if you need to know someone really, then you have to take a journey with that guy or girl.

Priyanka: In college, did the two of you go on trips together?

Sutapa: Yes, many many! (Laughs)

Irrfan: Yes, there were some outstanding ones… Kausani, if you remember? (Looks at Sutapa)

Chandreyee: So, on a road trip, what kind of a traveller are you — the driver, the one dozing in the back seat, the navigator, the planner….

Irrfan: I am not a planner at all. I hate woh checklist waala trips. I’m the kind ki mann kar raha hai rukne ka kahin toh ruk jao, yaar… dekha jayega baad mein.

Priyanka: Is Sutapa the planner then?

Irrfan: Yeah, a bit. But she knows me… ki zyada chalega nahin! (Laughs) Kabhi kabhi beech mein planning aa jaati hai thodi si… jhagda ho jataa hai! Phir main bhi thoda planning ke hisaab se chal leta hoon, phir wapas aa jata hoon! (Laughs)

We both have one thing in common… we want to get into places jahaan humein pata nahin kya hoga... yeh road achha lag raha hai… let’s go there… hain na? (Looks at Sutapa)

Sutapa: We’ve done that a lotttttt… so many times! Once at midnight, our son was very small and we were on this road where we had to take a right… but we just took a left. After a point, it became deserted and it started giving an eerie feeling (Irrfan laughs) and we even saw a woman in a white sari… it was crazy! We’ve done some completely unplanned journeys. Priyanka: Does that happen even now?

Sutapa: No, now he has no time! (Everyone laughs)

Priyanka: So, if you had to go on a road trip with a colleague of yours, who would you pick and why?

Irrfan: Who would I pick? I don’t know…

Priyanka: Maybe Deepika Padukone… since you did do a road trip with her in Piku!

Irrfan: Deepika ko main itna nahin jaanta. Aisa na ho ki jaane ke baad usko lage ki kahan aa gayi main aur kiske saath! (Sutapa nods and laughs out loud)

Chandreyee: You’ve shot Qarib Qarib Singlle in Rishikesh, Bikaner and Gangtok…

Irrfan: Roorkee also…

Chandreyee: In this cross-country shoot, why did you leave out south India?

Irrfan: I would love to do a film in south India. In fact, I just finished a film in Kerala called Karwaan (with Dulquer Salmaan and Mithila Palkar).

Sutapa: It was so gorgeous that we ended up asking about land prices there!

Priyanka: What was it like in Gangtok?

Irrfan: My god… It was so beautiful! I never imagined it would be such a nice place. And the people are different there. And Teesta nadi... I love rivers and Teesta was amazing. The whole journey from Bagdogra to Gangtok is mind-blowing.

Sutapa: We were to take a helicopter, but then we said we would go by car…

Irrfan: Aur itna lamba kisi bhi road pe river aap ke saath saath nahin jaati.

Sutapa: He was very tired and didn’t want to drive up. But I am from north Bengal and because I know him I was confident ki yeh Teesta dekhega aur pighal jayega! (Laughs) And that’s exactly what happened. The moment the car hit the road… he was like, ‘What is this?!’ It’s mystical, magical…

Irrfan: Ab mera plan jo hai Northeast India dekhne ka hai….

Zeba: In the trailer, you get on to a wrong train. Has that ever happened in real life?

Irrfan: (Smiles) Many times! Pata nahin hai ki train kahan jaa rahi hai, aur aap chadh gaye uss par, but hamare yahan trains itni dheere chalti hai ki aap kabhi bhi utar sakte ho!

Rushabh: Finally, does the success of a hatke film like Hindi Medium give you the encouragement to take on such subjects as Qarib Qarib Singlle and more?

Irrfan: The thing is that whatever success you get, you cannot make a formula out of it. If you do so, then you prepare a trap for yourself. And once you prepare a trap and unfortunately if things work for you, then you won’t know where you are going. So the formula cannot be the way to choose your subjects. You choose your subjects for other reasons and leave the success mysterious… ki why it happens. When Hindi Medium came to me, we were very sceptical about the subject.  I said, ‘Yeh credible nahin hai. Climax bahut preachy hai’ but then we kept working on it. If the casting (Irrfan and Pakistani actress Saba Qamar) didn’t work, then the film wouldn’t have worked. So there is no guarantee … a thousand stories could be hatke, but you don’t know which one is the one.

Pictures: Rashbehari Das & Pabitra Das

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