Irrfan Khan is the one performer who straddles Indian and international cinema with élan and critical acclaim. His much beloved film, The Lunchbox, opens this week in Canada and the USA, and we had a chance to chat with Irrfan Khan about his role in the film.
Story by Priya Chopra
A mistaken tiffin delivery leads to a beautiful relationship between a soon-to-be retired widow, and an unhappy housewife. From this unexpected exchange begins a series of lunchbox notes between Saajan (Irrfan Khan) and Ila (Nimrat Kaur), and communicating with a stranger anonymously soon evolves into an unexpected friendship. Gradually, their notes become little confessions about their loneliness, memories, regrets, fears, and even small joys.
Nimrit Kaur is brilliant as Ila, and Irrfan Khan (who starred in HBO’s In Treatment, Spiderman, The Namesake, Paan Singh Tomar and Slumdog Millionaire) shines in what he does best: non-verbal communication through his eyes, body language, and subtle pauses. “The process of working with Irrfan was very organic, he was there to discover the deeper meaning of the script and read between the lines, as I was,” said Bhatra. “He made this character his own in wonderful and unexpected ways.”
Based on the dabbawallah (tiffin lunch carrier) documentary that Ritesh Batra started in 2006, The Lunchbox won the Critics Week Viewer’s Choice Award at the Cannes International Film Festival in 2013.
Irrfan Khan spoke to Jugni Style about childhood memories, his work on the HBO series In Treatment, and The Lunchbox, which opens across Canada on March 21, 2014.
Jaipur has a warm place in your heart. What was your best childhood memory?
We used to wander a lot around Jaipur. That was something magical and fascinating. I still remember those places. School was the only thing I never liked. At that time in Jaipur, it was forest all around. We used to go up in the mountains to a place called Nahargarh… and spend time. There is a place called Jal Mahal and they fly kites there. It is a professional kind of kite flying. We used to go there and watch. We used to call it “patang lutna” – when the kite is cut, and you go and pick up that kite.
The Lunchbox not only warmed my heart, it also warmed my stomach. How challenging was it using nonverbal communication? You say so much through your gestures, your eyes, your smile, your face.
I think that’s fun. That’s what you look as an actor. You don’t need to communicate everything through lines or dialogue. You are in a situation, and it is much more enjoyable when you don’t speak and you communicate everything. That is very enjoyable as an actor.
Your film Qissa also premiered at TIFF (went on to win the NETPAC award for Best Asian Film). Which role was more challenging between the two?
Qissa was much more challenging. It is a dark story. A lot of Punjabi has to be learned. In the beginning I was thinking, why have I got myself into this? I won’t be able to learn Punjabi. It needed a kind of, you know, good Punjabi. That learning was tough and the get-up (outfit) in the weather and the darkness of the emotion of the character was tough for me.
Your characters are always so intense. What do you do to get out of character?
Character doesn’t stay with you in a way that it bothers you. Once or twice, there were characters that stayed with you for a long time. That space was not very comfortable. At that time, I was living in New York. I was living alone, so nobody else was bothered by that.
While preparing in Bombay, my kids were a little concerned. They said, “What is happening to you? What are you doing?” It was a challenging part. There was a lot of learning to be done. It was the television series called “In Treatment.” The pattern of this shooting was not like film shooting that you shoot 2 lines and then you do another take. You have to go for 10 pages, 12 pages. A lot of learning had to be done. I still carry the script. It’s that thick of a script.
People have said that Sunil from In Treatment was one of their favourite characters.
I know people really loved that character. The amount of generosity that the media showed, and the kinds of things that they wrote, I was really pleased. I was really grateful and I feel gratitude for that. That was a challenging role, a challenging part, and I am really happy that I did that.
The Lunchbox opens in select cities across Canada and the USA on March 21, 2014.
Story By: Priya Chopra | Photographs Courtesy: Sony Classics