Tag Archives: Irrfan Khan

His Master’s Voice | Irrfan Khan


Sahibzade Irrfan Ali Khan, aka Irrfan Khan (1967 – present)

Indian film and television actor

Recipient of the Padma Shri (2011), National Film Award for Best Actor | Paan Singh Tomar (2012), Filmfare Awards, Screen Actors Guild Award.

Films of Note: Salaam Bombay (1988), Ek Doctor ki Maut (1991), Kali Salwar (2002), Haasil (2003), Maqbool (2003), A Mighty Heart (2007), Life… In a Metro (2007), The Namesake (2007), Slumdog Millionaire (2008), 7 Khoon Maaf (2011), Paan Singh Tomar (2012), The Amazing Spiderman (2012), Life of Pi (2012), The Lunchbox (2013), Qissa (2013), Haider (2014), Piku (2015), Jurassic World (2015),

TV: Bharat Ek Khoj (1988), Chanakya (1992), Chandrakanta (1994)

My Top Five at Mumbai Film Festival 2013

MFF 2013 LogoThe 15th Mumbai Film Festival (MFF) organised by Mumbai Academy of Moving Images (MAMI) was a result of some wonderful programming. Movies that I had been only reading about from links shared by film enthusiasts and critics worldwide came home to a big group of people with a huge appetite for the classics and the new. Obviously, there was always the question, “Did you like it?” as soon as one got out of the theatre after a screening, but it is always too soon to answer that question. I would rather live with the experience for a while, maybe read a little about the film and what inspired the director to make it, and then decide how it made me feel. Just like in relationships, a little background always helps understand a film better.

I missed a lot of films I hear were good. That is the hazard of living far from the festival venue as well as having other personal and professional items on the agenda. Among the ones that I hope to catch in the near future are Act of Killing, The Great Beauty, 3X3D, Closed Curtains, A Touch of Sin, among others. I also have the entire filmography of Costa Gavras added to my never-ending list of films to watch.

Roughly a month and a half after the close of the MFF, in no particular order of preference, here are my top five films from the fest. Individual posts on these films may follow after a second viewing. I may add another five to the list if I find time in the near future:

Ilo Ilo Movie Poster1. Ilo Ilo – This is a soft, sweet story about a Filipino maid coming to Singapore to work for a middle-class family, while it is trying to work its way around the Asian financial crisis of the late 1990s. The naughty-boy-protagonist’s slowly deepening friendship with the maid, while a very pregnant mother experiences pangs of jealousy, is what forms the plot. The residences remind you vaguely of how people live in Mumbai, where there is always a space crunch. The boy and his mischief is superbly entertaining and the flashes of everyday humour coming from the parents make you smile. It could be the story of anyone who grew up middle-class style in the 1980s/90s in India. I could see a lot of my family in the film. Maybe that’s why it became one of my instant favourites.

While the hype around this movie led a lot of expectations to be shattered, director Anthony Chen and the entire cast can still stake claim to wonderful storytelling and great performances. 

Inside Llewyn Davis Movie Poster2. Inside Llewyn Davis – Terribly distracted by the AC on full blast while watching this Coen Brothers film, I couldn’t enjoy the film in its full glory. Later, I sat thinking about it and how beautifully it portrays an artist’s will to stay true to his art despite wave after wave of hurt and failure marking his path. From what sounds like some lovely New York  country music of the 1960s, we see the man face rejections, one after the other – his friends, the woman he recently slept with, his now-incapacitated father and the entire music community. It is painful, but as is always with Coen Brothers’ films, the quirky characters and situations make the whole deal look oddly funny. Watch it for some fantastic performances, great songs and a little bit of heartbreak. (Plus, I was pointed out to a fellow in the end who looked and sounded oddly similar to the legendary Bob Dylan. I am not claiming it is a real footage, but if you love the master’s songs, you have got to listen to the ones in this movie).

Qissa Movie Poster3. Qissa – The Tale of a Lonely Ghost – This one is dark. Set in the time of the India-Pakistan partition, it tracks the story of Umber Singh, who, ailing from the pain of being uprooted from his village, is so desperate for a son to carry forward his lineage, decides to raise his fourth-born daughter as a son. It is part-sympathetic and part-horrific to watch him try to cling on to something he doesn’t have, and in the process, messing up several lives, including of the low-caste gypsy girl he gets his “son” married to. Dealing with questions of identity, honour and roots, Anup Singh‘s film leaves an impact on you. It helps that all the actors are more than convincing in their roles. Saying any more would mean giving out the story. Best to just watch it.

Blue is The Warmest Colour Movie POster4. Blue is the Warmest Colour – Undeniably the most anticipated film at MFF because of the rave reviews it received at Cannes, and the graphic lovemaking scenes between the two leading women, Blue, for me, fulfilled, if not surpassed, my expectations. Abdellatif Kechiche has adapted this heartbreaking love story from a graphic novel called Blue Angel, and changed the focus from how the French society views lesbians to just how “normally” their story too follows the love-curve. The attraction, the flirtation, the intensity of new found love and the excitement of sex, the settling into routine, the ennui, the straying, the bitter confrontation, the making amends. Worthy of mention are the actresses Adele Exarchopolous and Lea Seydoux, who are natural and make the characters seem so real and life-like – like people we know and meet almost everyday.

There has been lots of talk about the “male gaze” in the cinematography of the movie, if there is any story, or why the story is special at all and from whose point of view a women’s story of their relationship is being told – the male director, or one of the women themselves? Fundamentally, the story makes sense to me as it says that there is nothing special about a homosexual relationship. What it does is raise questions about fidelity and the forms of it – psychological, emotional, physical, and who can be said to be the first “drifter” – the one flirting with a third person at a party while still in a relationship, or the one who feels so lonely and unwanted that she seeks comfort in another person’s arms. It is this “seeking of love” that happens to each of us that makes the movie seem so normal. The pain of the protagonist, who is essentially a lonely being trying to find a natural connection with others, that lingers.

Matterhorn Movie Poster5. Matterhorn – This was a Dutch film by Diederik Ebbinge that anyone was hardly talking about, and I went to watch it, because the other show that I wanted to catch in the same time slot was running full-house. I am so glad for this serendipity. Matterhorn is a lovely discovery. It is about a lonely man, living his life by the second hand of the clock and religiously attending Church with his neighbourhood full of the elderly and the staunch. Till another man, an accident survivor with very limited social abilities  makes an appearance in his life. A seemingly frozen heart gives way to regretfully supressed emotion through the plot, after the men bond, form a friendship, and find it in them to defy religious convention to discover big joys in life.

Again, the acting, the cinematography and the direction are splendid beyond words. The transition in the protagonist still feels fresh as the ends of the movie draws near. There is a welcome quality of unpredictability in the story because of the way it is told – linear, but with individuals threads joining into the weave of the plot to create a lovely tapestry in the end. Matterhorn is the story of victory over one’s own demons to move on and achieve all that we have been denying ourselves for the fear of being looked down by the guardians of society – subtly, but clearly told.

Life of Pi is full of life.

God does not test those who do not believe in Him. He only tests the extent of faith of those who do. While this lesson was easily understood to me even when I had read Yann Martel‘s Booker Prize-winning book during a train journey in 2006, the messages conveyed in Ang Lee‘s latest, Life of Pi, are still as simple and as profound.

Life of Pi is about an Indian boy growing up with his liberal parents (brilliantly portrayed by Adil Hussain and Tabu) and an older brother in a very well-depicted Pondicherry of the 70s. The family owns a zoo, but is forced to come to a decision to move to Canada when the political emergency is imposed. Carrying their animals aboard a Japanese vessel, the family is prepared to take the arduous journey across the Pacific Ocean. But a storm near the Marianna Trench wrecks the ship and only Pi (Suraj Sharma, quite good, but not just quite there yet) survives on a lifeboat, with a royal Bengal tiger, an orangutan, a hyena and a zebra. They rest of the tale weans through the 227 days that he is literally at sea – trying to get the better of his mates on the boat, seeking answers to his questions, understanding human nature and animal psychology as his survival instincts take over, and surrendering to the forces of nature and God.

Like all book-to-film adaptations, this movie too suffers from being able to bring the depth or the restlessness from inaction that one finds in Martel’s writing. But David Magee‘s script still captures the essence of Pi’s story very well. It’s just that while the book did make Pi’s mid-Pacific ordeal look 227 days long, the movie, restricted by the time-factor, has somehow not been able to do that as well. Pi’s  physical transformation into an undernourished, unkempt shadow of his former self is the only proof of the time having gone by.

But be prepared to see the best visual effects ever as you rub your eyes to find anything that makes Richard Parker (the tiger) look anything but real. The emotions that Richard Parker’s eyes give away look so lifelike that I still have to keep telling myself that it was all CGI. Flying fish, whales, dolphins – all take your breath away. The fluroscence of marine life and the reflection of the night sky in the calm ocean waters is so breathtaking. The sun, the storms, the sunsets are all so marvellously done that it is impossible to believe that the sea is actually just a tank in an airport in Taiwan. The sky looks limitless, the horizon far, far away and Pi and his boat just a tiny speck in the vastness of the Pacific’s splendour. And even though you know that these aren’t real, you have to keep reminding yourself that they are just computer-generated. Overall, the 3D is spectacular. Ang Lee, with his immaculate mastery of the medium, proves once again why he is so deeply respected by his fraternity and by film lovers worldwide.

(My friend Arjun Tomar, who has match-moved Richard Parker’s scenes in the film, tells me that Lee is a stickler for detail and a task master. He also was nice enough to tell me about how certain scenes were done. His explanation involved geometry and computer lingo so I switched off almost immediately, but tried to look as interested as I could. But you’d be amazed to know that the colour of the water and even the sand on the coast of Mexico are fake!)

The background score by Mychael Danna is just as good especially in his use of Bombay Jayashri’s lovely vocals rendered in Tamil. The locations in Pondicherry are authentic and it is a relief to see a filmmaker who has done his research well enough to not make a mockery out of a story set in Pondicherry by mixing more popular Indian (read: Punjabi) cultural elements as portrayed by most films. But then again, one doesn’t become Ang Lee by discounting the important finer details.

Grown up Pi, played perfectly by Irrfan Khan, has a worldly-wise air about himself as he narrates his unbelievable tale. His story and the alternate, that he provides on being forced to, are essentially the same, but he challenges us, making us wonder how unwilling we are as human beings, to be able to believe in anything that is out of the ordinary. To be able to understand a symbiotic relationship between a boy and a tiger — both hungry, both fighting for survival against a third common adversary — is confounding to say the least. We forget that fact is often stranger than fiction. And unless we see, we do not believe; but we are more than ready to believe in God, whom we have never seen.

Piscine chose to call himself Pi. Was it fate or mere coincidence that his life began to reflect the same infiniteness? His faith in God was boundless (he followed Hindusim, Christianity and Islam, and later taught about Jewish culture and religion at the University), his entrapment in a limitless space for time that felt never ending — there are many such examples that come to mind as I sit and recall the story. Talking about them here would be giving out spoilers.

Watch the film. It is a visual and a spiritual treat that should not be missed.