Man of Few Words: Reminiscing a Shoot With Irrfan in Delhi

A tribute to Irrfan, who passed away on Wednesday, 29 April.

4 min read
A tribute to Irrfan, who passed away on Wednesday, 29 April.

I first saw Irrfan Khan when I was in my mid 20s, in a TV series called Banegi Apni Baat which was aired on Zee TV in the 90s. Those days he spelt his name Irfan. Much like other women my age, I was totally smitten by him - tall, dark and mysterious looking - his easy throwaway style and poker-faced humour. Irrfan essayed his role with ease. He had an unlikely hero face, but one that held a lot of depth and intensity, instantly mesmerising.

A few years later, I had the opportunity to meet him in Delhi. I was fresh into directing episodes of the critically-acclaimed docu-drama series Bhanwar, aired on Sony TV. Bhanwar recounted and recreated real-life landmark legal cases in India.

In the late 90s, Irrfan had begun venturing into films and at the same time was much sought after in the Mumbai TV world. We wanted him for one of the episodes of Bhanwar. It felt like a shot in the dark but was worth trying for.

Our casting director Rasika Tyagi had a wide casting web, and every character for each story was carefully chosen. The series would feature prominent or upcoming talent either from the Delhi theatre circuit or Mumbai TV and filmy duniya.

Rasika got down to connecting with Irrfan, and within days received the much-awaited phone call confirming that the actor had agreed to do the role, albeit he could give us only two-and-a-half out of the six scheduled days as he had other commitments.

Team Bhanwar was always up for a challenge – besides the prospect of meeting Irrfan Khan face-to-face was way too tempting to come in the way of any production nightmare! And guess what? It was my turn to be episode director. Bhanwar had several episode directors and we each directed in rotation.

Within a couple of weeks, Irrfan was on his way to Delhi for the shoot schedule. We were all in a tizzy – and of course very nervous. We had to ensure super speed and efficiency in order to complete all the scenes with Irrfan, which were across 8-9 locations, in two-and-a-half days!

He arrived straight from the airport to the location. We were at the Hindu Maha Samaj building on Birla Mandir Road. This location was where we would generally set up our courtroom scenes. The DoP had been explained the scene blocking and lighting was underway when I was informed by the production manager that ‘he’ was here, and that ‘ woh Mumbai type nahi lag raha hai.

Armed with the thick script, I took a deep breath and went to the makeshift makeup room at the back of the building to meet the man I was so in awe of.

I was totally taken aback by Irrfan’s unassuming figure. He was dressed in jeans, a khaki shirt and rubber chappals. He was sitting on the floor in a corner, one hand holding a glass of tea and a cigarette dangling from the other.

He looked up– taking in a clearly nervous- but -trying -not -to -look- so director. Since he was sitting on the floor, I lowered myself too, crossed my legs and started with the weather in Delhi – how it’s different from Mumbai and then moved onto his role, thumbing through the pages of the script as I went along.

He heard me in complete silence. His intense eyes watching me, but not giving away anything, and I could feel my face turning red. At the end of my monologue I asked him if he had any questions, and he said ‘When do we roll?’ I couldn’t help but laugh, and that’s when he grinned and said, “Relax, I know we have a lot to cover but we’ll do it. I have read the script, I know my lines, script acchi likhi hai”.

A thorough professional, Irrfan had done his homework. A man of few words and even fewer re-takes. He got every scene and emotion correctly, sometimes giving nuances to lines and the scene that we had not even thought of.

As a director I learnt an important lesson from him – one doesn’t always need words or dialogues to express – one can do so with a twitch of facial muscle, eyes and silence. His eyes and face were so emotive that he made for great close-ups and one didn’t want to shout for CUT! His understated style worked both for intense scenes as well as humour – he knew his craft.

Irrfan mingled easily with the cast and crew. And when I look back all those years – it’s all blurry – except for his distinct down-to-earth manner, polite behaviour and intense eyes that expressed so much. And just as quietly as he came to the sets in his no-fuss minimalistic way, he left, two-and-a-half days later with no ado, very much like in life on Wednesday, 29 April.

A self-made man with no Godfather in the industry, Irrfan’s outstanding talent, his quiet professionalism, his charisma, he will be much missed.

R.I.P Irrfan Khan

(The writer is an independent content creator and producer)

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