‘I Object to the Term Bollywood’: Irrfan in an Old Interview

Irrfan passed away at 53.

3 min read
Irrfan passed away at 53 on 29 April.

“I object to the term Bollywood,” Irrfan had said in an interview with The Guardian in 2013. “I don't think it's fair to have that name. Because that industry has its own technique, its own way of making films that has nothing to do with aping Hollywood. It originates in Parsi theatre,” he added. Irrfan was one of the few Indian actors who had successfully manage to crossover to the West thanks to his chameleon like quality.


He passed away on Wednesday, 29 April morning, after battling with neuroendocrine tumour since 2018. The actor was admitted to Mumbai's Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital recently for colon infection. His health suddenly deteriorated as a result of which he was admitted to the hospital located in Mumbai’s Andheri suburb immediately. He is survived by his wife Sutapa Sikdar and his sons Babil and Ayan.

Here are some of the most interesting things he’d said to international publications over the years.

In the same interview with The Guardian, he added that Indian cinema was ‘a celebration’, encapsulated everything Indian and that it would lose its individuality when called Bollywood.

Tom Hanks and Irrfan Khan on the sets of their upcoming Hollywood film <i>Inferno.</i>
Tom Hanks and Irrfan Khan on the sets of their upcoming Hollywood film Inferno.
(Photo: Sony Pictures)

In an interview with the Independent, UK he was asked that in spite of starring in some massive Hollywood films like Inferno and The Amazing Spider Man, he wasn’t cast as the lead. To that he said,

As an actor, you always want to be the main man, to be the lead. But in Hollywood cinema (what is enriching) is the vision of the director and the scale of the stories. Living in India, I wouldn’t have been able to work with, say, Ang Lee.
Irrfan, Actor 

E. Nina Rothe, a contributor to Huffington Post had mentioned in one of her interviews the ‘magic’ of meeting Irrfan. Halfway through the interview he turned to her, remembering the previous interview they’d done and said, “I never read my interviews but yours...your language- it had such magic.”

When the journalist asked him about his unique, natural acting style he said, “There was a kind of shift in me as an actor at some point, and one day I was doing a publicity shoot with Shah Rukh Khan in London. I was drinking that night, and suddenly a thought hit me like a bolt, like a jolt, you know, and at that time I realized that I don’t have any religion — that my only religion is stories, telling stories.”

In the same interview he also said, “I want to watch cinema that stays with me, I want to make stories which stay with people for a long time, and once the film ends, that’s not the end, rather the beginning.”

Irrfan Khan in a scene from <i>The Lunchbox</i>
Irrfan Khan in a scene from The Lunchbox
(Photo Courtesy: Twitter)

In an interview in 2013, when The Lunchbox had just released, Irrfan had told BBC in an interview about how Bollywood didn’t know how to ‘use songs.’ He said,

I think the songs are being used unimaginatively. Earlier, in the 50s and 60s, we had our own unique language and the songs were used in a very imaginative way; songs were the strength of the film. Now we have become complacent, the songs have become a burden. That’s why universal audiences from the West cannot connect.
Irrfan, Actor 

He also spoke about how mediocrity was tolerated in the Hindi film industry. “We don't have many sources of entertainment - that is the reason we have survived 100 years. There was outstanding work, fabulous work which was done earlier. We had fantastic directors, there were films which were made in so-called Indian style, with song and dance, but they used to deal with complex problems; they used to address the issues of society, but we lost that magic.”

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