Friday, September 22, 2023

Karan Johar on not directing Irrfan: ‘Didn’t want to be a blotch in his beauteous career graph’

Karan Johar

The fear of being a “blotch” in late actor Irrfan Khan’s otherwise “beauteous career graph” kept filmmaker Karan Johar from directing the “very sexy” star.
In an interview with journalist-author Shubhra Gupta for her book “Irrfan: A Life in Movies”, Johar admitted that he did not want to be the filmmaker who gave an actor of Irrfan’s calibre a “substandard mainstream film”.
“He (Irrfan) was way stronger than anything I could have ever offered him. I never arrived at a screenplay, a film, a thought or an idea that would warrant the presence of the magnitude that Irrfan Khan brought to the table. That’s the reason I never had a film with Irrfan because I did not want to be that filmmaker who gave him a substandard mainstream film. I didn’t want to be the blotch in his otherwise beauteous career graph,” said Johar, as quoted in the book.
The director recalled being stunned by Irrfan’s performance in “Maqbool” and telling the film’s director Vishal Bhardwaj.
“Because no other actor, I think, has a combination of the various characteristics that Irrfan brought to the table: charisma, cinema intellect, presence, performance, all in equal measure.”
“You can slot many other actors into boxes. You can’t generalise Irrfan Khan, you can’t put him into a box. It’s simply because he was so unique and individualistic,” Johar said.
The filmmaker, known for directing blockbusters like Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham, My Name Is Khan and Ae Dil Hai Mushkil, said he did not have the ability to look beyond big stars and spectacle movies at the beginning of his career.
“So, while Irrfan Khan had this trajectory that began properly in 1998, and he had all those movies that were breaking through, I was busy making these big spectacle entertainers; I didn’t have the bandwidth or understanding of how to accommodate the magic and magnitude of Irrfan,” he explained.
Ironically, after Irrfan’s death at least “five scripts” landed on Johar’s table that the director believed would have been perfect for the Paan Singh Tomar actor.
“At least five scripts landed on my table after he passed away that were screaming Irrfan Khan. I just feel terrible. And you know why those scripts came to my table now? Because now is the time that cinema is ready for that material and that material was all Irrfan Khan,” he explained.
The 51-year-old filmmaker counts not directing Irrfan and Sridevi among the two regrets of his life.
Recalling how he and his friend and fellow director Zoya Akhtar agreed that there was “no other actor like Irrfan Khan”, Johar also spoke about the late actor’s little discussed but “tremendous sex appeal”.
“It’s very important to say that women found him sexy; he had tremendous sex appeal. You know, always, it’s the actors who do the more cerebral, the more intellectual, the more critic-friendly cinema that you don’t associate with sex appeal, somehow. I think Irrfan Khan was very sexy, and it was a huge icing on his terrific talent cake,” he said.
Taking solace in the fact that he has at least one of Irrfan’s movies, The Lunchbox, on his roster — even if he was just a presenter on that film — Johar, one of India’s most bankable producer-director, said to him the actor’s “real breakthrough moment commercially” came with the 2017 film Hindi Medium.
“Hindi Medium did business of about seventy crores purely on account of a simple, high-concept, small film, and Irrfan did it entirely on his own… That’s when I think everyone woke up to the fact that Irrfan Khan is a numbers man as well.”
“Up to that point, everything else – Life in a… Metro and everything that you said – had a great actor, great idea, he worked very well. But when Hindi Medium came out and it did the numbers, that’s when the industry woke up to his commercial possibilities,” he added. Unfortunately, it was as late as that, Johar said.
“Irrfan: A Life in Movies”, published by Pan Macmillan India, hit the stands on Wednesday.
The book offers a compelling account of Irrfan’s life and achievements — starting from his days at the NSD to his nearly decade-long stint in television and his gradual ascent in the film industry.
It engages key people, including Irrfan’s wife Sutapa Sikdar, director Mira Nair, Vishal Bhardwaj, and Anurag Basu in conversation on the iconic actor’s art, craft and legacy. (PTI)