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Finally my mother thinks that I have a respectable job," says actor Irrfan, laughing, "though she still insists that it would have been better had I been a lecturer." The actor is recounting the overwhelming reactions he has received after being honoured with a Padma Shri recently.
Irrfan, recently back from Los Angeles after a meeting with filmmaker Mark Webber regarding the upcoming Spiderman film, is wrapping up the final schedule of Anees Bazmee's Thank You amidst promotions for Yeh Saali Zindagi, which released last Friday. Despite evident fatigue, he calmly waits to be called for the next shot. He rolls his cigarette with practised ease while reflecting on his career that is finally charting an upward graph after 23 years in the industry. Irrfan agrees that it has taken him many years before he could finally carve out his niche in Indian cinema, which is often crowded with glamour. But he has no regrets.
Today, his acclaimed and enviable filmography includes Angeline Jolie-starrer A Mighty Heart, Mira Nair's The Namesake, Academy Award-winning Slumdog Millionaire and the critically acclaimed New York, I Love You. His projects this year include Marco Amenta's Banker To The Poor, Mark Webber's reinterpretation of Spiderman, where he plays the negative lead, and Ang Lee's Life of Pi.
While he is looking forward to Spiderman, the 48-year-old confesses, that initially he wasn't keen on the project. "I didn't want to be part of this violent American fantasy. But both my sons were excited and kept insisting that I take it up." But the intricacy and freshness of the script finally won. Even then, Irrfan placed one condition before Webber — he didn't want to be a masked villain or become another creature. Spiderman's schedule in Los Angeles will follow his March shoot for Life of Pi in Taiwan.
Despite his success as a crossover actor, Irrfan prefers to keep his distance from the US. He has no intention of buying a house there because he feels he can't survive in a country so capitalistic. So, for every Hollywood film, he also does a Bollywood movie. "Bollywood has a unique style where we take liberty with our characters. We should not lose it in order to ape the West. We should re-look the dance and song part and bring it back wherever possible, though sensibly." Though he is yet to be offered a role where he can be part of such a sequence, Irrfan is glad that filmmakers allow him to play romantic leads. "Maqbool was special because Vishal Bhardwaj gave me my first romantic role," he grins.
The actor has worked again with Bhardwaj in 7 Khoon Maaf, where he plays Priyanka Chopra's poet husband. "I had been missing Vishal. I thought I knew what to expect when I heard the film's story but the script had so many elements that took me by surprise." Yeh Saali Zindagi will see him trying to protect the woman he loves. "Though it's a thriller comedy, each character is layered and nuanced — something Sudhir Mishra excels at doing."
While Hollywood filmmakers are seeking him out, Irrfan insists that he is greedy for much more in his own country. Hoping that Hollywood does not stereotype him, the actor is willing to cut across genres with films like Thank You where "40-plus men behave like kids". "I want to work with filmmakers like Dibakar Banerjee, Milan Luthria, Shimit Amin and Anurag Kashyap," he asserts, "In fact, I've been waiting for 15 years to work with Sriram Raghavan." We hope he is listening.