After a prolong battle with cancer, Irrfan Khan passed away on April 29. The world has united in grief, sharing their disbelief and hurt. Not too long ago, writer Aseem Chhabra had written a biography on the actor, Irrfan Khan; The Man, The Dreamer, The Star chronicling his struggle, joy on being selected for Salaam Bombay! and plight on seeing his parts cut. He also traces the actor’s life after he “made it”, his obsession with Naseeruddin Shah, his fan boy moment with Mark Ruffalo, the back story of shooting his films and the way his life was unfolding.
Here is an extract during the shooting of The Lunchbox. The director, Ritesh Batra underlines the sincerity of the actor, his willingness to try and going the extra mile for the former, understanding it is his first film.
Ritesh describes Irrfan as a very professional and generous actor. ‘Even when we had to shoot over his shoulder looking at another character, or there is a hint of him in the shot, he always stood and did it himself. We never had a stand-in for him.’
Irrfan was also open to experimentation, improvisations and last-minute changes to the script. Ritesh Batra has the habit of constantly making changes to the script, but Irrfan was always ready for the surprises and last-minute challenges.
In the initial script, Irrfan’s character was a hockey player when he was young. There was supposed to be a shot of him dribbling with a hockey stick in his balcony. Irrfan practised that a lot, and the film team even had a coach work with him. But on the day of shoot, when Ritesh arrived on the set, he noticed the film’s production designer had placed a radio in Saajan’s living room. And the radio had Ritesh make sudden changes to the script.
‘I told him the hockey bit was maybe a bit too much,’ Ritesh says. “Why don’t you just sit and listen to the radio?” It wasn’t a surprise as long as we understood we were always trying to be honest and find something deeper. Just the act of him listening to the radio added to the tone of the story. I think we were both appreciative of the process that was organic. We were not there just to cover and shoot a script.’
‘He was always willing to try,’ he adds. ‘He asked me, “Are you sure?” And he suggested I should take a walk and come back. He said, “It’s your first film. You have written a great script. I think it is a great idea and if you want me to do it I will support it.”’ According to Ritesh, the toughest part for Irrfan was the scenes shot in his apartment. In many scenes Saajan is alone in his apartment. There were five or six days of shoot where
Irrfan was all by himself. Some of the scenes did not make it in the final cut. The same was true for Nimrat Kaur, where often she would be alone in her apartment, cooking a meal for her husband, but without fail it would land on Saajan Fernandes’s
desk. ‘That was probably hard for both of them,’ Ritesh says. While he is shooting films, Ritesh has the habit of reading books that go with the tone and the mood of the film. While writing The Lunchbox he was also reading the novel Norwegian
Wood by the Japanese writer Haruki Murakami. Then, during the shoot, Ritesh was surprised to learn that Irrfan was also reading a Murakami book.
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