Irrfan thought long and hard before accepting my offer. In fact, it was a year’s worth of thinking! He was uncertain, that he would be received well in a romantic role at this later stage of his life because romance was more of a playing field for the young, he said. Moreover, it was a solo lead and if people didn’t approve of him in this avatar, he wouldn’t have anyone to share the flak with other than his own misplaced choice of subject. So, he thought long and hard. His wife, Sutapa, would tell me of his sleepless nights, pacing around their home at insane late hours with the script, trying to fathom the character, trying to figure out whether he loved him or not. I had gently suggested that if he wasn’t sure about the project, maybe it would be best if we agreed to work together the next time around, when he’d feel more confident.
And then, the ‘aha‘ moment arrived (thankfully.)
In the wee hours of one late night, while reading the lines of a scene to himself, Irrfan found what he had been looking for. The particular scene had Yogi call his driver to come fetch him at the end of his first dinner-date with Jaya. He carried in his hand packed food for his driver and it hit Irrfan, who regularly shared meals with his staff, that here was a man who cared for people. People in his life, but also people whom he may have just met, as well as people he would meet someday – he already cared for them! Yogi loved people, it didn’t matter where they came from or what they did for a living. And this became the reason Irrfan agreed to do Qarib Qarib Singlle.
I can’t think of a worthier reason to do a film.
When another year was almost through and we had finished shooting the film in a whirlwind schedule, travelling across north India, and I sat in the editing room watching scenes so many of us had agonised over, I discovered something quite magical. Not the usual alchemy of cinema where once there was a blank page, now miraculously a two-hour long, audio-visual experience – I discovered that Irrfan’s performance had a dynamic quality. It changed upon each viewing. The cinematic frames hadn’t shifted a bit, the lines hadn’t been altered, the character, the locations, the costumes, they were all the same, and yet, a tiny movement, a fleeting look, the quietest gesture, one hadn’t seen before would reveal itself. It quite took my breath away. This was the reason, it became clear to me, one never tires of seeing this actor on screen, this was the reason that even though his work often has telltale signs of ‘classic Irrfan’, each performance varies from another.
Soon after, the release of the film was upon us: a time madly exciting, but also full of dread. During one of the film promotion interviews, I was asked to stand on a raised platform while Irrfan, stood next to me, lower, on the floor. It made us seem to be of similar height and when I voiced my awkwardness to the interviewer, Irrfan casually stated that even though I was much shorter than him, after seeing our film, my stature had grown in his eyes, and it was rather apt that I stand tall. This touched me. And has ever since stayed with me.
The loss of this magnificent actor is an incomparable one for Indian cinema, for Indian storytelling. To my mind, he had crossed only some part of his journey of sublime acting. There was so much more for him to explore within himself, to discover, and I can safely say, he would have had no dearth of unique and remarkable scripts coming to him for the next couple of decades. We can only imagine the kind of beauty he would’ve brought to our screens. It will be a longing left unfulfilled. But it’s no small thing that all he leaves behind will be cherished for a long, long time.
Chandra is an Indian director and writer, with films like Qarib Qarib Single, Dushman and Sangharsh to her credit
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