Actor Irrfan, 53, has been kept away from theatres for about two years by what he refers to as “unwanted guests” in his body. This Friday marks the return of one of India’s finest actors to the big screen with the release of Angrezi Medium, a heartwarming tale of a father-daughter relationship. On March 16, 2018, Irrfan shared the shocking news of being diagnosed with neuroendocrine tumour, a rare type of cancer. Almost a year later in the first half of 2019, the actor, who has given us classics such as Maqbool (2003), Life of Pi (2012) and The Lunchbox (2013), shot for Angrezi Medium in between his treatment. In a recent recorded message, Irrfan regretted not being able to be part of the promotions of this movie which is made “with so much love”. Yet, the consummate professional that he is, Irrfan responded to our questions via email. Excerpts:
Each of your messages in public, ever since your illness was detected, is infused with gentle humour and optimism. Angrezi Medium is about a father’s desperate attempt to fulfil his daughter’s wish. How closely do you relate to this?
You know what’s worse than one’s fear of death? To live and be dead. I relate to everything which works against the odds. I have faith in miracles and I have faith in obtaining the unattainable with undying spirit. And the father in this film represents that undying spirit.
You have played the role of a father in many movies earlier such as Qissa, Paan Singh Tomar, Hindi Medium. What makes this story special?
Husband, wife, daughter, son, uncle, aunt are names of relationships. But the relationship doesn’t determine all the men who are fathers or all the women who are wives. Each story is different as it plays out as the situations are different and in its own way, each is special or I wouldn’t do them.
You have been spending more time with your sons and family. Have you discovered new things about each other?
I am spending all my time with them whenever I am in India. They have bloomed and are blooming. I have discovered also how my unconventional parenting has finally paid off. I have never been a strict father and just loved them unconditionally and that’s the mantra. I have consciously cultivated no-expectation policy from my children, and that makes us all happy.
When you look back, what does cinema and acting mean to you? Can a Friday release ever be treated merely as yet another movie release?
Once upon a time, a very young Irrfan wanted to have name, fame and money. But slowly it changed to stories (that needed) to be told, moments to be lived, memories to be with you, immaterial of material things. This Friday release is a burden we have been carrying on our shoulders for far too long. The success of a film is never a single factor. Yes, one can’t deny the repercussions. But at the end of the day, after a film is released, can you change a thing? No. Then, we all must learn to live with it and not die of anxiety.
The day before Angrezi Medium’s trailer launch, you mentioned in your message, “you are there and you are also not there with us (main aaj aapke saath hoon bhi aur nahin bhi)”. Has this unexpected challenge given you a different perspective about life, the world we live in and the dreams we pursue?
Of course, it has, it’s the micro mechanism of life you touch now. You have looked at life with a new relaxed eye without hurry and anxiety. At least, that’s what I try. There is this realisation that perhaps you don’t control a thing. The time with a capital ‘T’ has become magnetic and wondrous.
You are someone who has always been aware of what’s happening around. Have you been taking time out to watch movies, read or keep up with news?
I stopped for a while and took a complete break from structure — be it movies or books. I just floated and watched myself, discovering, coming to terms with myself. Now, I am slowly getting back — watching mostly, reading a little less.
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