About 15 years ago, when Boman Irani was a photographer, he was shooting ace choreographer-dancer Shiamak Davar who appeared nervous. In order to loosen him up, Irani performed a few antics. Davar saw talent in Irani and introduced him to veteran theatre actor Alyque Padamsee, who was casting for his play Roshni. That’s how Boman Irani the actor was born.
“I took Davar’s remarks as a casual compliment, but when he meant theatre, he really meant it,” recalls the 54-year-old actor. When we meet Irani, he is rehearsing in a Colaba (Mumbai) apartment for the play Rusty Screws. This plays marks Irani’s return to stage after his last outing in Rahul Da Cunha’s I am not Bajirao, eight years ago. In the 14 years he has spent in theatre before entering films, Irani has done a number of famous plays such as Jesus Christ Superstar, Six Degrees of Separation and Feroz Abbas Khan’s Mahatma Vs Gandhi.
Sporting a scruffy salt-and-pepper beard, Irani is dressed in T-shirt and jeans. He is jamming with a bunch of youngsters from theatre group Silly Point Productions, all ex-students from his school St. Mary’s, Mumbai. He reads out his lines as the strict principal of the school threatening to expel a delinquent student, making self-referential jokes along the way. “It is like a school play, done at a professional level,” he says. In Rusty Screws, Irani plays an extended cameo appearing in a double role as a South Indian boss and the school principal, the two nemesis in the one day in the life of Rustam Screwvala, (father of the student expelled).
The play is not a “comeback”, he clarifies, rather “a wonderful little experience in between film shoots” that is good fun and his way of giving back to his school. The funds raised from the two shows in Mumbai’s Tata Theatre, National Centre for Performing Arts on June 1, will go for renovation of the institution’s hall and the pension fund on the occasion of its 150 years. “The cause was perfect. I would even stand in the crowd in a play for my school,” he says.
As an actor who started his film career at the age of 42, Irani’s enthusiasm for the craft is inspiring. It’s the spirit of his early theatre days in Mumbai that fuels his growth as an actor. “You have to retain the innocence and enthusiasm of the past, and then keep adding experiences to it. That is important for me,” he says.
For someone who has acted in over 50 films, his focus is firmly on cinema. “I want to plough through a bit of cinema, and explore its different aspects first. I’ve played my chapter in theatre, it is home and there’ll always be a comeback. But for now, I want to enjoy films,” says the actor who was last seen as a corrupt goon-cum-politician opposite Amitabh Bachchan in Bhootnath Returns.
He is kicked about a number of important film roles this year, including Farah Khan’s Happy New Year (“a film we had so much fun doing that it will reflect on screen”), and a key role in “good friend” Raju Hirani’s PK. He is also playing Santa along with Vir Das in a film adaptation of the fictional characters of Santa and Banta.
As an actor, he thrives on real-life experiences and is well-versed at improvising on inventive character traits and nuances of human behaviour. “A good actor without life experiences, is only technically good,” he says adding, “Lines are written before hand, but acted lines are spoken for the first time. How much impromptu you make it look is the trick. Acting is easy as long as they don’t catch you doing it,” he says.