Every film festival is as much about the films missed as about those seen. It is as much about official statements and interviews, press conferences and red carpets as about unconfirmed gossip picked up at leisurely evening parties or over hasty lunches and coffee breaks. And so one heard in Toronto that Asghar Farhadi—the celebrated Iranian filmmaker of such cinematic gems as About Elly, A Separation and now The Past—has said how much he liked Irrfan Khan’s performances and would want to work with him one day.
Irrfan Khan is quite the man of the Indian moment in Toronto. In a party at the upscale Le Selecte Bistro for his new film Qissa, premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), Irrfan is asked if his American agents have got busier, if he is reading more international scripts. He nods and smiles and talks about Asif Kapadia’s possible screen adaptation of Abraham Verghese’s novel Cutting for Stone. It’s early days yet and the sprawling work could well end up as a TV series than a movie. But Kapadia is an obvious Irrfan favourite. The Warrior by him was Irrfan’s earliest vehicle to the West, an innings consolidated over the years with The Namesake, Slumdog Millionaire and Life of Pi, among a few others.
Irrfan may not be quite the Khan of the Rs 100-crore club, but he has come to be identified as the face of Indian cinema for an audience that goes beyond the NRIs. So it wasn’t SRK, Aamir or Akshay, but Irrfan who matched step with the high-voltage Hugh Jackmans and Jake Gyllenhaals at TIFF.
It could not have been any of the other Khans but Irrfan who could back and work in a film like Anup Singh’s Qissa. A far-fetched, incredible but moving fable set during the Partition in Punjab, the befuddling, gender-bending film about identity, sexuality, reality and charades is held well by the strength of performances, especially from the three leading ladies—Tilottama Shome, Rasika Duggal and Tisca Chopra. But the film may find it hard to find a release in India. Or may, with the nudity excised or pixellated and, hence, that much denuded of content and impact.
Qissa may have left the audience bewildered but their love for the other Irrfan—of The Lunchbox—has been unequivocal. Despite the subtitling goof-ups at the screening, it was quite an experience to see a typically Mumbai film reach out to people and become the media darling too. “They love the emotional quotient of the film,” says Irrfan.
TIFF has been one such international platform. According to National Film Development Corporation MD Nina Lath, the Indian selection this year has been subdued but significant in representing the slowly changing face of Indian films, “which are now opening to the idea of international collaborations at the production stage”. “Two features—Qissa and The Lunchbox—are international co-productions, while Pan Nalin’s documentary on the Kumbh Mela, Faith Connections, also has international partners,” she says. It was such small films that held the day for India.
As did Richie Mehta’s Siddharth, a gentle, heart-tugging film on a poor zip-fixer’s efforts to search for his lost son and his journey from desperation to loss of hope and resignation. The dignity and grace of the protagonists amidst the grime and squalor of Delhi gives the film some compelling moments.
There was also Shilpa Ranade’s Goopi Gawaiyya Bagha Bajaiyya, the animation version of Goopi Gyne Bagha Byne, with some good classical and folk music and interesting hand-drawn animation. A professor at the design centre at IIT Bombay, this is Ranade’s first feature-length animation that took over two-and-a-half years to put together. Fabric, textures, wool, carpets, upholstery, lampshades, quilts have all contributed to a film that is based on the original story by Upendrakishore Roychowdhuri rather than the Satyajit Ray rendition.
But that’s as far as it went. Mainstream Bollywood’s Shuddh Desi Romance took over TIFF’s second half. A Bollywood-centric fundraiser too was organised under the baton of Deepa Mehta. “One of the ways we see a cultural shift in Canada, besides the food, of course, is through Bollywood,” says Aparita Bhandari, a Toronto-based arts reporter for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. “There were always some community theatres that played Bollywood movies. Like Naaz in the mid-’70s. Now even mainstream theatre chains like Cineplex Odeon have taken up Bollywood.”
Bollywood is familiar territory now. “You no longer have to explain what the word is. Most people associate it with India,” says Bhandari. And therein lies the problem, she thinks. “It’s become cultural shorthand. Any time you want to describe something exotic and loud, you call it Bollywood.” When omni tv, a local Indian community channel, announced cost cuts, it dropped all the community programming but retained the Bollywood content. Now they have announced a four-part Hindi film-themed reality show called Bollywood Star. Auditions will be held in Toronto and Vancouver in late September and the chosen contestants will be flown to Bombay, where they will undergo training and may get a shot at being cast in a Bollywood production. Canada it is then for the dream factory’s next big stop.
By Namrata Joshi in Toronto
Apropos the story The Double R Effect (Sep 23), the danger is that a talented artiste like Irrfan Khan may end up being destroyed by third-rate Bollywood filmmakers.
Irrfan Khan was superb in that wonderful HBO TV series "In Treatment". He is more like Naseeruddin Shah than SRK or Aamir, someone who gets lost in the character.
Irfan is way way ahead of Aamir. As for SRK his overacting is very boring and tedious.
I would highly recommend the Hindi drama adaptation of the famous Chekhov story "ward 6" in which Irfan has played the doctor's role.
The danger is that a talented artist like Irfan may end up being destroyed by the third rate Bollywood film makers.
The most talented actor at the moment in Bollywood. No Mai Baap, he is self made. May he get a fine role in Hollywood. With actors like him there is still hope in Indian cienma.
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