‘Irrfan Khan is one of the most alive actors you’ll see in cinema’: The Song of Scorpions director Anup Singh remembers late actor
It’s been three years since the passing of Irrfan Khan, but The Song of Scorpions director Anup Singh feels he “is one of the most alive actors you’ll see in cinema.”
Singh, in this interview with indianexpress.com, fondly remembers Irrfan as he misses “spending hours with him without exchanging a word.” The filmmaker, before The Song of Scorpions which has finally come out in cinemas after a long wait of six years, had collaborated with Irrfan on the critically acclaimed film Qissa (2013).
“It is a great pleasure that the film has finally released but we all carry a sadness that this wondrous actor, our dear friend is not with us anymore,” Anup Singh says as he reminisces about his time directing Irrfan Khan.
The director also shared how, over the years, the memory of the moments he spent with the actor has become stronger. Sharing how the duo spent time in between shots, Singh says, “There are many things that fade but there are certain intimate moments that in fact become stronger. For example, he was one of the few people in my life with whom I could sit anywhere, we could sit for hours together without exchanging a single word. We would of course keep communicating where he would look somewhere and I would follow the look. The way we’re sitting would shift a little bit and he would glance at me and that would be enough. We could sit like that for hours. I am now thinking that perhaps what I really miss about him are these moments of us sitting silently together.”
Being an excellent actor comes with a price. People start expecting too much from you. When asked if Irrfan Khan carried the weight of being one of the most bankable stars of our generation, Anup Singh says, “We all know that Irrfan was probably one of the most down to earth actors. What I think separates him and makes him stand out that he always carried a quality of transformation, and that to him was one of the most important things. He did not believe that he had to understand any particular character or understand some piece of music. What was very important for him was to keep on searching within. It was never finished.”
Singh then opened up about how Irrfan was in a constant search of a new language to connect with people around him, and his audience. “I think what he tried all the time was to find a language to speak to the other. A language which was not something that he had grown up with, or the language of habit. It was not a language of himself as Irrfan Khan — the well-known actor, the star. It was a language of questions. It is, now that I am speaking with you, how can I get you to speak about yourself to me in a way that is beyond politeness.”
The filmmaker further shared how the actor had a unique way of making people open up to him — by asking polite questions.
“For example, he could pick up a little stone while we were walking. He could study it and see there were blue and green colours on it and he would ask himself what minerals are there in the stone, why are stones round and not square, how did the stone reach here, and the most important of all — what has gone in all the years in the making of the stone. Many other thousand hands might have picked the stone, so when Irrfan picks up the stone, the stone already has thousands of other stories and these are the stories that Irrfan always wanted to find out about, stories that went beyond appearance. So, by asking questions, by always listening, by never putting his own presence or image on anybody else he would wait for the other person to open themselves to him. He would ask very gentle questions. I think, one of the reasons why we consider him such a profound and great actor is when he performed his characters, they went beyond us being able to grasp them. They in fact lead to questions within ourselves whether you think of Maqbool, whether you think of the character that he played in The Namesake or the one he played in Qissa and now in The Song of Scorpions. He is one of the most alive actors you’ll see in cinema, and why we think of him being so alive is because at all times he is full of questions.”
Ask him how Irrfan Khan was on set, and the filmmaker shares, “He was full of curiosity, not one of those actors who sat in their vanity vans and waited to be called for their shot. He would always be there, next to you, asking questions. There have been instances that even when we are doing his shot and I am shooting with some other actor and when I turn around, I would often see Irrfan sitting somewhere near the camera. This gave a quality of attention but also a great sense of collaboration to everyone who was with him during the shoot. Even his co-actors felt that ‘here is Irrfan watching me, so I need to perform to the very best of my abilities.’ I felt the same as the director. He would constantly encourage you but more than that he came and sat beside you because he wanted to know more, things that he would have otherwise missed sitting in his van or not paying attention.”
Irrfan’s sense of collaboration made him feel responsible for the quality of not only his work, but of those he was working with, shares the director. “So if you ask any actor who has worked with Irrfan, you’ll be surprised at the kind of questions that he would ask them. Irrfan, without telling the actor that he or she could do better, he would find another way of speaking to the actor that would encourage them to find the answers for themselves. He was never preaching and he never pretended to be a great star. He was always there to help to make you better and in turn help to make the film better. It was simply about him being in the foreground and being the best. For him it was always we together have to be the best to make this film the best that we can do.”