A colleague who has been following my blog forwarded me this picture with Irrfan Khan. I have no memory of this picture – the year or the event, I mean I recognize Tanishtha Chatterjee in the frame and going by my saree it seems like year 2000 picture clicked at a film festival dinner in Mumbai or elsewhere but I have no recollection of any conversation exchanged that evening with either Irrfan Khan or anybody else in this picture. It sounds dramatic but I’d like to receive this picture as a symbol of detachment, of Irrfan asking all of us to move on without clinging to his memories. There is a possibility that he read my thoughts about searching for him outside the coffee shop and does not want me to… He knows it will not be possible because the lockdown will continue for a while and that coffee shop may never open up again. Therefore, this postcard from heaven to say disconnect, detach and carry on…
On the first day of the week as I sat before the computer, wondering what I was going to write about, a photographer friend sent me two timely images which I would like to describe as Postcards from Heaven. Sometimes, unknowingly, some people send you memories that help you draw closure to a festering wound. This picture was taken after my recording with Neetu Kapoor on her birthday at her now demolished bungalow Krishna. Daughter Riddhima was visiting home and joined the interview to wish her mother but it was a task to convince little Samara to be a part of the generation picture. She agreed after a lot of persuasions. It is eighteen days since Rishi Kapoor has left the family but where ever he is, he knows there is enough love amidst all of them to find strength and carry on…The second image I will share tomorrow. @bhawanasomaaya
In the year 2016 Irrfan Khan produced a film called Madaari which was released after a lot of delay and the reviews to the film were far from flattering. Irrfan was shooting in a faraway location when he got news of the box-office collection and the reviews and was naturally upset. A day later, he called me to ask me if I had seen the film and what I thought of it, I took a pause not wanting to be instantly harsh and said, ‘Not up to the mark’. He was quiet for a while but absorbed the criticism clinically, said, ‘In that case, it seems like we have failed in our communication.’ Before disconnecting, he said he was relieved to hear the truth because now he will stop brooding and focus on his new film. I was amazed by his positive attitude and understood why his co-stars and directors looked forward to working with him again and again. In the coming years, our meetings became more and more infrequent. We exchanged messages on phone during Hindi Medium. Soon came news of his diagnosis, his treatment abroad, his return home, his shooting followed by the release of English Medium, and then his demise. It all happened so rapidly that one wonders if one is imagining it. When the lockdown is over, I’ll visit the coffee shop where I first bumped into Irrfan Khan many years ago and maybe, I might just find him there, hanging out with his friends, smoking like old times and I’ll ask him how he can go away without saying goodbyes. Concluded @bhawanasomaaya
During the promotion of Pikku Irrfan Khan could not make it to our studio for an interview the day #DeepikaPadukone and #ShoojitSircar were scheduled to arrive. He was stuck somewhere and deeply regretted missing out on the joint conversation but he made sure to seek another appointment and arrived dressed like a superstar in a blazer. Irrfan Khan is probably one of the few actors who enjoys discussing movies rather than just his own performance. He spent major part of the afternoon discussing Shoojit Sircar, Deepika Padukone and Amitabh Bachchan rather than himself. He had terrific insights into them as individuals and actors, said Deepika was blossoming as an actor every day on the sets. He and was amazed by Amitabh Bachchan’s energy and enthusiasm for his character after so many years of acting and surprised how hard Bachchan worked for every shot and scene, seldom satisfied with himself. ‘Amitji is like a theatre actor, he revises and re-revises his lines, till he has mastered every word and made it his own’. Irrfan shared that for the disagreement scene on the highway, director ShoojitSircar left it to the trio to take it as they want, ‘There was no scripted scene and no instructions, so Amitji, Deepika and I just followed our instinct and reacted to each other but it worked!’ Later Irrfan asked Bachchan to analyze his responses but Bachchan and no answer, nor did Deepika. ‘Cinema is magic’ said Irrfan, ‘and when you are working with the best you don’t want the magic to ever end.…’ To be continued @bhawanasomaaya
Two years later, when Irrfan Khan’s Lunch Box
was to be released, he was in great spirit probably because he knew he had
given a great performance and was receiving rave reviews at international
festivals. It was his first brush with super savvy Karan Johar and his
masterminded marketing. It was around this time I released my one more book Talking
Cinema: Conversations with Actors and Filmmaker and I asked Karan and
Irrfan to release it together. Irrfan was curious about the book and asked me
many questions, one of them was why he was not included in my book. I joked
that he was not meant to be a part of a crowd and deserves a book by himself.
He laughed heartily and posed for my picture.
He was in a reflective mood that day and when we were
alone in a corner, asked me what he must do to improve his persona. My
experience warned me that this was not a casual question, there is a
possibility that he had been thinking about it for a while and unable to find
the answers. In normal circumstances I would not have reacted but Irrfan was so
earnest that I responded just as spontaneously, advised him that perhaps it was
time for him to get a little vain and pay more attention to his appearance, he
could have got offended but he was indulgent, asked him how.
I told him that the first thing he needs to do is to
seek an dermatologist and treat his under eyes because once that is cured his
close-ups will blossom and the second to quit smoking. When I met him a few months
later at a party, Irrfan was wearing large dark glasses, when he saw me he said
softly ‘Everyone is assuming my shades are a fashion statement but I have
followed your advice and the treatment is successful now I’m working on
the second thing but that’s very difficult’.
The next time I met Irrfan Khan, he was making a name for himself in the movies. I mean he was already known for Mira Nair’s Salaam Bombay and Govind Nihalini’s Drishti but he was slowly and gradually making a way for himself in the masala movies, did approximately eighteen films between 1988 – 1999 but what brought him into spotlight was friend Tigmanshu Dhulia’s Haasil. In 2003 Irrfan did Naseerudin Shah’s Yun Hota Toh Kaisa Hota and Maqbool with Vishal Bharadwaj. Maqbool changed his destiny, his co-star Tabu revealed that the credit of transforming Irrfan’s screen persona goes to Vishal Bharadwaj who presented Irrfan a relative newcomer like a star and Irrfan agreed with Tabu, added that ‘When a filmmaker believes in the actor, the actor believes in himself and the chemistry is evident on the screen and that’s what happened in Maqbool’. In 2011 for Vidya Balan’s private screening of The Dirty Picture Irrfan was seated beside me. Post the screening Irrfan, Vidya and I got into a long discussion about the film where we discussed the merits and demerits of biopics. Irrfan was working on Paan Singh Tomar at that time and was curious to know if Vidya and I heard about him. When we drew a blank, he looked visibly disappointed, said ‘Aapne nahi suna hani toh kissi ne suna han, tohi phir meri film kaun dekhega?’ He need not have worried because Paan Singh Tommar proved a big hit and got Irrfan Khan rave reviews and awards. So did his film The Namesake and Life of Pii both with Tabu, Irrfan described Tabu as his screen soulmate, said ‘Whenever we have worked together it has been magic’.
Irrfan Khan left us a day before Rishi Kapoor and I had barely woken up when Times Now called to break the news and before I could blink, I was on air expressing my condolences. I am not sure what I spoke but when I disconnected, I was inundated with calls saying that the news of Irrfan Khan’s death was not true! I wanted to believe the callers, I wanted to believe in a miracle but the fact was that Irrfan Khan was gone.
Irrfan was not a friend the way Rishi Kapoor was but there was a bounce in our interaction every time we met, his eyes sparkled every time he bumped into me at a screening or a party and holding my hand firmly he would say, ‘Jab bhi aap se milta hoon bohat accha lagta hai’. I met him for the first time during the monsoon of the 90s, I think. I was walking out of a coffee shop near my home and spotted him outside with a bunch of friends, smoking.
Those days he was doing a crime series with Kay Kay Menon on television and I was hooked on to that series because the performances were extra-ordinary so I smiled at him spontaneously and introduced myself, he threw off his cigarette and said, ‘Arre aap…Aap se se toh main kab se milna chahta th aur aaj milgaye…’
He insisted we have a cup of coffee together and I agreed because I had innumerable questions about his characters. Irrfan traveled me through his television journey, said there was a time when he was shooting round the clock because that is how the television industry operates. Then one day, when he was driving home late night after pack up, he was so exhausted that he fell asleep on the steering wheel middle of the road. “I’m not sure how long I had passed out but when I opened my eyes it was sunlight and it took me a while to figure out what had happened. My wife tells me that I was so drained and disoriented that I did not emerge from the bedroom for days. That’s the time I decided that irrespective of what happens in future, whether I get movie offers or not, I will not go back to television.’
On the day after his funeral Neetu Kapoor posted a picture of Rishi Kapoor saying: End of our story. The caption hurt and I was quick to react on the post. The tragedy is an end of a scene yes but definetly not the end of the story! Rishi Kapoor would never have been so pessimistic. Like his father Raj Kapoor, Rishi believed that no matter what the obstacles, the show must go on… He would disapprove of Neetu and his children losing courage and hope. He would like them to rejoice life wholeheartedly. I’m sure he is saying ‘Cheers’ to the deities at the moment and the apsaras are dancing for his entertainment. Raj Kapoor, Krishna Kapoor and sister Ritu Nanda are singing ‘Ghar aaya mera pardesi…’ and therefore I sign off presenting him singing his own song… Rest in peace my dear friend and fire the angels from time to time, how else will they know that you love them!! Concluded
Post 2010 when Rishi Kapoor thought his career was coming to an end, he was flooded with opportunities. Cinema was changing and the man of the moment was Rishi Kapoor. He was offered a variety of roles and he picked and chose the best. In a way Do DooniChaar was the turning point, he followed his heart and made conscious choices Love Aaj Kal, All Is Well/, Kapoor &Sons, 102 Not Out, Mulk, Manto his career and life was on a roll.
When Mulk was about to be released the media hounded him for interviews but Rishi Kapoor true to himself refused to participate in the promotions, said he was not interested in talking about himself and nobody could change his mind.
He called me and asked me to interview him however and the following conversation was shot at a restaurant near his home. Both of us enjoyed ourselves thoroughly and the unit in love with him.
When I visited their home for Ganpati, Neetu mentioned that Rishi Kapoor was not feeling too well for some days but is better now shooting in Delhi. In a few days, came the bad news and soon the family left for America.
The treatment took longer than expected but I often chatted with him and he was always full of beans. Once, while visiting Randhir Kapoor post the fire at RK Studio, we connected with him together and he was happy I was visiting the studio. ‘Please go into my cabin and take a picture there, I’m missing my office today.’ He sounded low that day but a few months later was back home with a bang!
We embraced each other emotionally at Bachchan’s Diwali bash and he said ‘Come home soon there are so many stories to tell you’. We kept juggling dates to meet up but his frequent visits to the hospital kept delaying our date and then came the breaking news on Instagram! I still cannot believe it is over, I still feel that maybe death got a wrong address that day!
I cannot remember the exact details of how Rishi Kapoor and I turned friends but now we shared an independent relationship and if we had not met for some time, he would call me up early morning and fire me!
Firing people was a way of demonstrating affection for Rishi Kapoor. He had to do something to provoke me since now I had stopped getting intimidated by him.
Both of us had by now stopped complaining about each other to Neetu.
Now when the three of us met which was always impromptu, we discussed cinema, trends, performance, star systems and stars.
For interviews he insisted I drive to RK Studio, Chembur and sitting in his cabin he was always full of stories, anecdotes, laughter. My most precious memories of time spent with him however is at his daughter Riddhima’s wedding, the sangit, the mehandi and the dance practice at home before that.
I have been visiting his Ganpati celebrations from the first year he brought the deity home, at that time Riddhima and Ranbir were in school.
We always met for Diwali as well at parties hosted by common friends.
Around this time, I quit as editor Screen and joined Big FM Radio and Kapoor visited our studio to chat on my show and cheerfully participated in our office Ganpati celebrations.
A year or two later, when his Pali Hill bungalow was getting demolished, he took pictures of every corner of the house, said, ‘I have beautiful memories of time spent here but will have to move out for a while till the bungalow is built again’.
He was nostalgic that day and insisted on taking pictures with me sitting in his favorite corner.
This is one of the happy pictures we clicked that day, the warmth in the relationship clearly evident in our body language.