Basking in the rave reviews of Ang Lee’s Life Of Pi, few days after its release Irrfan Khan reveals he re-shot his entire character in the film.
“That’s right,” the fearless confident actor confesses. “I had to re-shoot my entire role in Life Of Pi. I’ll tell you why.6-7 months after I finished shooting I got a call from Ang Lee saying we had to do some re-shooting. You see, Ang decided to change my co-star who plays the author Yann Martel. Initially we shot with Tobey Maguire as Martel. But then after six months I think Ang felt Tobey’s image as Spiderman was too strong .We needed an image-less actor to play Martel because he was a struggling writer and an actor with a strong image could be a hindrance. So Ang got Rafe Spall for the role. When I went to LA to re-shoot I decided to do my entire role again instead of just re-shooting bits and pieces. I discussed it with Ang, and he was game. We both felt the dramatic impact of the story hinged on my scenes with Spall.”
As for the response to the film Irrfan is more than satisfied. “The studio (Fox-Star) tells me they’ve earned a much larger revenue worldwide than they expected. They felt a 20-million dollar opening would make it a safe bet. They got a 27-million dollar opening. Cool, no? That’s quite an achievement for a film that has no parallel. Audiences are treated to an experience that is utterly unique. They could have rejected it. They chose to embrace the beauty of Ang Lee’s vision. That’s quite something.”
Irrfan feels Ang, like Tigmanshu Dhulia in Paan Singh Tomar, took on an uphill task in Life Of Pi. “It isn’t easy to tell a story where the characters are taken from given material. Ang had to be faithful to Yann Martel’s novel. But he also had to be true to his own vision. In a film’s climax you generally see action, drama, fights, tears and fireworks. In Life Of Pi audiences are subjected to philosophy in the climax. To condense the book into a two-hour film seemed impossible. Ang’s mastery is evident in how he brings alive elements in the book without underlining any episode.”
Irrfan looks back on Life Of Pi as another step forward in his career. “I am very excited. Before the release everyone felt the film can’t be sold to the audience because there was no story to sell in a nutshell. Our marketing strategy worked. As an actor I had never done a character like this. I had to discuss philosophy when cinema is an emotional medium. Ang told me that I should not voice personal grief, that my voice should become the voice of humanity. That’s what I tried to do in my performance.”
Interestingly Irrfan’s new curly-haired look was cultivated for Life Of Pi but has now been used in Tigmanshu Dhulia’s Sahib Bibi Aur Gangster Returns as well.
Explains the actor, “It was supposed to be for Life Of Pi to match the hair and look of Suraj Sharma who plays my younger version. I had to grow my hair. Then before I could cut my hair I had to re-shoot. By then it was time to shoot Tigmanshu’s film. So I had to retain the same look.”
Irrfan is content as an actor. “Paan Singh Tomar and Life Of Pi have made me feel happy. I hope to get stories I want to do. That’s my challenge and struggle as an actor. I’m in no hurry. The Indian film industry is changing rapidly. And I credit the audience for this change. Look at Paan Singh Tomar. It made a mark without any publicity. Paan Singh’s story was yearning to be told. I am glad I was part of it. I need new challenges. I need to explore myself as an actor.”
Irrfan has no plans of turning director. “I can’t write! I need a writer who can formulate my thoughts. Until I find that alter ego I can’t think of direction.”
Irrfan is currently shooting Nikhil Advani’s D Day in Kutch. He loves the experience of working with Nikhil and Rishi Kapoor. “Nikhil was kind enough to let me off to promote Life Of Pi. He let me go for a week to be in New York for screenings and Q and A sessions. I never knew how relevant these Q and A sessions after the screenings were, until now.”
As for Rishi Kapoor Irrfan raves, “I always knew he’s a great actor. But he is also lovely human-being. I’ve learnt so much working with him. He keeps his looming legacy in one pocket and current trends of cinema in his other pocket. He has no pretensions. I love working with him.”
Watch Promo: Life of Pi