Effortless acting

Effortless acting

Bollywood buzz

Effortless acting

Like a chameleon who adapts to any environment, Boman Irani is one artiste who can slip into any role with élan. Rajiv Vijayakar talks to this multifaceted character actor about performing with ease

It’s not often that you meet a phenomenal talent who is so down-to-earth that he can give the most humble and grounded human being a complex! That for you is Boman Irani, whose contribution to Indian cinema in the last 15 years is so exemplarily variegated that we do not know what he is better at on screen.

Is he best as a scoundrel (Khosla Ka Ghosla, Lage Raho Munna Bhai, the Don franchise), an evil politician (Bhoothnath Returns) or as a comic personality (Main Hoon Na, Heyy Babyy, the Housefull franchise)?

Or as different kinds of a Parsi that he actually is (Being Cyrus, Shirin Farhad Ki Toh Nikal Padi, Ferrari Ki Sawaari, Happy New Year), the go-by-the-book dean of a medical college (Munna Bhai MBBS), the rigid college principal (3 Idiots) and many more? The only crystal-clear fact emerging is: Boman is (effortlessly) outstanding at everything.

Love for comedy

Released this week is his comedy Santa Banta Pvt. Ltd., a film that gets respectability and even notice because he heads the cast as Santa. Thankfully, Boman reveals, this is no string-of-gags-apology-of-a-script kind of film, but a story-and character-driven crime caper based on the fictional pair whose jokes are cult. Call it a modern-day Victoria No. 203 if you will.

“Santa and Banta have no face, and I do not think that I will become the face of Santa after this, because our characters may be Sikhs and named after them, but they have a distinct shade and there is a journey,” Boman says. “I made sure that there was a story, which is about 2 interesting characters sent as undercover agents to Fiji to solve a crime. And it is a clean comedy.”

In keeping with his credo, the actor’s first query to the makers was about who would play Banta. “I was a shade surprised when they told me they were thinking of Vir Das. I was impressed because our personae would be so deeply contrasting. He is young, I am older — okay, that is not a crime! I am big, he is smaller, I am tall, he is…” Boman pauses, and we assure him that the director has said that he needed a tall and a short guy.

“Okay, I was being polite. We also come from completely different schools of performances. But since I was going to spend a couple of months with him, I first needed to meet Vir, find out where he is coming from, and establish trust.”He explains, “I am not in a mood to deal with anything unpleasant when I take up a film. So I asked Vir, ‘Can we trust each other, because we will be a team and a team can never be in competition?’”

In the last 2 years, Boman has almost exclusively been doing comedies, and his next film, Housefull 3, is one as well. Does he want to restrict himself in that zone now?

“Not at all,” he replies. “But though as an actor I need variety for my own growth and satisfaction, I cannot be stupid and turn down a great comedy, just because I feel it is time for a serious role! Also, I have curtailed my work a lot, because I found that in the last decade and more, after my first Hindi film, Munna Bhai MBBS, I have spent less time than I should with my family.”

So what is this buzz that he also wants to turn director? Instead of beating around the bush or denying it, he candidly answers, “I do want to direct at least one film. I may put this dream on a backburner if I receive great acting offers, and I am not saying that I will make the greatest film of all time, but I will.”

Cinema on his mind

Revealing a secret, he says, “From my school days, I always wanted to be a director, and never an actor. I was a fan of great directors more than actors, following them avidly by the time I was about 17 or 18. Then my life went into different spaces. I was a waiter, a shopkeeper and then became a photographer. It is here that I studied light, lenses, distortions, and the effect of lens over images — which are things useful for a director too. As a photographer, I received offers to act in theatre, so I became a reluctant actor. But when my plays started doing well, the natural progression was getting film offers.” His plays, incidentally, included I’m Not Bajirao and Mahatma Vs. Gandhi.

Boman feels that all this led to his understanding of performance, technique and script, and he owes it to himself to direct a film with his acquired knowledge of years. “I have never moved from one field to another without giving those careers their due space. I was a photographer for 14 years, in theatre for another 12 to 14 years, and now I have been in films for 15 years, of which for the first 5, I continued to act in plays. I have played off each as a chapter in my journey.”

He goes on, “My friends ask whether I was late coming into films, and I feel that I did not come a day too late. Wasn’t I learning on the way? So what if I was 40 when I signed my first film, Let’s Talk, which was in English and released in 2002?”

The actor puts a lot of premium on the process of learning as an actor. “If you stop learning, then it is over,” he says. “During Santa Banta…, there were one or two scenes in which I thought I was not as effective as I should be, and I had no qualms in asking my co-star Johny Lever for help. He told me which word I had underplayed, and that made the difference.”

He also feels that acting is the cleanest form of lies! “It excites me to play someone I have never met in my life. I think that it is nice to tell lies on screen,” says Boman. “A Parsi like me from Mumbai’s Grant Road playing a crazy Sikh is a great big lie, a leap in faith and in culture. And you have to convince all that you are him. I think that this is the cleanest form of lying and the biggest white lie.”

And he stresses that it has never been easy to do even the few Parsi characters he has played just because they were from his community. “They are shades common to people from any community, but all of them were unlike me,” he says.

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