One of the things I most admire about esteemed actor Boman Irani is that I never recognize him at first in his films. He has given us roles that range from comedy, to drama to everything rolled into one and with each of these characters he puts on a completely different persona, which to me is the mark of a truly great actor. For example, though I knew he was in Don: The Chase Begins Again, when I first saw some of the stills of the upcoming Don 2 it took me a minute to realise it was Mr. Irani in the shot. Once again, he has so encompassed the character that everything about him is different, you certainly wouldn’t recognize him as the actor who played Virus in 3 Idiots, Michael Burnett in Home Delivery or Jahangir Hayaat Khan from Veera Zaara. For the sequel to Don, Mr. Irani’s character Vardhan has been found out to be the villain he is and has been in jail for the last five years. While he is there he meets a very interesting person and off we go into the next intriguing story of Don. Mr. Irani was kind enough to take time out of his schedule and even sit in a car to finish our interview as we talked Don, Hindi cinema and what he loves about acting.
What was it about this film that made you want to take up this character again?
I don’t think that you need to want to take up a character a second time or not want to take a character a second time unless you hated the first experience. If I did not enjoy the first experience then I would turn around and say ‘No, no maybe I’m not too keen on doing this one’. If I did enjoy the first experience then there is no reason why I would not want to do it. Plus these are friends and I’ve done seven films with their company, Excel Entertainment, which means a lot to me. They always have something for me. Two or three times I did not have the time to do the projects otherwise I would have done two or three more films for Farhan and Ritesh. There was no question of even batting an eyelid about whether I wanted to do this film or not.
Tell us a bit about your character because in the first he actually ended up to be a bad guy. So, who is he and what is he up to in this film?
Well, in the film there will be a little bit of a reprise. They will remind you of what exactly happened in the sense that when the big fight happened in the end the table was turned against him. Don made his escape; this guy called Vardhan, my character, was arrested by the police and obviously was thrown into jail; in a Malaysian jail in Kuala Lampur. In this film there is a secret, but if you have seen the trailers and the promos it’s very evident and it is about the person who’s in jail. The story kind of kicks off from that point, which is an interesting thing for two arch enemies to meet in jail, one on his own accord and the other one because he’s locked up in there for five years. The character is in ‘cahoots’ with Don in this film. But I can’t tell you much more of what happens or there is no point of watching the film.
How is it to have a battle of wits and work opposite Shah Rukh Khan?
Well, with Shah Rukh Khan I think you’ve got to be on your toes because he’s a very, very bright, intelligent person. He keeps you on your toes because he’s always doing something in acting so there is a lot to respond to the way he plays the part, sometimes it is more about reacting. Plus the Don character is quite an iconic character. But also, it’s not just a character that I am talking about. It’s great working with Don and it’s also great working with Shah Rukh. You see with the Don character it is always nice to have two guys who are almost equally intelligent, you know, who get into this whole battle of wits and cat and mouse and chess games so to speak. It’s great fun working with Shah Rukh because he’s THE actor to have on set. You know there are some actors who take themselves too seriously. He takes his work seriously, but he doesn’t take himself too seriously. That’s wonderful because in that sense you’re always enjoying the moment, you’re always enjoying the exchange, the give and take, the repartee, the fencing that takes place between two actors. There’s great joy in it. And he supplies most of it and I like to respond to it. Sometimes I supply some of it, the cat and mouse feel that you get when you see these two characters having kind of a standoff.
That must be fun, but also intense to have someone good that you can feed of off in a scene.
Very intense! Very intense and very, very sharp and there is a hidden nuance for everything. So you better be on your toes, you wait and watch and respond to not just the words that he’s using but to his nuances. So, acting as I said, is all about reacting. He gives you ample opportunities to react.
What does Farhan bring as a director?
What he brings to Indian Cinema is something that’s very sharp, very contemporary, very Indian, at the same time western. It’s not that it’s a wannabe western kind of approach and it’s also not so set in an Indian backdrop. The whole character, the film and the style of the film is universal in the sense that we are talking about a character that is not just a crook in his country or city or his neighborhood, he’s an international crook. There’s a famous line in the film ‘Don ko gyarah mulko ki police…’. He talks about 11 countries who want him on their list so, it becomes in that sense an international character and so the style of the film has to be international. Farhan brings that style extremely smartly and there has been no forcing him to do it. As a person he’s a man of the world, he’s travelled the world, he’s aware of what his country is all about, what the rest of the world is all about. He’s Indian at heart. He’s well read. He’s erudite, he has great knowledge of international music, and film, and philosophies. He brings a lot of that to the table. Otherwise, what happens is when someone forces a style on to you, you kind of catch it out as an edit-swish-pan, so to speak. You see it in the swish panning of an edit and it looks so forced and fake. When Farhan brings that to the table, what he does is he brings a certain ease to the style. It’s a real style, it is not forced fake.
Also as a personality he’s so wonderful to talk to. You know what you do on the set is one thing, what you do off the set is also very important. The time you spend off set is valuable because you kind of value the person and it contributes, do you see? For example, a fun evening contributes a lot to what may happen on the set the next day. I know we’re all professionals, but when we are all thrown in together in a new city, which we haven’t been to before and you’re working for the first time in the new city and we are away from our family for so long, these are the people who need to keep us all together. Being a professional director, I mean that’s great and we love and admire you for that, but I think it’s also important to love and admire the person, because the next day after that fun evening you have to face him on a cold Berlin morning. You see he makes that very, very easy. He makes it fun. He can speak philosophically and intellectually at the same time he can speak fun and he can talk about inanities also. I think it’s great that you can mix it all up.
What do you think audiences are going to love about the sequel?
There are two answers to this question. The first answer is, I don’t think audiences expect me to tell them why they should go and watch this film. That’s my first answer. I don’t think they expect that of me or Shah Rukh or Farhan. I think the audience has made up their mind that they have to go and want to watch this film. I think they smell it. They smell it, they sense it, you know. They have the scent of this film. They understand this film and they know what they are in for. Really, it’s a matter of how they’re going to match their visual imagination of what is to come to what they will see on screen. That’s one.
The second thing is that in Don 1 what they got and expected was an updated version of the original story with a twist or two. Right?! In this one, they have no idea what the story is about. Right?! In the first one, they had a complete idea of what the story was about and you were taken down the line, they were taken down the road and then after awhile there was a twist from the original. Otherwise, we were paying an homage to the original. So, the audiences knew what to expect with new actors, new characters and new technology and new whatever else, but in this one, they have no idea where the story is gonna go from here. So that’s what they’re gonna expect… the unknown, which is great!
What do you think of Hindi cinema today?
You know, what I think is that with Hindi cinema it’s a mix bag. I’ll be very honest with you, there are some pictures that, like anywhere in the world whether it’s French films or German films or Hollywood or for the matter British films, there are some films that won’t turn out very well. There are some films, which have a certain kind of has-been look to it. But what is happening in Indian films right now is that there is a variety of stories that are told. Earlier maybe we were short on story ideas, we were doing the tried and tested story, which was safe. But now people are making pictures with bolder scenes, with newer approaches, with newer story telling techniques. Some of them might fail and some of them might have missed the mark because they are caught between the devil and the deep sea. They don’t know which audience exactly to pander to… whether they should pander to a certain kind of cinema or they are pandering to an audience. So they do get caught out and sometimes paint themselves in a corner and they do not know what to do. But even that is fine because they learn from their mistakes. But what is happening is there are a slew of films that are most unusual and not familiar to Indian audiences or for that matter Indian audiences abroad or for that matter even non-Indian audiences abroad. It’s that there is a variety of filmmakers giving us a variety of stories, differently told. Whether they succeed or fail is another story, but the fact is that there are a variety of stories that are being presented to us and we are privy too. I think that’s a great plus. Indian audiences are now not wanting to actually go and watch the tried and tested formula anymore. I think now their palette has been kind of seasoned to a different taste. Earlier people who put their money into projects said ‘No, it’s my money. Please don’t try and experiment with my money. You experiment with your money.’ But what’s happening is now the experimentation is the winner because people are wanting to watch something different.
What do you love about being an actor?
That no two days are the same. You know I can turn around and say I did this scene yesterday; I’m doing another scene tomorrow. And if I’m doing the same scene that I was doing yesterday and it has to be reshot, it will be done differently tomorrow. So that is the great, great joy of being an actor that you are not stuck doing something that has any sort of repetitive value to it. To me that’s one. Two, the other thing that I enjoy as an actor is the thrill of traveling. My work takes me all over the world and I meet so many people, I meet so many new cultures, I meet so many different kinds of people and, if I might say so myself, a lot of love attached to it. It’s not that I’m going around and exploring the sights and that’s just about it, I’m getting to meet people from different countries who love us genuinely. That is a great, great bonus to go to a country where people say ‘you know I’ve watched this film of yours’, even if they are not Indian, which is so amazing. When we were in Berlin there were just 3 or 4% of the people who would come to watch our shoot were of Indian origin. Yeah, which is quite incredible. It just makes me feel so very proud that people can love someone from another country and another culture and another color in this world where so much of bias and racism exists. This just goes to prove that if you are in the arts or any kind or form of expression I think you put aside all your differences and say I can love this person and quite honestly I love them back. To me that is very important. So to me that’s a great plus of being an actor. Yes, of course, like I said artistically it’s a wonderful expressive medium, but at the same time artistically no two days are the same, which is my original answer.
It was an incredible honor to speak with him and I thank Mr. Irani for taking the time to speak with me. I not only enjoyed conducting the interview but also writing it up for your reading pleasure. Don 2 opens to full theaters the world over on December 23rd!