Irrfan had a simple philosophy, like a Sufi man, without any tangible needs or desires. Whenever we spoke, he didn’t show that yearning for a fancy house, swanky car, or a lavish holiday, which you commonly hear in the industry. He was content as a person and as an actor. He had no burning ambitions. He loved acting, that’s it. He was chilled out. He picked from the roles that came his way, and he did a fabulous job there. If someone announced a big film, he’d be the last guy to reach out and ask for a role.
‘I had a strange level of comfort with him’
My equation with him was chilled out, wonderful, and thoroughly professional. I had a strange comfort level with him. When I signed him for Jazbaa, he said, “I know Aishwarya (Rai Bachchan) is the hero of your story, but tu mujhe sambhal lena. He asked me for one good punchline in each scene, something that was criticised in reviews. We actually revised the script and rewrote it to ensure he gets the lines… ‘Mobile mein network aur rishton mein bharosa na ho, toh log game khelne lagte hain’, and the film’s closing line, ‘Mohabbat thi isliye jaane diya, zidd hoti to baahon mein hoti.’ He wanted to attempt it and I was happy to work with him on it. Critics thought it was something force-fitted onto him. Even today, these lines are remembered because they were uttered without theatrics. It was done matter-of-factly, which made it so much more believable and striking.
‘He had a wry sense of humour’
His humour rubbed off on me in a big way. He had a wry sense of humour, he would crack a joke without punchlines, and straight-faced. It came naturally to him. Also, his calmness in every situation was something I picked up.
‘He would never second-guess what he has done’
He had absolute, total faith in himself. He would never second-guess what he has done. There’d be no afterthoughts about scenes or asking for retakes. Unless the director wanted something, he was done in one blow. He knew his sur, and the sur of the character so well. He was never off the mark. Even if you saw him in an ensemble film, he was never trying to steal attention from the other actors, and by doing that, he walked away with all the attention.