Why Rishi Kapoor and Irrfan Khan will remain unforgettable
Chandan Roy Sanyal recalls his rendezvous with the late Irrfan Khan and Rishi Kapoor around their second death anniversaries
Rishi Kapoor and Irrfan Khan- Unlike in method. Alike in madness. So, when the two thespians faced each other and the camera for Nikkhil Advani’s D-Day, not only did it spark a spellbinding cinematic conversation, it also spawned a great bonhomie off it. The select room at the Taj, Ahmedabad, where they would wind down with the unit after a challenging day at work, was privy to their free-flowing banter – ranging from Rishi’s formidable legacy to Irrfan’s journey from nowhere. An ardent listener, amongst the team, was actor Chandan Roy Sanyal. In that ‘vintage room’, where the two stalwarts, toasted memories and moments, Chandan picked up pointers for his own journey.
A few years later, sadly both Rishi and Irrfan were diagnosed with cancer and passed away one day apart from each other. The Universe had indeed conspired to bring them together just as it had planned their exit. Two pilgrims crossed paths to leave behind souvenirs for Chandan Roy Sanyal to be cherished forever.
IN CHANDAN ROY SANYAL’S OWN WORDS…
It was Rishiji (Kapoor), who introduced me to Irrfan Khan saab during the shoot of-D Day (2013) in Ahmedabad. He told Irrfan saab, “Chandan se milo, yeh tumhare ‘school’ ka actor hai!” I felt humbled.
Every evening after the shoot, director Nikkhil Advani, Arjun Rampal, Irrfan saab, and some more from the team including me would visit Rishiji’s room ( at The Taj, Ahmedabad). I was acquainted with Rishiji as we had featured in Hema Malini’s Tell Me O Kkhuda (2011) with Esha Deol. I’d grown up watching his films. So, I was in awe of his star actor persona. He grew fond of me too. I won’t say Rishiji was a friend but after Tell Me O Kkhuda, we stayed in touch.
Coming back to what we dubbed as the ‘vintage room’ at the Taj, we all looked forward to those evening sessions. Of course, I was intimidated by the two powerhouses – Rishiji and Irrfan saab. I looked up to them as my seniors. Like a schoolboy, I listened to them with rapt attention and tried to absorb their methods and views into my system.
Irrfan saab spoke of Raj Kapoor’s films and filmmaking, of Guru Dutt, the cinema of the ’40s and the ’50s… He was curious to know about Rishiji’s childhood and the influences of his father, Raj Kapoor. Once Rishiji shared how Bobby (1973) was offered to him one evening on the dinner table. How he addressed his father as ‘Rajji’ and not ‘Papa’ on the set. How Rajji was a strict director and extracted the most from his actors and many such stories.
Similarly, Rishiji wanted to understand Irrfan saab’s acting tools and method. I being the junior-most, my job was to fix drinks. I remember having some great Scotch with Irrfan saab. I don’t know whether he was a foodie or not but Rishiji, as we all know, was a food enthusiast. So, the menu had to be special each night. A rookie, I was in charge of calling up restaurants and placing orders. Sometimes, it would be Chinese. Sometimes it would be Punjabi fare. Often, his fans from the city would send across special delicacies. The night would be wrapped up with a lavish meal. Rishiji and I would have dinner after all had left.
As an actor, Rishji trusted his co-actors. He appreciated truth. He didn’t like being lied to. An actor is aware of whether he has done the scene correctly or not. Rishiji would know where he had faltered. Sometimes people would praise him just for the heck of it saying, “Rishiji kya shot diya hai aapne!”
He’d get angry and retort, “Tum jhooth bol rahe ho! Mujhe pata hai maine kya kiya hai.” People thought he was being rude. But he was a stickler for honesty. I guess he liked me because I was straightforward with him. The respect and love that I felt for him could be seen in my eyes. Whatever I said or did for him came from the heart. He knew yeh ladka sach bolta hai. It was an actor-to-actor connection between us.
Once, after canning a shot for D-Day, Rishiji was exceptionally excited. He believed he had done it well. When we were having drinks in the evening, he asked me, “Kaisa tha woh scene, bahut achcha tha na?” I didn’t react. He asked again. I couldn’t help say, “You’re playing Dawood Ibrahim but the way you pronounced the word ‘terrorist’ in the dialogue had an English accent.” A trifle annoyed he retorted, “Toh tu ne bataya kyon nahi?” I said how could I talk big in front of my seniors! He understood and hugged me. When D-Day was released and his performance was praised, I called him up to say so. He was so happy.
In, 2016-2017 I was making a short film with my own funds. I wanted to shoot a sequence in a studio. I got in touch with Rishiji and inquired if I could get a room at R.K. Studio. He said he’d let me now. He called up the next day saying, “Maaf karde yaar, the rooms have been booked by television serials.” I said please don’t apologize. Such was the graciousness of the man.
Irrfan saab, as an actor, was sateek (perfect). His subtext was strong. Usually, actors just follow the written word. But Irrfan had the power of grasping what was between the lines. He used the power of the language, the words… to enhance his performance. His journey had been such. He came from a theatre background and went on to do TV and milestone films like Haasil (2003), Maqbool (2003), The Namesake (2006), Slumdog Millionaire (2008).
Also, he was an actor I could relate to. He came from a simple background. My roots are also modest. From Delhi to Mumbai to Hollywood, Irrfan saab’s journey was incredible. He taught himself acting and took it to a level where the student becomes the scientist. He became a seeker, an adventurer. His approach was that of a Sufi. He didn’t act for fame or fortune. It was more than that.
He was spiritual. He believed in truth and eternity. Abhinay (acting) springs from that. You have to be sensitive; you have to connect with human beings to be able to act. Acting is not about attending an acting school, scoring a few hits, and attaining stardom. Great actors go beyond their job. That’s why they live forever. That’s why when Irrfan saab passed away, his soul connected to millions across the world.
I cherish the compliment Irrfan saab paid me at Javed Jaaferi saab’s Eid party a few years ago. He said, “Kamaal ka screen presence hai tera D-Day mein. Just keep at it. You will go ahead.” This blessing from a senior actor was Eidi (gift) for me. Later that night, I partied with my friends. The next day they told me that all night I kept repeating what Irrfan saab had told me.
I didn’t meet Irrfan saab when he was ill (he was battling a neuroendocrine tumour). But I was aware that he had gone to London for treatment and returned. As for Rishiji, I’d visited New York in 2019 for a film festival. He was undergoing cancer treatment there. I messaged him saying I’d been nominated for Best Actor at a film festival. He said, “Bahut badiya!”. Then I asked whether I could visit him. He replied, “No, I will meet you when I return to Mumbai. Achcha ho jaaonga tab miloonga.” Sadly, that never happened.
Both passed away during the pandemic, a day apart from each other, Irrfan saab on 29 April 2020 and Rishiji on 30 April 2020. I was shaken. I cried. I still do sometimes. A few months later, I visited Irrfan saab’s grave and took along Rajnigandha flowers. I’d heard he loved their fragrance. Just as I cherish the fragrant memories when the two legends came together in one-time frame.
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