Actor Pavan Kaushik recalls shooting with Irrfan Khan in the late actor’s early Doordarshan days.
I have admired Irrfan Khan for more than three decades. I have been very fortunate to have worked with Irrfan Khan Bhai together in the Doordarshan TV Serial “Nirmala”, based on Munshi Premchand’s work, in the eighties. He played a doctor and I was Jiya, one of Nirmala’s sons. His wife, Sutapa Sikdar, was the production manager of the serial, directed by Parminder Singh Tony. Preeti Khare, who is also into the television industry, played the character of Nirmala.
Not many people know that “Nirmala” was one of Irrfan Bhai’s first few TV serials.
The extra ‘r’ that you find in his name now was not there at that time. His presence on the sets was to be seen. He was always reserved and kept most of the time to himself. In fact, he was more into reading script and rehearsals. We had hired a rural house for the shoot that had many rooms. Irrfan Bhai would be confined to one of the rooms and we could see him practising his dialogues.
There were no air conditioners and OB vans at that time. During the shooting, even the coolers were switched off. Dubbing was a luxury. Thus, everything had to be perfect. Due to sunlight, most of the shooting was done in summers.
At that time, I had already done a couple of television serials and was a little-known face, but seeing his intensity and hard word, I honestly felt I had to learn the basics of acting. I wanted to be an actor like him. But certain qualities are god’s gift and come with hard work. I was deprived of both. Neither could I be as intense as him, nor could I do that hard work in acting.
In fact, I was scolded by the director and was asked to follow Irrfan Bhai for dialogue delivery. He was so much at ease when he was in front of the camera. Not just me, almost all the other actors admired Irrfan Bhai. I have no hesitation in saying that Irrfan Bhai’s perfect shots saved a lot of the time that actors like me consumed in retakes!
Irrfan Bhai and Sutapa were not married till the shooting of “Nirmala”. Sutapa controlled the entire production. It generally took four to five days to complete an episode back then. I did not see them interacting on the sets also. They both were thorough professionals and stuck to their respective roles. But like everyone knows about Irrfan Bhai, he would very seriously slip a joke out of his sleeves and keep quiet and let the rest of the people fall in fits of laugh.
I spoke to Irrfan Bhai about four to five years. In about 10-15 minutes of the call I had to remind him of the days of “Nirmala”, and then the chat turned to queries about who is how and where. It was unbelievable that a legend like him had kept his memories of struggles intact.
For me, acting was temporary and, ultimately, I had to enter a job. For Irrfan Bhai it was a passion to reach the top in the film industry, not just in India but globally — which he pursued and achieved. Sutapa was always his inspiration and strength, that was visible at the time of “Nirmala” also, and she remained his strength forever.
Irrfan Bhai will be missed by the film industry. His versatility and devotion will remain as an institution of learning.
(Pavan Kaushik played the character of Jiya in the Doordarshan serial “Nirmala”).