They were starkly different. He expressed feelings. She worded them. He was inwardly committed and reserved. She was brave and strong. Yet they were soul mates, kneaded with the same ingredient. She looks at the prose of life from the perspective of poetry. Their reunion was a pairing of minds, a "union" of sensations, that took the ebb and flow with subconscious force. Indeed, Sutapa Sikdar, after Irrfan Khan's sad death in 2020, is the emotional bond between the actor and his legion of fans, captivating them with strange ideas about him. He lives in and through her in the memory of the filmmakers.
Excerpts from a heart-touching interview…
What brought Irrfan and you together while at the National School of Drama (NSD) in Delhi?
When you look at things, they become clearer than they were when they actually happened. Irfan has always said: "You have a tendency to support the underdog and that is why we are together." But now that the fog has lifted and I can see everything without air conditioning, I know it was fate. We were made to be together. It was a hot summer day in Delhi when I first saw him. A skinny young man in a black terry-cotton bell bottom and a light green printed shirt, with a Rajasthani leather shoulder bag, walks into the NSD lobby. He's definitely not my type. I was born and raised in Delhi with the best exposure to international film, music, and arts. We were completely different. But still, there was something about him, even though he was extremely shy with negligible social skills, that made me turn around and stare at this skinny boy. It was a sincerity that was written on her face and her focus on him. Despite being from a small town, he was not fascinated. I knew this guy didn't come to try to act as an alternative career or full scholarship, he came there because of the passion that surrounded him like an aura. I am oblivious to sincerity. His intelligence was of a different kind. This is demonstrated through skill, not just words. He didn't want to be the most popular guy in NSD. He wanted to be the most popular in the country, I think.
How different were you two as artists and people?
He was an introvert and hated arguing. I can win an argument for and against the same issue. He was in and I was out. Discover. I even spoke his thoughts of him. Now when I look back, he was the same character with different tools. We were the same in the basics. We believed in similar things like social equality. We were rebels. I hated the air conditioning. He wanted to develop. NSD was like its rebirth. He was a kind soul. Me too, but I can be aggressive if necessary. I can fight for my rights. He wouldn't be able to do that right now. He was represented. I was not. It was pretty clear to me that he never wanted to be one. He was patient. he was impatient
You mentioned in an interview, ‘ours was not a marriage, it was a union’. Why did you say that?
Mostly, one marries because of insecurity. We don't like to admit it, but sometimes we just don't have the courage to stay in a non-marital relationship. Or sometimes, we want to be in someone's life forever and mention that as a reason to get married. Some say we want to have children, name them, and then get married. All of these basically adhere to the social structure. No marriage can guarantee compatibility, understanding, and a willingness to stay together. So I call it a guild. Marriage is a social norm as well as the union of two people, willing to risk their lives, to be themselves and stay together. In the beginning, our marriage had many gaps. But our union always won.
What was that remarkable quality that kept Irrfan going through his struggle?
There were many, as he never gave up his abilities. He had dreams, but there was no urgent need. Yes, he sometimes felt better than his many leadership successes at the time. But the beauty of him was that he was not fidgety or irritable as if he were on a journey without a time bomb exploding to reach the destination.
It’s said he valued your analysis about a performance. How involved were you in his work?
I read his texts and gave my bits. But basically, I did autopsies on his movies. I was wondering what he thought of his characters, his lines, or the script in general during preparation. Our late-night conversations were mainly about what I thought about this and that in the script. It's easy to analyze, but understanding a point of view and doing it your way was a great quality that Irvan had as an actor.
With success, Irrfan won the title of the ‘thinking woman’s lexicon. How did he view romance and love?
This was the final for him. He believed that love is the guiding factor. He could also fall in love with the singer's voice. He was in love. He tried to look at love from the angle of the lightness of being, the love that transcends man.
You mentioned that Irrfan was ‘not husband material. What were the ways in which he made you feel special?
He didn't make me feel special. I knew he was. I couldn't imagine his life without me. He doesn't seem so humble, but for many years he was afraid that I would get bored and let him go.
You stated Irrfan ‘redefined fatherhood’. Why?
I am sure there are many parents who do this. But it was a surprise to me that Irrfan Khan didn't set his expectations on his children (Babylon and Ayan Khan). They do not carry the family inheritance nor are they considered bearers of advancing in the genealogical tree. He believed that all that was needed was for them to be good people. He never used the word "future" for his children. I wanted them to enjoy the present. They never heard any preaching lessons on family traditions and values, which they had to carry out. He said that the human race is a burden on this universe, so let's be as grateful as possible to the universe. He hated the word "proud". He never used it. He did not believe in making children a prototype of a particular religion, class, or creed. But inadvertently he filled them with wisdom and spirituality. I always felt that he would create a new spiritual order and that he would finally leave all the stardom or the trap that enslaves the human soul.
You once quoted Irrfan’s favorite poet, Anaïs Nin’s lines, “people living deeply have no fear of death.” How did Irrfan take his cancer diagnosis?
It was horrible because it was surprising. But I didn't see him overreact, not for the lack of men crying but for a deeper reason. He was in terrible pain when he started treatment. We share some very painful personal moments. But he was simply worried about me, not himself.
You called him a ‘warrior’. Why?
Because he fought bravely without thinking of the consequences as in war.
The two and a half years of his treatment following his diagnosis in 2018… what did this interlude teach you?
That everything can wait, be it a career or success. But it is not your family, nor the time you owe them. So, just be there for them and with them.
You shared that Irrfan could laugh at his own disease. Can you share an anecdote?
I remember we were lying in Hyde Park, London, after a chemotherapy session and we were planning our next trip to Europe with the boys. He suddenly laughed and said, "How can I bring so many unwanted guests into my body (referring to illness) for a family vacation?"
How did Irrfan’s perspective towards life change? What were things he wanted to tick on the bucket list?
The planting of forests and the immersion in astronomy were some of them. But it was clear that life is more than what we seek, and we must seek the inner world more than the outer world.
You bid him goodbye by singing his favorite songs. Which were those?
Jhoola kinne dala re, amraiya, jhoole mora saiyaan, loon main baliyaan ... by Umrao Jaan, Lag jaa gale ke phir yeh haseen raat ho na ho (Woh Kaun Thi?), El ghazal Aaj jaane ki zid na karo .. . and some Rabindra sangeet. He was unconscious but tears were falling.
You mentioned that his death was ‘not a loss’ but again. Please elaborate.
I realized how much I gained from him emotionally and spiritually. I am grateful to have spent my life with him. It's time to celebrate, reflect, and rethink the way we view life, which probably wouldn't exist if he had been alive. I also won over many other people who told incredible stories about his experiences with him. He won't talk much about them.
What gives you the strength to embrace life without him?
It's basically him: his vision and his ability to cope with difficulties. And my beloved friends, who have always been there.Also Read - Selena Gomez OPENS UP about turning 30 this year: I love growing up