When Irrfan got into an argument with Mira Nair

Irrfan Khan

Irrfan Khan admits that Ashoke Ganguli was one of the most difficult characters he has played and while working on The Namesake, he was often groping in the dark wondering how to make this unobtrusive first-generation Indian immigrant settled in the US, memorable.
He even got into an argument with director Mira Nair over the pronounced Bengali accent, reasoning that a professor, whose job was communicating with his students in English, would have got rid of the accent in three decades. And then he met novelist Jhumpa Lahiri’s father, Amar Lahiri, a librarian at the University of Rhode Island, who spoke exactly the way Mira wanted.

“I taped him, without his permission, and listening to his voice, I slowly began to form a picture of Ashoke in my mind,” the actor reminisces. Ashoke is a reticent character who didn’t express much and Irrfan admits he didn’t expect him to make much of an impression on the audience. He didn’t see the film in New York, Toronto or Venice.

In fact he didn’t see it for a long time and was pleasantly surprised when Aditya Bhattacharya called him to say he had no words to describe the film. Curiously, Irrfan asked him about Ashoke and Aditya replied, “He’s the character you come out of the theatre remembering.” That struck him as odd since Ashoke dies early in the film. So, when in New York he saw the film for the first time and was overwhelmed by the response.

“One lady was crying in front of my photograph, another came up to thank me. Parents who saw it immediately called their children to recommend a watch and vice versa. After it came to India I got a lovely message from Sharmila Tagore who had taken my breath away in Apur Sansar saying, ‘Thank your parents for giving you birth.’ It was amazing that a film could strike a chord across generations and continents,” he muses.