A Minute with Boman Irani

Bollywood late bloomer talks about comedy

MUMBAI -- Boman Irani is one of the few actors in Bollywood who started his career in his forties and still made it big.

Roles in hits like the "Munnabhai" series and "3 Idiots" have made him one of India's most loved actors. But it isn't just slapstick comedy that attracts him.

His latest film is Shyam Benegal's "Well Done Abba," a social comedy where he plays a simple man caught in the snares of a corrupt government system.

Irani spoke about his kind of comedy, what makes him laugh and why he almost said no to playing Virus Sahasrabuddhe in "3 Idiots."

Q: Your next film is "Housefull" which seems to be more of a slapstick comedy and a wholly different genre from "Well Done Abba."

A: I think Benegal's brand of comedy is more issue-based, it is a commentary of our times and has to do with the systems that operate us. Benegal takes that, satirizes it, makes it a human interest story and the comedy emanates from his helplessness, because you are laughing on your own helplessness, because that character reflects you. So you are not laughing at him falling on a banana peel. You are not looking at him for your next laugh but you are laughing at him because you are looking for him to be your champion in many ways.

Q: Personally what kind of comedies do you prefer?

A: If I stick to my choice I would have to make one film in ten years because thats a personal choice. Anything (that) would make me laugh I am willing to do. For me Blake Edwards is really funny but if I say I will only do those kinds of films, I would never be able to do anything because there is no Blake Edwards in India. So whats it got to do with my personal choice? I enjoy every film that I do, good, bad or ugly.

Q: Are audiences in India conditioned to comedies that don’t require you to leave your brain behind?

A: Yes, I think so. I am not just talking about comedies but generally if that was not the case, then films like A Wednesday or Khosla Ka Ghosla wouldn’t have worked. I think we don’t give our audiences enough credit. Of course, dumbed-down comedies do have their place, but that doesn’t mean others can’t work. I would like to fight for many kinds of cinema. Like I think "Well Done Abba" is a film that even a cabbie can enjoy. It is an intelligent film, but it isn’t an intellectual film. It is intellectual only for those who care to intellectualize it.

Q: Going back in time a bit, your character of Virus in "3 Idiots" was hugely liked but there were also those who said it was similar to characters you played in Hirani's earlier films. Do you think that is true?

A: I think that is completely untrue. I don’t see it that way at all. Except for the fact that the same person played all three characters there was no similarity. I wanted to make sure that they were different, because I knew people would point fingers -- that is the job of a certain kind of people. I didn’t want anyone to turn around (and say) that Raju Hirani cast his friend.

There will be an overlap in some roles that I play, does that mean I let go of them? I almost let go of this one because of the same fear.

Q: So you had apprehensions about playing the role?

A: Not apprehensions but I didn’t want people to say that I have played the same thing again. There are some who have said I have caricaturized the character but they don’t realize that I have done it deliberately. Our teachers are caricatures. I couldn’t play the character straight-laced. That would be wrong.