Before he gained recognition as principal Asthana in Munnabhai MBBS, actor Boman Irani ran his family-owned bakery, then opened a chips shop that failed, was and still is a photographer and a theatre actor of merit. Irani talks to Salil Jayakar about the unconventional path he trod to become a renowned actor.
Was acting on your mind even when you were in school?
I wanted to be a pilot or an astronaut. But I also felt there would be an artistic outlet for me at some stage. So, I took up photography as a child and used a still camera. And after my stint at the shop, the first thing I did was to pick up the camera -- I wanted to be a wildlife photographer with National Geographic!
What sort of student were you a bully, a rebel, a nerd?
No, I wasn't a bully, but a bit of a rebel, yes. Nerd is not a bad word because I thought I was intellectually capable but it never translated into marks. My own spirit reflected I was not, which was good enough of me. I learnt a lot about life and many other things that help me even today.
I used to read a lot. Reading is a great source of entertainment. I would imagine how a book would translate into film; how a character would come to life on screen.
'I was never sure about acting in a Hindi film'
You have played some difficult principals in your movies. Were you inspired by your own?
Lucky for me, my principals were great human beings and visionaries. They were men of letters, and great orators and very kind. Ultimately, whether you are a cop or a principal, if you are a man in a position of power, it can alter the lives of many. I'm playing those people in power who shape people's lives.
How did your first assignment in a mainstream Bollywood film happen?
Back then, I was never sure about acting in a Hindi film because of the language. But my character was that of a UK-returned doctor. So, they asked me to improvise on the lines. It was an ordinary role if you take the laughter away from it. But the audience loved it.
'Youngsters today have way more opportunities'
Did you ever face rejection before your first big break?
I can't say I've faced any rejection as an actor, but there has been a period of struggle. Rejection, if any, has come from within to do things differently.
Rejection comes from your own disappointment, from yourself. You cannot be complacent or comfortable in what you do.
Do youngsters today have more opportunities than in your younger days? Your advice to them.
Definitely! They have way more opportunities. But they have to face greater competition than we did.
'You don't work hard for accolades'
Your take -- choose a career that pays or a career you love?
If you love what you do and if you are good at it, it will pay. If you are not good at what you do and if you don't love what you do, then you will never make money even in a lucrative career.
What does it take to be successful?
Reinventing yourself is important, as long as you are happy doing it. You have to look for a new challenge in what you do and reinvent the soul of what you are doing...it's great fun!
You work for the person you stare at in the mirror every day. Be your own arbiter and only then let people judge you.
I feel stagnation and comfort are the undoing of creativity and growth. You don't work hard for accolades. What's the big deal in that? There should be a fire in the belly. Every time should be the first time!