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'We Had A Tom And Jerry Relationship'

May 06, 2024 10:09 IST
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'I believed that no matter what happened, I would be there to take care of him.'
'He believed it too and even when he fell ill, he had total faith in me, ki main sab theek kar doongi.'
'I tried, I really tried, but I fell short and he went away.'

IMAGE: Sutapa Sikdar with Irrfan Khan. Photograph: Kind courtesy Babil Khan/Instagram

On Irrfan's fourth death anniversary on April 29, his wife Sutapa Sikdar said she can still feel his presence.

There are so many stories from the late actor's life that still need to be said.

Sutapa tells Senior Contributor Roshmila Bhattacharya: "We would have heated fights because he thought I was too hyper. He would say, 'Sutapa, why can't you control your voice?' And I would retort, 'Why can't you control your smoking?'

There is a scene in The Namesake in which holding his young son's hand, Irrfan's Ashoke Ganguli walks down a long path at the end of which there is nothing but the ocean, and, as he says later, nowhere left to go.
Realising that he has forgotten to bring his camera, Ashoke tells Gogol he will now have to carry the picture in his head...

It's strange that we hardly clicked any pictures either.

We had a video camera, but even those were not digitised.

That's why today when I am asked for photographs, I hardly have any.

So do you carry pictures of moments with him in your head like Gogol?

Yes, I do and the moment which really lives on in my mind is one we didn't click.

I clearly remember standing with him on the terrace of our house in Jaipur.

I was uncomfortable because it was so hot.

Noticing this, Irrfan told me that I would have to to find a way to beat the oppressive heat without relying on air-conditioners.

Stripping off his shorts, he said, 'Thodi der kaadi raho, body ko aadat padh jayegi. (Just stand for a while, the body will get accustomed to the heat).'

Then, as he calmly stood beside me, bare bodied, it suddenly became cloudy.

He smiled.

Within half an hour, it started to rain.

(Beaming) That was my Kodak moment.


(Smiles) Irrfan always had a connection with rain.

More recently, when I was at the Jaipur Lit Fest, there were unseasonal torrential showers during our session.

Even at the Kanha National Park, it rained the night we reached.

These recurring signs convince me that that he lives, telling us that if we believe in the things he did, life will okay.


IMAGE: Irrfan Khan. Photograph: Kind courtesy Babil Khan/Instagram

What is the one thing which was really important to him?


In today's time, it's very difficult to be honest to your craft.

There were times when he would be in doubt and I would tell him that he shouldn't do it if he wasn't convinced.

I believed that no matter what happened, I would be there to take care of him.

He believed it too and even when he fell ill, he had total faith in me, ki main sab theek kar doongi (that I would make everything okay).

I thought I could too.

I tried, I really tried, but I fell short and he went away.

That is my one big regret.

Today, when our kids rely solely on me, I sometimes wonder if he still has the same faith in me or if he is thinking, 'Yeh kar payegi ki nahin? (Can she really do this?)'

Temperamentally, you were very different personalities, right?

At the core, we were alike, but on the surface, we were completely different.

We functioned at a different pace too.

When he woke up, Irrfan would not want to hear any sounds.

He would do his meditation and yoga, then step out of the bedroom to my saptam wali awaaz.

He did not like it that I panicked over things like the cook not turning up.

We would have heated fights because he thought I was too hyper.

He would say, 'Sutapa, why can't you control your voice?'

And I would retort, 'Why can't you control your smoking?'

We had a Tom and Jerry kind of relationship.

I was never quiet; I always had an answer to counter anything he said.

Irrfan would sit quietly for some time, then come with his own master stroke.

(Laughs) Even when we were giving each other back, we had a different rhythm.

IMAGE: Babil Khan with his parents, Sutapa Sikdar and Irrfan Khan. Photograph: Kind courtesy Babil Khan/Instagram

Yet, you were married for 25 years.

I gave him the comfort to live his life the way he wanted.

(Laughs) Even when his relatives dropped by, Irrfan would tell me to go the living room and attend to them while the lazy man finished four-five pages of the book he was reading in the bedroom before joining what to him was the same mundane conversation.

My friends would sometimes reprimand me for giving up on my ambitions and creativity but there was so much I learnt from him.

Our journey began as a physical attraction between two 20 year olds and grew into a spiritual bonding at the end.

We grew together, he in leaps and bounds, and I from walking beside him.

Had my partner not evolved the way Irrfan did, life would have been so boring.

He had so many varied interests.

Like what?

Well, he was keenly interested in astronomy.

He loved watching documentaries on different subjects which he would then discuss with me.

Then, there was agriculture.

He didn't want to remain in showbiz for too long.

He wanted to earn a lot of money, then leave films and the city.

He wanted to get into organic farming.

(Laughs) I didn't have to enroll for any of the classes that keep popping up on my Instagram feed.

Every day, there was a workshop happening at home, which I could attend free of cost.

IMAGE: Irrfan Khan and Sutapa Sikdar. Photograph: Kind courtesy Babil Khan/Instagram

He thought highly of you, as a writer...

(Laughs) I don't think so, he once made me rewrite a scene for Banegi Apni Baat seven times.

But yes, he trusted my opinion.

He would read out every line to me.

He would not take a single step without me reading the script.

Of course, the final decision to do a film was his even when I wasn't entirely convinced.

From Hindi Medium onwards, he understood what people wanted and was trying to find a way to tell them a new story in their language.

When I complained something was too illogical, he would urge me to go by the emotions inherent in the scene.

(Laughs) But right from our first meeting, I had the power to raise doubts in him with my questions and as a result, the Hindi Medium climax was rewritten five times by five different people.

You must have had many creative discussions?

Loads of them on every film, except the ones I didn't really care for.

He approached a scene like an actor while I looked at it through the eyes of the writer.

We would discuss the minutest of details, like why 'but' and not 'then'.

Thanks to his training in Hollywood where they are very specific about the choice of words, he understood when I told him that I had a problem with him dropping a particular word during a shot because the writer must have used it with some something specific in mind.

By going away too soon, Irrfan did miss out on a lot of opportunities.

Top directors, both at home and in Hollywood, were thinking to taking him in their projects.

But when work resumed after the COVID-19 pandemic, everything had changed so much that I don't know how much he would have enjoyed himself in this world of lies, falsities and social media obsession.

I keep telling him he's lucky he is no longer around.

IMAGE: Ayaan, Babil with their parents Sutapa Sikdar and Irrfan Khan. Photograph: Kind courtesy Babil Khan/Instagram

What are the qualities your sons have picked up from the two of you?

Today, everyone has anxiety issues and since Ayaan was much younger when he lost his father, it really affected his mental health.

But he's grown up to be as calm and balanced as Irrfan.

(Laughs) And as methodical when it comes to finance as his mother.

Like Babil, is he planning to follow in his father's footsteps too?

No, Ayaan is getting into music production.

(Laughs) During the interview, when he was asked if he wanted to work on stage and off it, pat came his answer, 'Off stage!'

Like Irrfan, Ayaan doesn't like shoo-shah or the social media.

He's like, 'Mujhe kahin chhupa lo! (Hide me somewhere!)'

But at the same time, whenever I have a problem, Ayaan is the one I turn to for an answer.

IMAGE: Babil Khan with Irrfan Khan. Photograph: Kind courtesy Babil Khan/Instagram

What kind of a problem?

It could be something related to day-to-day life or work.

When he sees me getting anxious, Ayaan will ask me to take a deep breath and think what is the worst that can happen if I didn't do what I didn't want to.

Just thinking about it relaxes me and finally, when I say, we will simply lose a lot of money, he will reply, unperturbed, 'So, it's not all that bad, is it? Neither you, Babil bhai or I will die. We are just going to lose some money.'

After I lost Irrfan, I wonder who I would talk to.

Ayan is that person now.

He's an old soul, a 20 year old in a 40-year-old body who can help me deconstruct my thoughts.

After Irrfan, I couldn't sleep for two-three years, the kids didn't want me to take sleeping pills.

Now, I just have to speak to Ayaan for half-an-hour, and I can sleep peacefully.

What's Babil like?

Babil has inherited my spontaneity, he's also as social as I am.

He has his father's work ethic, for him work is worship too.

He's also learnt from Irrfan that it's important to be a good human being, love everybody irrespective of class, creed and colour which is why his team is most important to him.

Finally, he knows when to surrender.

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