24 October,2014:Â Boman Irani, 55, is emotional, loyal and cuddly, who can cry possibly watching even Tom and Jerry. He started his life as a waiter, went on to becoming a photographer, did theatre and finally made his debut in Bollywood at the age of 44 with Raju Hirani’s Munna Bhai M.B.B.S. Ahead of his upcoming dance heist film Happy New Year, he talks about the extremely driven Shah Rukh Khan, his soulmate and wife Zenobia and how he has landed up doing in his lifeprofessionally what his father did as a hobby. Excerpts:
How did you come into films?
I was born and brought up in Nagpada in Mumbai. My mom brought me up as a single parent as my father died before I was born. Post school, I worked as a waiter for two years at Hotel Taj Mahal, Colaba, till the age of 21. We had a small shop, where my father used to manufacture potato wafers. My mother was indisposed, so I joined the family business that was really a small bhatti, to look after it, till my mom could come back to looking after it. It was also here that I met my wife Zenobia. She was a customer at the shop from where she became a frequent customer, then a daily customer and before we knew it, we got married when I was 25 and had two sons. About five years after my marriage, I decided to take up photography as I loved it very much. It was also a creative outlet for me and I started by shooting sports events. I also freelanced for the TOI, where if the TOI photographer did not come, I would double up. I made a little money and realised that I could buy a lens out of that and thought of making it a career. I went and trained in Chennai for two months, came back to Mumbai and then started working with advertising. I started with a sporty ad and then started shooting faces after which I got the chance to shoot for Miss India.
I shot the Femina Look of the Year and I was asked to do a portfolio for each of the contestants. Those pictures became a hit and I also started training the girls as I was very good at making them comfortable, making them do things and use some acting technique to relax. Diana Hayden used to be an assistant with Anaida, the singer. I felt that she should be in front of the camera and I shot her portfolio for Miss India. And she went on to becoming Miss World. I did about five Miss Indias and then became a part of the training programme and then became a part of the jury. It was when I was about 35 that Shiamak Davar introduced me to theatre and said, ‘You are meant to be on stage.’ He took me to Alyque Padamsee, who gave me my first role in a musical. It did great for me. And the next thing I know is that other directors had approached me to do a talking part. I did a few plays like I’m Not Bajirao and Mahatma Vs Gandhi, where I played Gandhi and it did very well. I was offered my first film Let’s Talk by Ram Madhvani from where Vidhu Vinod Chopra saw me and cast me for Munna Bhai M.B.B.S. I was 44 and had made my debut in the Hindi film industry.
Who do you love the most in the world?
My wife Zenobia. I have the greatest respect for her as a human being. She is my conscience and a great soulmate. She is willing to tell me where I am going wrong and never has to fear where she may offend me. When she tells you, it’s not an opinion, but it is care. And the beauty is that there is nothing rude about her. Even if she says something rude, she will say it so comically that no one will ever take offence. She is clear-headed and selfless. She is extremely clear, especially about values. Her friends, relatives, her in-laws, her parents all value what she has to say and that is a great quality. She is also the CIA when it comes to me. She knows exactly where I am at any point in time.
What are you like?
I am peace-loving. I will say what comes to my mind without being offensive. I am an ethically strict person and take pride in my loyalty. I am emotional and can show my emotions stupidly. I work hard, but can be lazy. I am not ambitious or competitive at all, but I’d like to fulfill some of my dreams. I want to do some films where I can sit with my grandchildren and say, ‘The old man did this.’ Potentially, I feel there is more and I have not done that yet. I would love to do theatre again.
Which was your lowest period?
Before I turned to photography, I was totally conflicted. I was married, was doing a great, honest job as a shopkeeper and was proud of myself, was content, but there was a roaring dragon waiting to explode in my stomach. It needed to explode. I would sit and write behind the cash counter and send my articles to the Times of India. I would write short stories, seeking my appreciation from Zenobia. My kids were growing up and they must have been like about five, I needed a little more money to give them a better life and at the same time, I had this dragon roaring inside me. When photography happened, the dragon came out, but financially it was tough. But I know that I would have been a miserable man had I not made that change. You may feel surprised, but my mother always knew about my talent and encouraged me to watch movies. She would tell me, ‘Finish your homework and then go watch the movie again.’ There was great wisdom in that.
What did it mean to be brought up without a father?
No idea. It made no difference to me. Maybe once, when I went to school, I remember one kid’s father came in a jeep to pick him up and this kid told me how they were going out on the weekend on a wild lodge and maybe, I may have felt something missing. But it was difficult for my mother to bring us up by herself. My father had died of nephritis, when he was just 28, the bills had piled up and she had three little girls and I was yet to be born to be looked after. I believe my father was a wonderful man. And while I have seen a charcoal drawing of his, I have never seen a photograph of my father. Coincidentally, just a few days back, I felt like seeing his picture and asked my sister to show it to me as I believe she has his picture. And can you believe it, he was a photographer by hobby and was also a super writer and speaker. And somewhere, I did all of that.
What kind of a father are you?
I have two sons and while I let them be, at times, I want to know where they are after 12 at night. I want them to just say, ‘Hey, I am here. I am fine and will come back at this time’, but they make fun of me. My sons have stored my name as ‘Where are you?’ on their mobile. They say, ‘Dad, you think you are cool by calling us and asking what’s up, hope you are having a great time, but in reality you only want to know where we are?’ I will subtly ask should I wake up to play a game, but they know. The good thing is that when they come to me for advice, I am sensible. I am not very good at business, but I can put it succinctly and articulate it very well and can even spice it up with humour.
Would you do photography again?
Sure. I sometimes just land up at my assistant’s place and do some stuff even now.
Your favourite directors?
Raju Hirani, Farah Khan and Shyam Benegal. Raju will not have a single scene, where his heart has not guided his pen. Even his humour is guided through his heart. Raju is a baba in his own world, he could well be on Mount Kailash and no one would know. Farah has got her finger on the heart of entertainment. Her films have a lot of emotion in them. There is something about her eye where she knows how to fill up the frame. She knows her chops and this I am not saying out of my affection for her. Mr Benegal does not like to be revered as much as he is and he likes to be part of the conversation of youngsters. Many directors have not even made 18 films in their life whereas he has that many National Awards.
You have worked with Shah Rukh in Main Hoon Na, Don, Don2 and now in Happy New Year. Tell us about working with him?
He is an extremely determined and driven human being. He would like everything to be the best. He will always say, ‘Lets do it like it has not been done. Let’s shoot two days extra. I am willing to pump in the money, but let’s do it right.’ Working with him, the entire unit has a sense of joy. He has a one-liner for everyone. He calls me Tiger and sometimes, even Sex Bomb. He has a very God-given energy that is whizzing around him for everyone to feel infused and feel that you are part of something that is big. He has a quality that after pack-up, the door to his room is always open and everybody is welcome. He is a great team player. He does wear his heart on his sleeve and in his own way, does show you his affection. For instance, if you walk into his van and are stressed about something, he will see it in your eyes and there is no doubt that he knows how to give you strength.
Source:The Times of India