(L to R ) Babil Khan, Irrfan Khan and Tripti Dimri
“In the theatre, it’s your body that is your tool. In film, it’s your soul.” This is just one of the many life lessons Babil Khan received from his late father Irrfan when he told him he wanted to be an actor (apart from his first reaction, which was “You’re so screwed.”) Babil holds them close to his heart as he embarks on his cinematic debut in the gorgeously mounted Qala, releasing soon on Netflix. Babil plays a singer who seems to be touched by divinity, and who sings because it is like breathing to him. A graduate of film studies from the University of Westminster in London, he uses his father’s life teachings as his mantras. Two are predominant. First, you can’t be a good actor if you don’t know about life and people. “Don’t judge,” he said, “Because if you do, you can never get under the skin of anyone else. You need to have innate respect for people.” Second, surrender. When he was 10, Irrfan would throw him into a stream near his farmhouse in Igatpuri every day until the day he stopped splashing. The day he stopped fighting the water, his lesson had been learnt. The pain of losing his father infuses almost every scene Babil has in Qala. “It was so raw then,” he says. “The pain is still there, it’s just that I’ve learnt to reflect on it better,” he adds. All of 24, he says he discovered his love of acting when he was in Class 8 at Tridha School in Mumbai. “I forgot my lines but improvised and translated them into Hindi. It was Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors and the joy of making people laugh that attracted me.” He’s just begun but is already aware of the distractions that come in a young actor’s life—the red carpet looks, the parties, the personal PR. “In this industry, you have to fight for your art and your craft. You have to keep one foot out and remember where you came from,” Babil says. And when fame comes, keep your mother close to you. Especially when it is an accomplished writer like Sutapa Sikdar.
Beauty from Another Age
Tripti Dimri was the quietest of three children, and not particularly good at studies as she went from Kendriya Vidyalaya, RK Puram, Delhi, to Sri Aurobindo College, evening shift, also in Delhi. “I never saw myself at a desk, working nine to five,” she says. Thank God for that. After playing the exquisite Laila in Laila Majnu (2018), the tortured young wife in Bulbbul (2020), Dimri is now all-too-broken in Qala. Reunited with her director from Bulbbul, Anvita Dutt, Dimri plays a 1940s singing star in Kolkata before the Hindi movie industry went to Mumbai. As the young singer who struggles against being invisible, against a mother who thinks singing is only for courtesans and not for respectable women, she is both fire and ice, rage and calm calculation. In playing Qala, she not only embodies the purity of Begum Akhtar’s voice but also the tragedy of singing superstars like her being limited by their gender when it came to the culture of gharanas. Dimri is not a trained actor but insists on workshops before she embarks on any role—she’s done two with Saurabh Sachdeva, an acting coach, and participated in the Milon Mela acting workshop in Santiniketan which teaches everything from Baul singing to Kalaripayattu, from breathing exercises to walking with nature. “By the end of the workshop, I could feel myself becoming more open,” she says. Her aha! moment happened when she did a short video for Vipra Dialogues, a YouTube channel that has ceased to exist, which went viral. Her desire for wanting to do something different came true. Now, all she wants to do is be honest in the moment and take her craft one day at a time.
Scene and Heard
Temsunaro Jamir is the director of the National Gallery of Modern Art, Delhi. So what does she have to do with cinema? She told a FICCI (Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry) conference recently that when she came to Delhi from Nagaland in 2000, she was asked how she spoke such good Hindi. “Mere paas Bollywood hai,” she would say, while adding that when she was growing up, women didn’t have so many speaking parts in Hindi movies, so she got her gender wrong, and now refers to everything in the masculine. Oh, the unintended consequences of gaslighting women on screen.