In the concluding story of #OneYearOfMissingIrrfan, a year after he passed away, the late actor’s son Babil reminisces, ‘I miss my bestest friend and I dream of him often’, even as he says that, in hindsight, Irrfan’s equation with him was a model of genius parenting
You have written about being ‘best friends’ with Irrfan. What do you remember about that friendship now, as you look back?
This was the biggest loss for me. And it is difficult to explain. It is easy to say for someone ‘I am putting myself in your shoes and understanding’. You can’t. You can’t experience something that someone has experienced. The biggest loss I have – see, I really don’t have friends. I have a very, very close circle. And he was my bestest friend. I don’t know how to explain the relationship… (
pauses) If you ever saw us together, you wouldn’t be able to make out if I was his son – we had a ball, man! We fought also like children – (
We were the bestest friends – and that has been the biggest loss for me. People are like, ‘it has been this long, now just get over it’… bro, for 15, 25, 35 years, till the end of my life, I will never be able to get over this. Because it is not possible for me to ever find a friend like him! It has been one year, almost every night, I have dreamt about him. And that is my only area of reaching him – and so I don’t really like waking up, I don’t like the dream coming to an end. And that becomes a problem since I have a schedule, you know (laughs)! I hate waking up. I never had that problem. But now it is like I don’t want to let go of that dream. He was my closest, my bestest – he was my soulmate. When he left, half of my soul left, you know. I can see that there is this huge chunk of me that’s missing, that I guess some day I will be able to rebuild, but…
You know, it is difficult for anyone to face a thing like this, to lose someone, to be hit by that pain. And you want to run away from that pain. But another thing he taught me was that pain is not something to run away from because pain is one of the most beautiful aspects of life. Happiness is great, joy is great – but pain is where the true introspection happens. When you are happy, you are not really introspecting, you’re going with the flow, you’re vibing and everything…
Pain is when you truly introspect. Now saying that doesn’t mean you put yourself through pain purposefully. But when it comes, I would suggest to everyone out there not to run away from pain but to feel it – not react to it, just to feel it, to see where it takes you. This is another lesson he instilled in me – to not run away from pain (
Where has that pain taken you in one year?
This is a long answer! (
laughs, then pauses) I was a very, very lonely child when I was small. No one wanted to be friends with me. And I was a hopeless romantic. If I liked any girl, I would, you know, hopelessly fall in love with her – and this I’m talking like since I was eight! And I would get bullied a lot, intensely. I faced a lot of trouble in my childhood.
And then, when I was 16, I adopted this new personality, of being Irrfan Khan’s son. Not being Babil, but being Irrfan Khan’s son. And I soon realised that this guy, this personality that I have created, he is getting everything that I have ever wanted. Free entry to clubs, girls wanting to meet me, endless friends – not real friends, but I didn’t realise it at that time – all those things that Babil never could get.
And when he passed away, that bubble popped, you know. And the realisation of letting go of that identity you have created, worked so much on it, like you sandpaper the edges of a sculpture – to let go of that personality, to come back to who you are… I have learnt a lot of other things through the pain, but this is the most substantial one. To let go of that identity, to find myself – and I am still doing it – but at least I can say I have let go of a certain identity that was not me.
A lot of people create an identity to enter social structures that deny them entry otherwise and to let go of that identity and just be bravely who you are, doesn’t matter, that is my learning.
Irrfan was a very curious individual, exploring himself, his surroundings, incessantly. Did he push you towards the same reflex?
Yeah, yeah. And you know how he transferred that into me? By making me watch Tarkovsky! At a very very young age. Tarkovsky is something you watch at 40 years, you know, and you are still like ki arey mujhe kuch samajh mein nahi aa raha! He made me watch it when I was 12. I was like what are you making me watch? And he was like nahi please, please just sit down and watch this with me. And I realised that one of the things Tarkovsky talks about is that you have to remain a child. By remaining a child, by remaining vulnerable, you keep your curiosity alive. Once your curiosity diminishes, you are like a dead tree – the potential for your growth is over. The biggest challenge for anyone out there is to keep your curiosity alive, to make sure you remain a child.
Growing up around him was an adventure. You never knew what was coming. There was always a new layer of him. He would keep trying new things.
Irrfan the actor, Irrfan the father, Irrfan the friend – do all these intermingle in the way you remember things, now that you are also stepping into acting as a profession?
Yes, yes. I was gravely upset that he couldn’t see me act even earlier. But that was because of how hard he worked, not because he wasn’t a great father. See, I’ll be very honest with you. People think he was always very talented as an actor. He really wasn’t. When he started off, he wasn’t even a good actor. I watched recordings of his plays in NSD, (private ones, that no one else has). People think he was always talented. Not true. He had serious commitment to his craft, sincere commitment to his craft, and that’s what made him and that’s what made him so good and great later on.
And that commitment meant that he was working very hard, he was at shoots all the time. He was always in that zone. When he came out of that zone, we’d have a blast, of course. I was very upset when I did my 8th grade play and he didn’t show up for that, because, obviously, he was working, he had prior commitments. But I was really upset about that. I think I’m just reminiscing about that because now I’m finally acting and he’s not there to watch it. “If he was there, he’d have given me these kind of tips”… So today when I talk about him as an actor, or his tips, (like he does on Instagram sometimes) it’s part reminiscing, part sharing, part even I don’t know what it is…I regret he could never watch me act.
Not even in any other school play after that 8th grade one?
No, he never had the time na, he was very busy! Look at his body of work! He was always working. But he was a very dedicated father. If I had a problem, if I was going through something, he would step aside from whatever he was doing. But it had to be something that mattered. It was not like an event or a festival or a birthday, not things like that. He would not show up for my birthday or something, I would get upset at that time – but later I realised that he was a really, really dedicated dad. When I was actually going through something – not something that society has constructed but something that I was personally facing – he would drop everything. Even if it was Ang Lee or George Clooney, doesn’t matter who he was having a meeting with, he would push it aside if he saw a message from me like ‘
Baba mujhe samajh nahi aa raha main kya karoon’. Then he will push everything aside and he will call me and talk, even if it takes one hour.
So he never saw you act?
Pauses – and then he remembers something)
He saw me act once, though (
laughs)! I was assisting the camera team in Qarib Qarib Single. There was this shot where me and my then-girlfriend, we had this one second shot as extras. And he was so excited to see me in front of the camera, he just took over (
laughs)! He wouldn’t even let Tanuja ma’am say ‘action’ also! He took over everything, he came to say ‘action’, I saw this joy on his face, I can’t explain it to you…I would have loved for him to watch me.
You grew up in a mixed faith family. And Irrfan was a very curious, philosophical mind. What did you pick up from him?
When I was really, really young, he would make me read the Quran. And I would get so irritated – I don’t want to do all this. It’s not like I had any view on religion, it was more like this is boring and I want to go play cricket! He was, like, no, no, you have to read this, because after this you have to read the Bhagvad Gita, and after that you have to read the Bible. And I am like – what are you trying to do?! Now I understand. He never made me a religious person but he made sure I understood religion. Like, I understood what it is, and why it is important. That it can enable a certain kind of spirituality into you, but it also can introduce you to its dark side. I didn’t understand all of it at that young age, but now I introspect upon it. I think I was saved by that. I am a very spiritual guy. And I think if I was not guided properly by him, that spirituality would probably have been misguided into some fake love for religion and I would have been doomed. Because there are times where your quest for redemption turns into a very toxic and blind faith in religion which will destroy you. He made me understand that the concept of all religions is the same thing. What matter is your connection with the Creator, whoever you think He may be. It is a personal connection you and Him have and no one has the right to interfere in that. It was very important for me to know all that. Else I could have been something quite different, and I’m glad I am not.
How did you handle the last phase – when Irrfan was hospitalised and then passed away?
For the first few days, Mom was like how is that he is taking it so well? I was running around, doing everything, making sure everything was fine at home and at the hospital. It was really bad, though. I can’t explain the amount of pain he was going through when he was conscious. I particularly remember when they were going to put a catheter, and asked me to leave the room, and he almost yelled, ‘Babil,
tum kahin mat jao mujhe chhod ke!’ They pulled me out of the room and he screamed my name. I never felt that much pain and helplessness. I just stood there outside, hearing him scream my name. I dealt with it well in that moment, but after he passed – initially, Mumma was surprised how well I was taking it – but two days after he passed away, I crashed. I just crashed. Everything shut off. I went into deep, deep depression. I can’t even explain. There was no will to wake up. I was very suicidal… (
we pause for a bit)
I was done. I didn’t have any will to live. I still struggle with it a lot. And at that time, Mumma was the strength. She has always been the strength of our family. Throughout Baba’s career. You know everyone’s like Baba was this, Baba was that – but Baba wouldn’t have been anything without Mumma, she’s been the strength of the family.
There’s something I’d like to remind you of, a quote from the note Irrfan wrote while being treated in London – “In this chaos, shocked, afraid and in panic, while on one of the terrifying hospital visits, I blabber to my son, “The only thing I expect from ME is not to face this crisis in this present state. I desperately need my feet. Fear and panic should not overrule me and make me miserable.”
Was he always this open with you about what he felt?
He was very open about his vulnerability with me. After I was 14, 15, he has shown me great vulnerability. He would cry in front of me. He would tell me he’s scared. And you know what happens, through that, I was never ashamed of feeling vulnerable, of being scared, of crying. And so for me that is what a man is. This whole concept of mard ko dard nahi hota is such bull****. He showed me. He showed by telling me how he is scared and why he is scared – just talking to me about all these things. He never tried to be a ‘tough man’ before me. He was vulnerable. And he showed me that I could be vulnerable before him, I could cry, that it was fine. And that’s parenting, man! I think that’s genius parenting!