The Laid-back Romance Of Irrfan Khan

Pop Culture

The Laid-back Romance Of Irrfan Khan

Illustration: Palak Bansal

Fifty-year-old Irrfan Khan doesn’t dance like the romantic heroes Bollywood has repeatedly told us should. He doesn’t sing like them either. Neither does he look the part (despite being a Khan). He isn’t the one who will guarantee a happily-ever-after, or go to unthinkable lengths across countries for love. In short, he can’t stretch his hands and instantly sell romance the way Shah Rukh Khan has been designed to.

How has he then, quietly and comfortably, made the jump from a serious, thinking “character” actor to a feasible modern-day romantic lead? By breaking the one-note conventional portrayal of romance.

Tanuja Chandra’s Qarib Qarib Singlle is Irrfan’s second rom-com outing this year after Saket Chaudhary’s breezy Hindi Medium. In the film, he plays the 40-year-old Yogi, who meets 35-year-old widowed Jaya (Parvathy) on a dating app called Ab Tak Singlle and embarks on a trip of letting go and holding on, across Rishikesh, Rajasthan, and Gangtok. Yogi is already far above Bollywood’s prescribed age for a romantic hero and his presentability is far below its emulation quotient. His wardrobe is doused in the flashiest reds and yellows, accessorised with caps that spell out “YOLO” and “Swag”. He meets his date for the first time wearing bright red joggers fresh from his “marathon-preparing jog” at Carter Road, claims his surat is “stalker jaisi” and snores his way to sleep every night.

Irrfan Khan’s romance is a slow-cooked dum biryani, in a world of Maggi two-minute heroes. It’s subtle, comic, sarcastic, laid-back, and immensely satisfying.

Clearly, Yogi is not the kind of person you fall in love with at first sight. For him, the grand declarations are made up of the little things — like getting a crate full of mangoes for his date so that she can eat them the right way. With his loud, uncouth, and a worryingly carefree personality, he may just be every girl’s worst nightmare. But Yogi isn’t worried, because he isn’t eager to speedily please. Just the way Irrfan Khan’s romance is a slow-cooked dum biryani, in a world of Maggi two-minute heroes. It’s subtle, comic, sarcastic, laid-back, and immensely satisfying.

Irrfan’s Yogi feels like a natural extension of his hilarious, but endearing Monty from Anurag Basu’s Life In A… Metro ten years ago. He also shows traces of Raj Batra from Hindi Medium who ditches all pretense of sophistication, and grooves to “Ishq Tera Tadpave” with his little daughter at a posh South Delhi party. Yogi is also no different than Rana Chaudhary from Piku, who prefers to communicate through his glances. (Remember the brilliant scene where he looks at Deepika to imply that a change in the seating arrangements in the car is required?) His brand of romance isn’t dominated by a lifetime of song and dance, but a life of flawed companionship, one where a flashy exterior masks an inherent decency.

It’s this “love me as I am” aesthetic of a romantic hero that Irrfan Khan has been unknowingly peddling that has actually made it plausible to redefine a genre of aspirational unbelievability. Irrfan’s brand of romance is realistic, self-aware, and a reminder that love can be sober and that romantic heroes can very well be ordinary people over the age of 30 years. His romance can make the transition to real life. With him, what you see is what you get.

It’s the closest a Bollywood romance and a romantic hero can mirror real life. And it wouldn’t have been possible without Irrfan Khan.