qbal Khan, more than any other actor of his caliber has managed to build a personal brand that is complex, yet compelling. After his mainstream cinema roles in the early and mid-2000s, he matured as an actor on television and moved effortlessly to the OTT platform. And he believes that he has been blessed, not only for the quality of work that has come his way but also that he was never typecast during the two decades he has been in the industry.
With his performance in Crackdown seasons 1 and 2, he has set up his own pinup status, playing the role of Zorawar Kalra, whose wife turns out to be a Pakistani terrorist and is on a mission of redemption to prove himself a patriot.
Ask Iqbal about his experience working on the sets of the high intensity action-thriller and he says that besides being a blast, shooting the second season was a lot easier. “The role really got my creative juices going. Everything is bigger in season 2: my character, the show, and the scale have just blown up,” he begins on an upbeat note. “Although season 2 is more complex than the first, shooting was a lot easier. My role was a lot meatier with more ups and downs.” The season has several intense action sequences: one 4-minute sequence was shot in a dense jungle and took four days to complete, one was shot in Rajasthan and another in Kashmir. “The action sequences were tough on us, but when we saw the footage we realised that it was all worth it.” On working with director Apoorva Lakhia, he says, “He is too cool a guy. He doesn’t try to be a director; he just does his work and makes sure everybody has a good time working on the sets. He is an action man and loves to make everything large, there’s nothing small about him.”
Although Iqbal has put in a lot of hard work in front of the camera, he believes his real profession is being a father. “Yes, everything I do, I do because I’m a father. I go to work because I’m a father. I return home because I’m a father. I want to stay back home because I’m a father. I want to be a husband because I’m a father.” And, parenting his two daughters – 11-years-old Ammara and one-and-a-half-year-old Ifza – along with wife Sneha is no easy task, albeit one that he would trade for nothing else in the world. “My two little girls and wife are all I need. My little one is a rock star, and I enjoy every moment I spend with my three lovely girls.”
When it comes to raising daughters, there’s always a special role for the father – the real-life role that Iqbal takes very seriously. He believes that instilling values at a young age is what sets them up for a happy life. “I teach my elder daughter (the younger one is still too little) to always be in touch with God and be the good person. I constantly tell her not to forget to be right. Sometimes while being good you might harm others, but it’s important to be right,” he says.
Ask him how he handles the menace of mobile addiction especially in kids, and he says, “I hate phones from the bottom of my heart. I just blow my lid if I see anyone on the phone for too long. At home, I tell them to put the phone aside if I see them using the gadget too long.” For his part, he has managed to digitally detox by getting off social media. “I’m off all social media for the last 3 years. I only use WhatsApp for communication,” he confesses.
Being married for more than a decade and a half, he attributes his happy family and successful marriage to his wife. “The secret to my great marriage is a good wife. Sneha is good in every way,” he sums up his nuptial journey. Sneha is also very open with her feedback on his work. “She is very honest with whatever she watches. If she says something will work, it works. If she says something is not nice, it most probably won’t work.”
An actor in the industry for two decades, he says Indian cinema has come a long way from being market driven to story driven. “I don’t think market driven cinema works anymore. Especially in the last 5 years, you see that anything that is market driven and low on content just does not work.”
With OTT, the audience is spoilt for choice. While on one hand, OTT helps movie makers tell stories in a better way, but on the other hand, filmmakers are not exactly laughing all the way to the bank. “Filmmakers, writers and directors are finding it difficult to get a chance on OTT. There are too many people in the middle. Even if you have a good script, it is a perplexing process to get it to the right people,” says Iqbal. “And adding to the mess is the creative lock jam. “When a product is being made it has to have a single-minded direction. If there are 5 or 6 people working on it, there will always be creative differences and it becomes a mess. Working through the mess is very difficult. This is showing in many of the products,” he points out.
He feels that OTT platforms should have creative people making choices on what goes on the platforms. “When it comes to content, there has to be someone from the creative field to choose what would work for the platform. You cannot have a regular corporate head making those decisions,” he insists. “Lessons are learnt when a show is rejected by one platform and then goes on to becomes a super hit on another platform. I believe that people like good content irrespective of the platform.”
Moving from real to reel, he believes that it is by pure luck that he hasn’t been typecast. “God has been kind enough to me and I got roles that have not typecast me. I can’t say that I went after those roles and got them. No. They came to me and it just happened that way.”
“I’ve always tried my best not to repeat myself in my performances,” he sounds convincing.
“I don’t like actors who have a fixed style, or whose performances are similar in a lot of their work. For me, Irfan Khan was an inspiration. There’s a certain magic in all his work. Even his bad work is so awesome. He was on a totally different level.”
Other actors who have inspired Iqbal are Christian Bale, Matthew McConaughey and Al Pacino.
Comparing Christian Bale’s performances in the Batman movies, Machinist, American Psycho and Ford V Ferrari, he points out, “There’s a huge variation in performances in all his films. His style is never the same in any of his films. He is on a different level.” On the subject of roles and performances, ask him what his dream role might be and he says: I don’t have a dream role, but I would like to do something in life that becomes someone’s dream role.”
So what shapes an actor? Iqbal believes that his background has influenced him a lot. “Being from a smaller town, I have lived through and experienced things that I would not have if I had lived in a metro. Those life experiences stay with you. Rich life experiences influence one’s acting,” he says. “For example, if I have a scene where I have to be excited watching a colour television, I’ve lived through it, I know the feeling and emotions connected with it, so they come to me naturally.”
On the work that he wants to do, he says, “I don’t think how I used to when I was in my 20s. Now, I want to do work that has a message; work that has a divine touch, and is not just for entertainment. Work that has character and allows me and the audience to grow as human beings.” Point out that he seems to have become spiritual and her replies, “I don’t know if I would call it spiritual. Spiritual is a fashionable word; I don’t understand what spiritual means.”
“I try to follow my religion to the T – it makes life easier, and it has opened up my heart,” he signs off.
Quotes: On the Side
On dealing with mental fitness: I pray five times a day. The ultimate connection with God keeps my mental peace and gives me happiness.
On an actor he shares good on-screen chemistry with:
Vidhya Balan. When shooting for Jalsa, Vidhya Balan made me feel very comfortable. I give entire credit to her for creating the awesome chemistry.
On Artificial Intelligence in filmmaking:
It is a little surreal at the moment and scary too. It’s like we are messing around with nature; it bothers me a bit. If I were a cookie: I’d have a tough crust on the outside and gooey chocolate on the inside. But once you know me I’m Tim Tam.