They had an association spanning more than 20 years. That's why it doesn't come as a surprise when Nawazuddin Siddiqui calls Irrfan Khan's demise "a huge personal loss". "He always treated me like a younger brother. And for me also, he was like an elder brother and a mentor. I used to share all my problems – personal as well as professional – with him," he says.
The Kick (2014) actor knew Khan "from even before 2000". He says, "Isliye kaafi lamba saath raha unke saath. I was very close to Irrfan bhai, so I used to be with him, or around him a lot. He was also my first-ever co-star, and an actor whom I worked the most with, and that includes a number of films that never even released. And it's a secret that when he recoded [audition] tapes for Hollywood films, I would also give him cues (smiles)."
Siddiqui also recalls once, how Khan, who was going to meet Danny Boyle [director of Slumdog Millionaire; 2008] at a hotel [in Mumbai], also took him along. "And that too without any appointment [for me; with Danny]. He really wanted me to meet Danny," he says, while also revealing that in 2007, Khan directed me in an hour-long film titled Alvida.
"It was a BBC film, in which I was the hero. And what a gifted director he was. If Irrfan bhai was a director and not an actor, he would have been as big a director too," he says, adding: "As an actor, we would miss the originality and authenticity he would bring to his work. Ek alag tarah ki casualness, ease aur unpredictability laate the apne characters mein, which was unique about him."
In fact, the Gangs of Wasseypur (2012) actor readily admits that he "used to get a lot of motivation and inspiration from Khan". "Bahut kucch seekhne ko milta tha unse as a cinema student. When Haasil released, I had just about landed in Mumbai. Unki performances dekh kar aur bhi mehnat karne ka jazbaa milta tha," says Siddiqui, adding he "was in constant touch" with Khan "even when he was hospitalised" and undergoing treatment. "We had a great relationship. It's an irreparable loss for the film world," he says.
A quick acting tip!
"I remember we were shooting somewhere near Aurangabad for Alvida, and there was a scene wherein I had to tell the heroine, 'cycle pe baith jaa, tujhe drop kar deta hoon.' So, Irrfan bhai said, 'Nawaz, we all can see the cycle, so you don't have to say cycle pe baith jaa. Don't underline everything in a scene.' And that turned out to be a very important lesson for me. I learnt a lot from him as a cinema student," Siddiqui says.