Irrfan Khan on working with Tom Hanks on Inferno, and the evolution of Bollywood

The Indian actor tells how his own attitude to acting has changed over the years, and why Tom Hanks is such a special person.

Irrfan Khan at the Italian premiere of Inferno. Maurizio Degl’ Innocenti / EPA
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Irrfan Khan is back in Hollywood action this weekend in Inferno, the third film based on Dan Brown's Robert Langdon series of novels.

The actor is, of course, best known for his work in Bollywood, and following a year in which Indian movie industry has seen a number of high-profile flops and some surprise indie hits, he admits it seems to be going through a period of change.

“It’s evolving – not just cinema, but storytelling is evolving, too,” he says. “They’re dealing with contemporary problems and telling original stories, not just formula films.

“Just 10 years ago, Bollywood was only producing formula films. Now things are changing because of the new generation that’s come in – not just directors but also the audiences, which are wanting to see their own stories. That’s why those films are working.

“I’ve done a few films that were not formula films and they’ve become huge because they were dealing with real Indian problems and there’s a kind of resonance for the audience. They could see themselves in the film

“India produces more than 1,000 films a year, it’s the main source of entertainment – and because of this new generation of audience and filmmakers, the industry is changing.”

Khan says his own perception of the industry has changed too – and even admits that his initial hopes for his movie career were not entirely artistically motivated.

“I came into this business looking for fame and money,” he says. “But then I discovered storytelling. Fame and money just isn’t enough – but telling a story, sharing that with the audience and becoming part of their hearts and minds, that’s really something special.”

Khan is now one of the select few Indian actors who have earned the chance to tell their stories to a truly global audience, thanks to his crossover success in Hollywood. He has been seen in several big western films, including Life of Pi, Jurassic World, The Darjeeling Limited, Slumdog Millionaire and The Amazing Spider-Man.

Even by his own global standards, however, his latest co-star seems to have left a lasting impression.

“Tom Hanks is a special man, a very warm man,” he says. “I’ve never seen that much warmth in an actor.

“Actors are basically a very insecure breed, always worried about their next job, but he’s very generous, interactive and engaging. I was working with everybody on this film for the first time, and we honestly had a great time.”