Boman Irani is a ball of frenetic energy, a master of disguises on-screen and the deliverer of hilarious insanities – or profundities, depending on which Boman Irani film you are watching – who can shapelessly morph into anything to fit the screenwriter’s vision. Boman, 58, is the kind of guy who can make you laugh, or cry. He’s the audience’s friend and the friendliest star around. Is he even a star? He’s more like your genial favourite uncle, who will happily indulge your request for a candy (or candy crush, if you must). Boman may now seem like a veteran thanks to his astounding ubiquity and versatility but the fact remains that at 45, he entered Bollywood when most are on their way out. He’s definitely a late entry, or a late bloomer and that’s exactly the reason why it’s so difficult to slot him. He defies easy categorisation.
Today, Dr Asthana of Munnabhai MBBS has around 60 films under his belt. “If there is passion in your heart and fire in your belly there is no one who can stop you from moving forward,” Boman once told an interviewer, when asked about his spectacularly late-age debut. Warning: If you persist Boman on that subject one more time he would use it to spin self-deprecatory retirement jokes! The truth is that Boman Irani is a rarity in today’s Bollywood. By taking a wildly opposite path to stardom he proved that dreams do come true, eventually. While most people try out acting before being swamped by domestic and family responsibilities followed by the sweet dreams of retirement, Boman took the unexpectedly unconventional route. The story goes that he started work as a waiter in his youth at a five-star hotel in Mumbai. Later, his mother’s accident forced him to take up the family shop. It was in the heart of Mumbai’s theatre district. “Every night,” the Munnabhai star recalled in an interview, “after I closed the shop, I would go and watch a movie.” The movie buff sat in the same shop for years, doing the same thing. While at the shop, he bought a camera and started developing a keen interest in photography. He also began acting in ad films. And then came Munnabhai MBBS, a film that changed many lives including those of director Raju Hirani, Sanjay Dutt and of course, Boman’s. Reportedly, it was producer Vidhu Vinod Chopra who saw Boman in a digital film and was so impressed that he promptly offered him a hefty cheque even though there was no film in sight. After a few months, Boman was surprised to receive a call from Chopra. When he heard the title Munnabhai MBBS and his role of a doctor with a penchant for laughing at the top of his voice, Boman famously turned it down, calling the script the “most ridiculous sounding concept” he had ever heard! In the words of Raju Hirani, his friend, companion and soul-mate, “When I first saw Boman, I wasn’t sure if I wanted him to act in my film. But I definitely wanted him to be my friend.” Today, you can’t imagine a Raju Hirani comedy without Boman Irani. They are more than friends. As Hirani joked, “I have taken more holidays with him than my wife!”
Boman – whose reputation for modesty and amiability precedes him – has, in a little over a decade, established himself as an acting powerhouse. It would not overstate the matter to say that there’s no role Boman Irani can’t play. He’s a cop in one film, a bride’s distraught father in another. He attracts the most foolish screen names. Who gets to be called Tammy? Watch Happy New Year. In the glorious struggles of a Shah Rukh Khan or Nawazuddin Siddiqui, we often forget that Boman Irani is equally the most incredible success story we have. He is indeed a gift that keeps giving.