From Senna to Irrfan, through Asif Kapadia`s lens

Mumbai: At the turn of the new millennium, Ayrton Senna, Asif Kapadia and Irrfan Khan were three souls as disparate and far from one another as they could be. Yet the story of these three would intertwine in ways unimagined. Senna was a Brazilian who gave hope to millions by breaking into the European dominated sport of Formula 1, while Kapadia was an aspiring filmmaker of Indian origin trying to make it big in Britain and Irrfan was a struggling actor who had almost quit acting.

In 2000, British Indian Kapadia was looking to make ‘The Warrior’ about the spiritual journey of a man who one day quits as the henchman to a local landlord even as goons hunt him down.

"`Warrior` was a difficult story and I needed an actor to tell it. Then I met a brilliant man who was a casting director then, Tigmanshu Dhulia. He read my script and said he knew exactly who to cast. I was sceptical since I had met many actors," Kapadia said.

"I was waiting in a casting room and Tigmanshu brought his actor friend Irrfan in. I just looked at his face and knew he was the guy. There was this instant connection between us for, unlike most actors I had looked at for the role, Irrfan had seen all the international films I talked about," he added.

That was the time when Irrfan was doing roles in TV serials and the films of Children`s Film Society, India. His mettle had not yet been tested.

"At that time he told me that he was thinking of giving up acting. But `The Warrior` came along and somehow gave him a chance to be the lead actor. It was an amazing experience to work with him and now look at what has become of him," said Kapadia, who`s here as creative advisor for the eight scripts selected for the Mumbai Mantra Sundance Institute Screenwriters Lab 2012.

‘The Warrior’, carried on the shoulders of a stunning performance by Irrfan, travelled through the globe, winning many awards, including two BAFTA Awards.

Kapadia shared how ‘The Warrior’ led him to ‘Senna’, the documentary of Formula 1 legend Ayrton Senna who tragically died in a crash in front of 300 million TV viewers. The film became the biggest grossing documentary in British history. Yet Kapadia and Senna are as different as chalk and cheese.

First, Kapadia wasn`t such a big Formula 1 fan and, second, rumour has it that before him biggies like Oliver Stone, Michael Mann and Ridley Scott had approached the Senna family to make a film on him. Yet they entrusted the story to Asif and his writer Manish Pandey.

"Irrfan saw a special screening of `Senna` and said that he saw me in the film. And the funny thing is I did not write Senna or produce it and the idea was also not mine. I was only asked to direct it. I think there are themes one is interested in and that is carried forward in everything you do," said Kapadia.