“I was born in December. I’m legally allowed to be late then.”
This is the humour we’ve all been entertained with. Boman Irani, with this humour and charm, has not only entertained us but has also left the impact that a masterful actor always does on his audience – awe for his acting skills. Interestingly, he is also the actor whom we just cannot imagine as a young artist. Very much like Morgan Freeman, his presence in the industry is so well rooted that we have all at some point assumed that he’s always been in the industry. But Boman Irani only began acting at the age of 35. His journey until then has remained a bit of mystery to many.
Before he was an actor, Boman’s life was that of the typical, hard-working middle-class. His son, Kayoze Irani, confessed that Boman still lives with the same simple mind-set. His life was not that of the privileged as he was born into the debt that his father had left behind. Although his mother, with sheer strength, kept the family afloat for many years, Boman had no choice but to work at her wafer shop, the Golden Bakery. His childhood, too, was not an easy one. He had learning and speech disabilities that left him a below-average student. Almost everyone at school ridiculed his lisp to such an extent that he barely spoke. He was a timid boy scared of all men because he had grown up only around women – four sisters, five aunts, his mother, and all their female friends.
Not wanting to work at the wafer shop anymore, and wanting to stand on his own two feet, Boman walked into the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower, into the manager’s office, and asked for a job. He had his eye on the French restaurant, Rendezvous. But the manager, thinking this request was too haughty, asked him to start with room service. Boman now thinks that “becoming a waiter was a great experience.” He was so ecstatic on receiving his first tip of Rs 5 that he called home and could hardly contain the excitement of his first earnings.
Boman carried trays and accepted tips for two years until he had to resume work at the bakery as his mother met with an accident. With the money saved from his job at the Taj, Boman bought a camera for Rs 2750, a sizeable amount in those days, as he had recognised his flair for photography. During the little free time that Sundays allowed him, Boman went to schools and photographed sports events held there for 20 to 25 rupees He was 28 at the time and soon, still with the responsibility of the bakery, married, and had two kids by the age of 32.
Boman had always loved acting but believed that the dream of such a career was too far-fetched from his humble reality. He was a great mimic, and the shop, with all its customers, became a stage for him. “I would go back home and recount the funny anecdotes,” he recalled in an interview with The Hindustan Times. His son recalls Boman singing “We Are The World while impersonating every singer’s voice, right from Michael Jackson to Tina Turner and Billy Joel,” as stated by Man’s World. It was upon seeing this talent that his friend and now a famous choreographer, Shiamak Dawar, encouraged him to consider theatre as a career.
He introduced Boman to Alyque Padamsee, a renowned theatre actor who would later become his mentor. But Padamsee rejected Boman as talentless in the audition, giving him only a few songs to sing in his play. Padamsee later gave into to Shiamak’s prodding and offered Boman a role in Roshini. His first acting job and Boman had already appealed to the audience and critics with his performance. He was later offered a role in I Am Bajirao, which would become the most defining point in his acting career. The play received an incredible response and ran for 10 years in a row.
His strong presence in theatre slowly became visible to the Bollywood industry and offers started flowing in. The story from this point on is one that we all know. We saw him as the unhinged laughing doctor in Munnabhai MBBS, which was his entry into the comic scene. He initially rejected the role because he thought the movie title was ridiculous. Director Rajkumar Hirani, however, returned to Boman with the role as he really believed there was no one else better suited for it.
Boman Irani has walked a testing journey from selling chips and waiting tables to becoming an actor of such stature that he now has to consciously try to not to bring ‘Boman Irani’ into his characters. His success is reflected in his profound understanding of acting as a skill. “There is great joy in playing someone you’re not, as truthfully as possible. That’s what makes it special because the more you search for the moment of truth, the better the lie is,” he said to Hindustan Times. Despite this success, Boman still believes that he can do room servicing with the same flair as before.