Babil Khan lost his father at a young age. He is the elder son of the family, with a younger brother and a single working mother. That may be his reality after the death of Irrfan Khan in 2020, but it’s also the life of his character Siddharth Menon in Vatsal Neelkanthan’s new Netflix India film Friday Night Plan.
In the movie, Babil’s character is a front-bencher who has imposed academic excellence on himself because he bears the responsibility of filling in his late father’s shoes. He doesn’t want to add to the pressure of his single working mom (Juhi Chawla), and can’t wrap his head around the relatively reckless ways of his younger brother (Amrith Jayan).
But that brother is in fact an extension of Babil in real life. The part of Babil who wants to lead his life as a regular young kid, instead of carrying the massive weight of being the great Irrfan Khan’s son. In a recent interview, he admitted that while he was pally with his father, he was intimidated by his greatness. His younger brother in the film is his younger self, urging him to look beyond Friday as just the film release day, but also as a TGIF party.
The Qala effect
Babil made his debut two years after Irrfan’s death with Anvita Dutt’s psychological drama Qala. While Tripti Dimrii played the titular part in the Netflix India film last year, Babil was under tremendous pressure to perform to excellence in his very first film, as a direct result of his legacy. And he did meet the expectation, winning every award for the Best Debut out there.
But to watch him sing in the shower in the intro sequence of Friday Night Plan is to see him as beyond Irrfan’s son, and as a young actor trying to play his age, sans the burden of greatness, in his second film. In a recent interview, Babil said that despite the similarities with his character Sid, he doesn’t overthink as much.
When Sid, usually relegated to the sidelines of a football match, gets the chance to not only play but also score a victory goal, he becomes the boy the whole school is talking about. However, he still tries to protect his unseen self, trying to not give in to all the attention. He still has his father’s shoes to fill in. But Babil doesn’t let a Qala dissuade him from signing a Friday Night Plan, a film that’s more interested in him as a free young actor, than a bonded heir of greatness.
Babil is more Babil than Irrfan
Babil recently said that he can never evolve into what Irrfan Khan was, but also that Irrfan could’ve never been what Babil is right now. “It took him years to trust his instincts, whereas I’m a very instinctive person,” Babil said in an interview to Film Companion.
And that’s very true. A late bloomer like Irrfan never had the chance to be as free and fun as Babil can be in Friday Night Plan. Sure, he was a lot of fun in films like Shoojit Sircar’s Piku and Akarsh Khurana’s Karwaan, but the gravity of his reputation and the weight of his life experiences invariably infiltrated all his performances. Babil is free of all that so far, even though the world today reminds him every day to outlive his youth.
Janhvi Kapoor, who lost her mom Sridevi months before her debut in Shashank Khaitan’s Dhadak (2018), recently said she couldn’t even milk the success of that film, not because of the grief of loss, but because the internet made her feel she didn’t deserve a debut that grand. Intense and widespread discourse around nepotism scarred Janhvi to an extent that she felt she needed to “bleed for her art” in order to prove her place here. Films like Mili and Bawaal, where her characters undergo excessive physical, mental and emotional torture, are signs of the same line of thinking.
It’s all the more grave a case for newcomers like Janhvi and Babil, who lost their legendary actors of parents, before they made their successful debuts. Janhvi recently confessed that she seeks external validation because she never got that nod of approval from Sridevi. One can see her not enjoy herself to the fullest when she does a fun cameo in Ranveer Singh’s Heartthrob in Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani, although she’s admittedly a sucker for the song-and-dance.
By putting Babil to the same test, the world may lose out on another great, easy, natural actor. We’ve already lost Irrfan, why must we lose Babil too?
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