EXCLUSIVE: Babil Khan opens up on all things art and fashion ahead of World Art Day 2024

In a conversation with Indulge, the proud son of Sutapa Sikdar and late actor Irrfan Khan opened up to us about his identity beyond just that of an actor
Babil Khan in a Gaurav Gupta creation
Babil Khan in a Gaurav Gupta creation

As this interviewer joined the Zoom call five minutes late due to network issues and started apologising profusely, the interviewee said, “No, you are not excused.” After a two-second pause, Babil Khan turned on his camera and burst into laughter, having broken the conversational ice in just a second with his infectious charm and candour.

Debuting with Anvita Dutt’s psychological thriller Qala in 2022, where the actor played the role of classical music prodigy Jagan, he received much critical appreciation. WIth his next, teen-film Friday Night Plan, he won our hearts with the portrayal of the innocent Siddharth Menon. His first web series was YRF’s The Railway Men based on Bhopal Gas Tragedy, where Babil owned our attention while sharing screen with stalwarts like Divyendu Sharma, Kay Kay Menon and R Madhavan in pivotal roles.

Babil Khan as Jagan in 'Qala' (2022)
Babil Khan as Jagan in 'Qala' (2022)

But Babil is more than just cinema. Being new in the industry has neither stopped him from experimenting with his sartorial choices nor has it refrained him from being vocal against most conventional notions about masculinity. It was therefore not a surprise when the actor was recently in Bengaluru to speak on nonconformity at the Under 25 Summit 2024 — the two-day festival that featured a diverse lineup of creators, performers and thought-leaders like Ankush Bahuguna, Kenny Sebastian and Harun Robert.

In a conversation with Indulge, the proud son of Sutapa Sikdar and late actor Irrfan Khan opened up to us about his identity beyond just that of an actor. The playful twinkle in his eyes shone throughout our 30-minute odd chat and by the end, we started to reflect and share his energy. Babil opened up about his unusual tryst with fashion, his ever-evolving relationship with art, his fitness regimen and upcoming projects for 2024. Peppered with his occasional philosophical and existential breakouts, this fun, free-wheeling chat was an absolute pleasure. Excerpts:

Your session at the Under 25 Summit was titled Beyond Conformity — Self-Expression Through Art and Fashion. Can you tell us a bit about how your relationship with fashion has evolved over the years?

I’ve never analysed my relationship with fashion. But the way I feel about art has evolved. When I started approaching art, I thought art was about doing things. The truth is that it’s the opposite. When you start understanding art — and not through intellect but through experience — you start to understand that art is not about doing. It’s about witnessing, in silence, what is happening to you and how your journey is actually about interacting with the experiences in the moment. That approach lends itself to everything — like fashion, music, acting and beyond.

Your personal style has this avant-garde/metrosexual vibe?

I really don’t try to define it — I just try to flow with as much courage as I can surrender to how I’m feeling and then make decisions according to that. So, I don’t know what my fashion sense is, but it is what I feel.

The actor is quietly gaining recognition for his unconventional fashion choices
The actor is quietly gaining recognition for his unconventional fashion choices

Certain things you do, like wearing hot pink with such ease, do set you apart from the rest…

I’m so happy you said that (smiles)! Apparently, pink has definitions — which I want to ignore completely. It was not a journey with fashion that started, but one with style, because I come from an upbringing which is all about simplicity. When I was younger, I wanted to have friends and I noticed if you have some kind of flair, people are attracted to you. That’s how it started, just selfishly, but then it grew into something where I was just being truthful to how I was feeling — and then my style grew organically.

On that note, what role does art play in your private life — where you are just the audience?

When you have a lot of inner turmoil growing up, you need art for catharsis because deep within, you don’t want those emotions to go to waste. However, with time, I started to understand that art is more than just a selfish need — it’s something that connects people. When you’re trying to express something through art, you’re allowing nature to express it through you. That creates a united consciousness and in that spontaneity, art is created. We don’t create anything — we just lay down the structure for creation and allow it to happen. By surrendering to everything we usually repress, we ensure that everything comes out truthfully. That is art — the journey of you interacting with the experience being brought upon you at that moment. When that realisation set in, I started to live life every day, trying to be as close to that idea of art. I’m a firm believer in the statement that, ‘life comes from you and not at you.’ Otherwise, you’ll always feel like it’s coming at you and you’re protecting yourself from it rather than living it.

Maybe, the most boring experiences — the ones we run away from — are trying to protect us, and actually making us who we are...

So, tell us about that one piece of art or an artist who has influenced you the most?

The films of (Andrei) Tarkovsky. They were screened in my house several times when I was growing up and I used to find them boring. Years later, I ended up doing my dissertation on the very filmmaker. His films taught me that art can have the possibility of being so much more than entertainment. Cinema, particularly, has the possibility and the responsibility of being much more if you want it to be a source of looking within yourself. It’s the most effective way of affecting someone because it’s such a visual and dynamic medium. The best thing about those films is that I didn’t even know that they were influencing me so much when they were. Maybe, the most boring experiences — the ones we run away from — are trying to protect us, and actually making us who we are.

Do you ever plan to become a director?

Yeah, but not soon. I want to explore my creativity to its maximum potential. It’s not only about directing — it’s also about writing books, making music, etc. I want to put myself into situations where I’m completely uncomfortable and then see what happens.

Among the films you have worked on, so far, which character would you say was the least relatable or most challenging?

Every character (was challenging). When I read a script, the first thing I look at subconsciously is that I shouldn’t relate to the character. Because that’s when the challenge of finding that character within yourself begins. Your idea of your identity is false — you’re just conditioned to play it because of the experiences you’ve been through. You’re infinite — the brightest as well as the darkest sides of the spectrum. So, when I can’t relate to a character, I know that I may not have experiences similar to that of the character but I will have qualities that make that person a human being. That is how I begin the journey of relating to them.

Your Instagram bio reads ‘Son of Sutapa Sikdar.’ Why is that identity so important to you?

It’s a tough one to share (smiles). I just love being my mama’s boy. Ever since Baba left, I started developing this really strong want to pamper and take care of my mom. The death or departure of loved ones teaches you so much about relationships. Also, I realised that, in a certain sense, I was taking her love for granted, which I did not want to do anymore.

Babil with mother Sutapa Sikdar and father Irrfan Khan
Babil with mother Sutapa Sikdar and father Irrfan Khan

You are often appreciated for your opinion on masculinity. Who do you think has influenced you to challenge the traditional notions of it?

If I had the luxury to not be vocal, I would not be vocal (laugh)! I don’t think it is just about masculinity. My upbringing led me to question why things are the way they are and to become honest in my observations. Growing up in that school of thought — and then with my parents — it always pushed me towards not trying to fit in every time the desire came to, ‘agree with everything you’re being told to agree with.’ Question it, because only what you have experienced can be believed. That pursuit just carries over to anything I look at — be it masculinity or anything else.

Shifting gears to wellness – what do you do to stay fit?

I love cycling, scuba diving, swimming and sports in general. I hate working out. If I have to do it for a role — I’ll give it my all. But on a daily basis, I would much rather play. Also, my innately high metabolism and desire to move a lot do most of the work!

The actor, who plays a football champion in his film 'Friday Night Plan', also uses sports to stay fit in real life
The actor, who plays a football champion in his film 'Friday Night Plan', also uses sports to stay fit in real life

What are some of your upcoming projects?

I wish I was at liberty to tell you, but I’m not. So, let things take their time and reveal themselves at the will of destiny. I can say this though, that everything I’m doing will show you a new shade of me, a new side, a new Babil, every single time.

Quick Five

One character you would love to play?

Roohdaar (Irrfan Khan’s role in Haider). I also want to play the roles of an athlete, a hacker and a musician!

One superpower you would love to have?

Invisibility

The person you call the most in a day?

My mom

The book you last read and loved?

WTF by Ben Earl

Your comfort food?

Dahi rice, idli with coconut chutney.

Email: prattusa@newindianexpress.com

X: @MallikPrattusa

Babil Khan in a Gaurav Gupta creation
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