To answer the question first. Yes, Irrfan Khan probably was the first choice for Rahul Dholakia’s Raees. Just as Randeep Hooda was the first choice for Dabangg.
The story, according to Dabangg producer Arbaaz Khan, goes like this. Abhinav Kashyap approached Arbaaz with a documentary-like raw real gritty and brutal script about a cop in Bihar trying to live a corruption-free life. Randeep Hooda was to star in the film.
Arbaaz Khan took over the project and changed the entire look and budget. He changed it from a Hooda to a Salman project.
Likewise initially Rahul Dholakia had planned Raees as a raw and gritty real-life drama about the rise of a hooch seller in Gujarat to a dreaded don.
Says a source, “Then when Rahul went to Ritesh Sidhwani, the project became many sizes larger than life. It was no more an Irrfan vehicle. Shah Rukh is to Raees what Salman was to Dabangg.”
When asked if Irrfan was considered for Raees director Rahul Dholakia replied. “Ritesh had asked me to name five actors I thought would be best for the role. I named only one. And his name was Raees. And Raees was Shah Rukh Khan.”