On the morning of April 29, 2020, the nation woke up to the tragic news of the death of the legendary actor Irrfan Khan. If versatile acting has a name, it is Irrfan Khan. An undoubtedly exceptional artist with unparalleled acting abilities. There wasn’t a single moment when he failed to impress the audience with his work.
He was blessed with a rare quality of attracting continuous praise that is not even usually associated with big names in Indian Cinema. Irrfan rose from a humble background in Rajasthan where he did not have enough resources to carry out his passion which was cricket in his childhood. He made his mark from theatre to a big screen with no godfather in Bollywood.
His journey however has not been an easy ride. Irrfan started his career from a small role in Mira Nair’s movie Salaam Bombay in 1988. His struggle carried on when he predominantly acted in small roles in TV serials like Shyam Benegal’s Bharat Ek Khoj, Chandrakanta, etc. Irrfan’s big breakthrough came in the year 2003 in Tigmanshu Dhulia’s movie Haasil and to a much visible extent in Vishal Bhardwaj’s Maqbool. Since then Irrfan just got better with passing time with a series of unconventional roles. His power-packed performances have redefined acting in Bollywood.
A bunch of outstanding performances by Irrfan came in popular movies like Lunchbox, Paan Singh Tomar, Life in a Metro, Hindi Medium, Saat Khoon Maaf, and so on. The two most noted performances which are also my personal favourite were in the movies Paan Singh Tomar and Lunch Box. The movie Paan Singh Tomar grabbed a national Award and Irrfan received the Best Actor award for his role in the picture.
Paan Singh Tomar, was a forgotten hero until Irrfan played the portrayal of an athlete turned bandit with utmost honesty. Paan Singh Tomar became a household name and a trending google search after the movie received immense success. A famous dialogue from the movie is “Beehad mein to “Baaghi” hote hain, “Dacait” milte hain Parliament mein.” (You’ll find only rebels in Beehad, look in the parliament, you’ll find the criminals there)
Another spirited performance by Irrfan came in Ritesh Batra’s Lunchbox that became Irrfan’s highest-grossing film. He played the role of a punctual government employee who has its own lonely world. The movie revolves around a fascinating relationship between cooking, food, and love. The delicate performance of Irrfan in this movie is impossible to forget for a long time to come.
Another feat achieved by Irrfan was his roles in numerous international movies like Jurassic World, The Amazing Spiderman, Inferno, Life of Pie, Slumdog Millionaire, etc. Although these were small roles, Irrfan managed to shine in all of them. The Guardian news publication has called Irrfan a valuable bridge between South Asian and Hollywood cinema. Interestingly Irrfan mentioned in an interview in 2014 that he did not have enough money to watch Steven Spielberg’s movie Jurassic Park in 1993. When it comes to Hollywood, Irrfan maintained that he went by his own terms when he turned down offers of big movies like Body Of Lies and even Interstellar because it clashed with his movie Lunchbox!
Irrfan’s work did not represent a Bollywood red carpet but a subaltern common appeal. Not atypically good looking and macho Bollywood Hero, Irrfan with his deep eyes and sensitive looks won the audience over. His dramatic as well as villainous roles were highly liked. A gracious human being who never needed a PR team and was one person who was loved in almost all movies is an inspiration for many aspiring actors.
Indian cinema has certainly become poorer with the loss of this kind of actor. There can never be Irrfan-II in the years to come.
I recall a famous line from his movie Life of Pie – “I suppose in the end, the whole of life becomes an act of letting go, but what always hurts the most is not taking a moment to say goodbye.”