“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.” - Life of Pi
What was he? A romantic? A villain? An action star? A comic? It is difficult, isn’t it, to categorize Irrfan Khan? How will he be remembered best?
The fact that we would have to ponder upon it, and then willfully add his name to the list of a rare breed of actors who could blend into any role with effortless grace, makes Irrfan Khan the star he is. That he succeeded not only in India but in the West, gave the movie-goers across the globe many moments to laugh, cry, cheer and relish will forever remain the cornerstone of the legacy he leaves in the cinematic world.
On April 29, Irrfan Khan breathed his last at the Kokilaben Hospital in Mumbai. He was 53.
Only a few weeks ago, Irrfan, with all his grace and might, announced his comeback to the Indian cinema with ‘Angrezi Medium’. A gentle and caring father who wants to fulfil the wishes of her daughter, Irrfan – needless to say, blended into the role effortlessly. After his prolonged battle with cancer, Irrfan’s comeback felt relieving, if not more. It was almost as if the Bollywood had regained sanity. The big screen was blessed again.
How is it fathomable, then, to come to terms with the loss which is not one’s own but feels incredibly personal?
Born in the village of Tonk in 1966, Irrfan, like many boys growing up in the country, wanted to be a cricketer. He was even selected for the CK Nayudu Tournament in the age-group team but failed to turn up for the tournament due to lack of funds.
Cricket’s loss, however, was cinema’s gain.
In 1984, he joined the National School of Drama which has produced a number of exceptional cinema and theatre artists in the country. After initial struggles and small roles in television, he made his debut in the movie Salam Bombay in 1988.
The role, however, was a cameo. He played a letter writer in the movie and the role was even edited out in the final film. Irrfan’s career, however, would come a full circle 25 years later, when he would portray another character that would predominantly write and exchange letters. For the role, he would go on to win the Asian Film Award.
Irrfan’s big break in mainstream Indian cinema came in 2003 with the movie ‘Maqbool’ – an adaption of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth. A series of critically-acclaimed Bollywood movies followed, including ‘Life in a… metro’, ‘Rog’, ‘Paan Singh Tomar’, ‘The Lunchbox’, ‘Piku’ and ‘Hindi Medium’, among others.
His role as Paan Singh Tomar earned him a National Award in 2012. In Piku, he strikes impressive chemistry with fellow actors Amitabh Bachchan and Deepika Padukone as the trio embarks on a road journey from Delhi to Kolkata. For his role as a rich businessman-father in Hindi Medium, Irrfan also won the Filmfare Award for Best Actor.
Irrfan’s career in the West went parallel with Indian cinema, and equally as successful. He played the role of a policeman in the Academy Award-winning movie Slumdog Millionaire, and played impressive supporting roles in movies like ‘The Amazing Spiderman’, ‘Jurassic World’ and ‘Inferno’. In 2012, he also played the adult version of the leading male character in ‘Life of Pi’ – another multiple Academy Award-winning movie.
An exceptional artist with a towering legacy, Irrfan’s ability to portray diverse roles with awe-inspiring ease will continue to inspire a generation of actors to come. His sincere commitment to work provided the movie-goers with some irreplaceable memories. The cinema shall remain poorer without Irrfan Khan.