Today, on 29 April, India has lost one of her most versatile actors, Irrfan Khan. The heartbreaking news came in after the actor was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) of Mumbai’s Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital a day before due to colon infection.
Irrfan, who had a phenomenal film career spanning three decades, had been battling with a neuroendocrine tumour since 2018. The 54-year-old underwent treatment in the UK for a year and returned to India in February 2019 to shoot his last film, Angrezi Medium.
As the nation mourns Irrfan’s death, The Better India pays a tribute to the ingenious actor. We look back at his life journey, starting from theatre, leaving Bollywood speechless with his acting mettle and making a mark in Hollywood.
Arriving in Bollywood
Irrfan Khan was born on 7 January 1967 to a business family in Jaipur.
While his family wanted him to join the family business dealing in tyres, Irrfan was bowled over with the cricketing world and wanted to make a career in the sport.
However, when things did not turn in his favour, he joined the National School of Drama in 1984 to pursue acting.
The actor started his celluloid journey from television serials like Sparsh, Shrikant, Chanakya, Bharat Ek Khoj, Sara Jahan Hamara, Banegi Apni Baat and Chandrakanta.
Irrfan made his Bollywood debut in 1998 with a small cameo in Salaam Bombay. The movie was directed by Mira Nair, who went on to cast Irrfan as the main lead in 2006-drama The Namesake.
In what seemed like a never-ending struggle in the movie industry, Irrfan continued to work in soap operas to improve his art and earn a living, “I came into this industry to tell stories and do cinema, and I was stuck in television,” he told the Guardian.
Not one to give up, he acted in a string of movies that tanked at the box office, leaving the powerhouse of talent unnoticed. However, the 2001-historical drama ‘The Warrior’ which won 2 BAFTA awards made Irrfan a known face in the global circuit. Life took a pleasant turn in 2003 with movies like Haasil and Maqbool, a Macbeth-adaption.
By nailing his performance as a complex and dark character in Maqbool, Irrfan had arrived in the Indian Film Industry.
Unconventional & Entertaining Choices
Irrfan is one of those rare actors who managed to shatter glass ceilings with his extraordinary performances. He fearlessly took risks (some that would have ended his career) and chose content-driven movies.
His successful film graph went upward with movies like Life in a…Metro (cinemagoers were surprised to see the ‘serious’ actor in a comic avatar), Paan Singh Tomar, New York, Mumbai Meri Jaan and Saat Khoon Maaf.
Undoubtedly, among all his celebrated movies, he will be cherished for his unconventional choices like Sahib Biwi Aur Gangster, Haider, The Lunchbox, Madari, Quissa and Hisss.
Irrfan cemented his place in the audience’s hearts with roles like that of a dacoit in Paan Singh Tomar (for which he won Best Actor in the 60th National Film Awards in 2012), an investigative officer in Meghna Gulzar’s Talvar, and essaying the role of Roohdaar in Haider.
He also did not shy away from establishing himself as a typecast masala-movie hero with Hindi Medium, Qarib Qarib Single, Karwaan, D-Day, Gunday and Billu.
Remember when he made all of us fall in love with Rana Chaudhary, a quirky character stuck between a father and daughter in Piku? His crackling chemistry with Deepika Padukone left us all wanting for more.
The charismatic actor proved to all that you could be a part of both mainstream and offbeat cinematic worlds.
After doing The Namesake (based on Jhumpa Lahiri’s book), international offers poured in.
Irrfan is probably the only Indian actor to be a part of cult movies like Academy award-winning, Slumdog Millionaire and Life of Pi.
It was indeed a proud moment for Irrfan when he walked up to the stage when Slumdog Millionaire won eight awards out of the ten nominations at the Oscars. Other Irrfan-starer films include The Amazing Spiderman, Jurassic World and The Inferno with Tom Hanks.
“In a season that trumpeted the return of Debra Winger, it is the Indian actor Irrfan Khan who has generated some of the loudest buzz on HBO’s In Treatment,” wrote The New York Times.
He also starred in British-American movie, A Mighty Heart in which he portrayed the character of a Chief of Police.
In 2016, the actor expanded his horizons and made his debut on the OTT platform – Netflix in Tokyo Trials where he essayed the role of Justice Radhabinod Pal set in the backdrop of war-torn Japan in 1946.
The actor designed his career by opening all doors and wholeheartedly embracing all facets of cinema.
Battling A Rare Disease Like A Warrior
Fan and colleagues from film fraternity were devastated after Irrfan announced he had been diagnosed with a rare disease. As millions of prayers and good wishes poured in, the actor told the world he was ready to fight the battle. He also assured his fans that he would return with ‘more stories to tell’.
As promised, he gracefully and courageously fought the life-threatening tumour with his family by his side. A year later, his health improved and the braveheart was back to India to shoot Angrezi medium.
Establishing a Special Bond With Fans
Though his fans heard very little about Irrfan’s health for almost a year, he established a channel of communication with them through Twitter.
In April 2019, he announced his return to his passion and thanked his fans for the unconditional love and support, “Maybe, somewhere in the pursuit of winning, we forget how much it means to be loved. In our vulnerability, we are reminded. As I leave my footprints onto these steps of my life, I want to pause to be grateful for receiving your immense love and support, it soothed me in my process of healing. So I travel back to you, thanking you from the bottom of my heart.”
For the next couple of months, his Twitter account was filled with updates about his movies. Honestly, as a fan, I was relieved each time he tweeted. It was like a sign that ‘all was well’.
Even though his health deteriorated in between, he stayed connected and even cheered his fans with positive messages. In February this year, he posted a heartwarming message in Hindi saying ‘Wait for me’.
Irrfan’s kindness, simplicity, humility and moving performances shall forever be etched in all our hearts and memories.
As his most ardent admirer, I feel Irrfan’s poignant dialogue from his movie Life of Pi says it all: 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.
All images are taken from: Irrfan Khan/Twitter
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)