Irrfan Khan. 53-years-old. 35 incredibly impactful years in the business.
In 2018, when he announced that he had a tumour, I think so many of us who have followed his work gasped collectively. We wanted it not to be true but, if it was, we wanted that he recover well and return to what he does best – light up the screen in every performance he gives. Sadly, the moment this came true with last month’s release ‘Angrezi Medium’, but he was unable to promote the film due to his continuing health problems. But he recorded a special message to accompany one of the trailers of the film, which was full of optimism and addressed everything the audiences might’ve been feeling; that he will return soon, even if it wasn’t quite the right time then.
Today, as news broke of his passing and as tributes were seen all over social media, I thought back at all the movies I’ve seen with him in. And I cannot mention even one where he didn’t have a remarkable performance – be that in multi-starrers like ‘D-Day’ (2013) or where he had a lead supporting role like ‘The Namesake’ (2007). This was one actor who was minus any pretence and achieved everything he did with pure talent and hard work. And that’s why his passing feels personal.
To touch on a few of my favourite roles that Khan undertook, ‘The Namesake’ is a great place to begin. Having read the book, authored by Jhumpa Lahiri, I couldn’t have been more excited about the film version. At the time, I felt that Khan’s rendition of Ashoke Ganguli was unbelievably accurate to the character. Mira Nair directed this film adaptation and Khan made his film debut with her back in 1988. Placing him in Ashoke’s character with Tabu in wife Ashima’s was just genius. It was simply excellent to see them both together.
Another actor Khan was a joy to see on screen with was Amitabh Bachchan in 2015’s ‘Piku’. Their disagreements as cab-driver and client’s (Deepika Padukone) father were a real treat for the audiences. There is no other actor you want to see in Khan’s character Rana and that’s because he brought such ease and comfort to the entire film. His is the character who perhaps the audience can relate to a little bit and his to and fro with Padukone was also special – as a potential love interest. It was definitely an unconventional film but this role was so perfect for Khan that you absolutely don’t think twice about the casting of Rana.
To give one more mention of a Khan film that really sticks out in my head, I can’t go ahead without mentioning ‘The Lunchbox’ (2013). Having been a firm favourite with the film festivals around the world, this Ritesh Batra directorial saw it’s release happen in September 2013 in India. Khan’s performance as Saajan Fernandes is very difficult to criticise. He is so nuanced that you literally end up giving your heart to the film and it’s story. It was one of Khan’s most successful films and so it should’ve been. It’s one the audienes can and will watch over and over.
Having looked back at not even a complete handful of Khan’s performances, I can absolutely agree with everyone who has said today that cinema has lost one of it’s finest actors way too soon. He was a fighter and he will shine as one the brightest, most indestructible stars up above. And we will watch his magic – created by his strength of persona, his staunch belief in hard work and his very obvious love for his profession – for many years to come.
Rest in peace, IK. We will always miss you.
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