Irrfan Khan (1967-2020): An actor whose brilliance made everything better

Songs Lyrics 4 you

Written by Shubhra Gupta
| New Delhi |

Updated: April 29, 2020 2:35:42 pm

irfan khan deathIrrfan Khan passed away on Wednesday. (Express archive photo)

There are some obituaries you never, ever want to write. This is one of them. We knew Irrfan Khan was struggling with a debilitating disease. We knew he was gravely ill. But we also believed that he would rise and shine again, because, how could he not? How could he leave us, this fabulously talented human, who with his fine body of work, enriched our inner lives?

Irrfan was not just one of the most skilled actors who lit up the screen. He also managed to walk off the screen, and come home with us. He made space for himself in our hearts, nestled in unexpected corners, and popped up once in a while, for a chat. Which he would begin, with that characteristic hooded-eyed smile: chaliye baat karte hain.

From the very first glimpse we had of him in Shyam Benegal’s teleserial Bharat Ek Khoj, we knew we were in the presence of someone truly special. And, over a period of thirty years and more, he never let us down. If this sounds like a gush, yes, it is. An unapologetic, teary-eyed one, because he made things better, even in his no-account parts.

Of his impressive body of work, four films jostle for the top spot for me: Tigmanshu Dhulia’s Haasil in which he plays a local Illahabadi student leader, Vishal Bharadwaj’s Maqbool’ in which he was a mobster-with-many-moods-in-Mumbai, Mira Nair’s The Namesake, in which his Bengali bhadralok immigrant finds his place in faraway New York, and Anoop Singh’s Qissa, in which he plays a man desirous of something he could not have. These roles combine not just the skill of a schooled actor, but deep empathy, a generosity of spirit, and an unfettered intelligence, which shone through everything he did, good, indifferent, or flat-out fabulous.

Tabu in MaqboolIrrfan Khan and Tabu in Maqbool.Songs Lyrics 4 you

Irrfan Khan (1967-2020): A pictorial tribute to the versatile actor

He did everything. Or at least everything that Bollywood brought to his table, after having learnt that this tall, rangy, magnetic-eyed person could transform, into anyone, with a particular kind of magic. It took the film industry many years to find Irrfan, and it isn’t as if he was flooded with roles from the big studios immediately after his breakout roles, post-2002, in Haasil and Maqbool. But the filmmakers who did, like his National School of Drama mate Dhulia, and Bharadwaj, made the most of his, and their own, innate knowledge of the Hindi belt, long neglected by Bollywood. Their coming together was a great confluence. It brought a new language, new robustness to Hindi cinema, something that old-school Bollywood filmmakers like Mahesh Bhatt recognised. Bhatt’s production house gave Irrfan a chance to go over to the other side, away from the raw, visceral gangland/heartland tales, and explore other worlds. He even did Rohit Shetty’s brainless comedies, like a Sunday, with the same verve, as he did Dhulia’s gritty, hard-hitting dacoit tale, Paan Singh Tomar: it was all grist to his very fine mill.

Of course, there was no confining him to Bollywood. Irrfan’s work took him to the world, and he was the only Indian actor who had well and truly crossed over. He had already made early an appearance in Wes Anderson’s The Darjeeling Limited ( 2007). But the big-and-small parts in international productions quickened after Danny Boyle’s 2008 Oscar-winner Slumdog Millionaire, and he showed up in Ang Lee’s magical-realistic tale of survival, Life Of Pi, and in mega-budget franchises The Amazing Spiderman and Jurassic World.

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But home was really where his heart was. None of these much-publicised international outings could truly mine what Irrfan was capable of. He did those movies because he could, but saved the razzle-dazzle for his ‘desi’ outings. Fully switched on, he came up as close to us as possible, to start that conversation: chaliye, baat karte hain.

I hope that those will never, ever end.

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