04 - 07 - 2020

IRRFAN KHAN (1967 – 2020) 'Mein tha, mein hoon aur mein hi rahunga…'

The dialogue from his film Haider truly sums up how incredibly gifted actor Irrfan Khan will remain ever immortal. Yet since flesh is mortal, the versatile actor finally lost his battle with neuroendocrine tumour as he passed away in a Mumbai hospital where he was admitted for colon infection. 

One of the greatest actors that Indian cinema has seen, he however did not carry his greatness as a chip on his shoulder. Rather, was as self-deprecating about his talent as was his sardonic sense of humour, which came across in many of his interviews. 

But who can deny or dispute the sheer brilliance of his craft with which he not only straddled the world of commercial and artistic cinema but also Bollywood and Hollywood. Every time one enquired about an actor who has made his mark in international waters and the answer was Irrfan Khan. Any wonder even Hollywood actors like Mark Ruffalo recognised and complimented him.

Seen in movies like Life of Pi, The Namesake, Jurassic World, Inferno, A Mighty Heart and Amazing Spiderman, while Indian superstars revelled in their 100 crore clubs, he who made his presence felt in many an international blockbuster rarely blew his trumpet. Even though films such as The Lunchbox, in which he played the middle-aged lover with classic subtle inflections, became a huge hit overseas.

Of course, in the Indian mainstream cinema his first solo superhit Hindi Medium came rather late in life, at the ripe age of 50. Its sequel Angrezi Medium sadly would go down as his last tryst with celluloid screen and one in which, despite ailing health, he did not disappoint either his fans or critics. Spurred by tremendous self-belief, hard work and exemplary ability, he became one with his characters across a wide range. If his rise as an actor is awe-inspiring, his immeasurable talent is a textbook case that would inspire generations.

A product of the National School of Drama, New Delhi, success however did not come to him overnight. Industry watchers have been witness to his struggle, of his early television days as well as times when his movies like Paan Singh Tomar struggled to find a release. Later the Tigmanshu Dhulia directorial fetched him a National Award and firmed up his unrivalled creative space. In more recent times, films like Piku in which he was romantically paired opposite Deepika Padukone endeared him to his admirers further more. A critics’ darling, directors’ favourite and viewers’ delight, his performances always won effusive praise and he delighted us as much with his comic timing in movies like Life in a Metro (a turning point in his career) as his in-depth understanding of his characters as in Maqbool.

Nuanced in his portrayals to the point of perfection, he understood the demands of commercial Hindi cinema too, which he slowly realised did not call for too much background research but pure spontaneity. He dovetailed his acting prowess to fit into films like Anees Bazmee’s Thank You.  Yet he did not believe in formulaic representations and went on record to say at IFFI, Goa, where Ang Lee’s Life of Pi was the opening film, “Definitions limit your experience. So don’t try to make a formula out of things or seek short-cut answers through narrow constructs.” 

Much of what he said and has been said about him will forever ring true. Can we, who feel his loss with a heavy heart, today, draw comfort from the Margaret Mitchell quote that he posted soon after learning about his debilitating disease in 2018. “Life's under no obligation to give us what we expect.”

For a man who surpassed expectations each time he came on screen, cinephiles would certainly be obliged for life’s gift that Irrfan was and will always be, even while wondering what more he could have bequeathed to the art and craft of cinema.

 

Nonika Singh