It’s truly a terrible day for us all. The cruel Gods have taken away Irrfan Khan–one of the greatest actors, performers, and kindest people whom we can proudly say belonged to the Indian film industry. His dedication to the craft of acting is what made him loved by everybody. He never gave less than 110% to any film that he died, regardless of how big or small his role was. Not one understated performance, not one subpar delivery of character and dialogue. Be it Bollywood, Hollywood, or the British film industry, Irrfa Khan stayed true to his goal in life: “I want to entertain people, but with some substance.”
There is no way to capture in words the brilliance, the dazzling kohinoor that was Irrfan Khan. All we can do is remember him by his greatest legacy: the films he acted in. Every role of his made our humdrum lives a little lighter, a little more livable. Here are some of his greatest performances. It’s our only way of honouring him, and we will continue to pay our respects by being loyal fans of Irrfan Khan.
Until The Namesake, the Indian diaspora hadn’t really been represented on the big screen. So when Irrfan and Tabu became the Ganguli parents who were struggling with dual identities, straddling India and USA, and raising their difficult son, we all could relate–whether we were in the US or not. Irrfan’s Ashok Ganguli was played with such conviction, such honesty, that we could understand all of his troubles, and his love for his family. What a performance.
Okay, can I just say one thing: it’s like William Shakespeare wrote Macbeth, back in 1606, because he knew that Irrfan Khan would play the titular character in a Bollywood remake–some four centuries later. I mean, there’s nobody else who can bring to life the drama, the murderous rage, and the cowardice of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, than Irrfan Khan. If you haven’t watched this movie, then what are you even doing with your life.
Life…In A Metro
When Monty, played by Irrfan Khan, meets Shruti through a matrimonial site, he is ready to marry her. He is socially inept and very straightforward, but that also means he loves honestly and unabashedly. His journey of love and heartbreak is so heartwrenching and relatable, that only Khan could portray the characters vulnerability with such honesty.
Slumdog Millionaire is obviously one of the defining films of the 21st century, but it’s also one of Irrfan Khan’s most defining performances. A cruel cop who tortures Jamaal Malik, Khan portrayed a man who was unlike many of his other pleasant, agreeable characters. Every time he addressed Jamaal, I got the chills. It only tells you how grounded he is in his character’s reality.
If there’s any fun, spunky, filmy movie that played a major role in my growing up, it’s definitely Billu. Irrfan Khan is Billu, a local barber, who helped out SRK’s Sahir Khan, a huge superstar, many years ago. It’s the perfect amalgamation of small town meets Bollywood, with Irrfan’s fantastic acting that brings the quirky Billu to life.
Life of Pi
“I suppose, in the end, the whole of life becomes an act of letting go.”
In Life of Pi, Irrfan Khan played Pi the adult, who narrates his adventures of being stranded on a boat with a tiger, Richard Parker, in the middle of the harsh seas. Irrfan Khan’s Pi somehow holds the same childish adventure while telling the story, and draws the audience in with every word.
Irrfan’s Rana Choudhary is the perfect opposite to Deepika’s crabby Piku. He has to begrudgingly drive Piku and her father across cities, from Delhi to Kolkata, and developes feelings for Piku along the way. No other actor can portray irritation as comedically as Irrfan Khan did.
Hindi Medium showed us that Irrfan Khan has a knack for comedy as well, just as much as he does for dramatic roles. He plays a father who tries to admit his daughter into an English Medium school, thus satirizing the sycophantic behaviour of the Indian middle class who aspires to be as English as possible. What comic timing.
I don’t know any other actor who can make the character of a boring, lonely uncle, someone so vulnerable and soft. He broke down the hard exterior of Mr Fernandes, and made him someone who just wants love–like the rest of us. Mr Fernandes does go through a graph in the movie, ever so subtly, ever so lightly. Only Irrfan Khan could show us this graph while staying true to the story.
I can never thank Mira Nair enough for bringing the force of nature, that is Irrfan Khan, into our lives and onto our screens. Although he played the small role of a letter writer in the film, it was the ease with which he delivered the dialogues, and the conviction with which he stayed true to his character, that caught the eye of filmmakers and film viewers, from all over the world. Watch the clip to witness how, even in his very first film, Irrfan Khan’s skills were far ahead of his time.
I wish there was some miracle that cured Irrfan Khan of the merciless disease he had, or have him know just how much he has influenced multiple generations with his beautiful storytelling. But, if there’s one thing that consoles me, it’s that Irrfan Khan has left a legacy behind for us that will be immortalized forever. Through his movies, we can relive one of the greatest performers of all time.