Irrfan Khan dies at age 54.
The year 2020 did not begin on a very promising note for people across the globe. The world was battling Covid-19 pandemic right from the start of January, but by the time April came to an end, India woke up to more heartbreaking news from the entertainment industry. Bollywood lost a multifaceted actor to cancer and left the country in a state of permanent shock. The news of passing away of Irrfan Khan has left not just the Indian Film Industry and Hollywood grief-stricken but commoners too are heartbroken.
Irrfan Khan, who started his career with television in the year 1985, eventually ended up gaining international acclaim in his career. A small role in the 1985 drama ‘Shrikant’, based on Sharat Chandra Chattopadhyaya’s novel ‘Srikanto’, led him to make appearances in several noteworthy serials on the small screen. Right from B. R. Chopra’s magnum opus ‘Mahabharat’, to Shyam Benegal’s ‘Bharat Ek Khoj’, Irrfan was seen in small but significant roles that gave him a chance to experiment with his talent. He later starred in ‘Chanakya’, followed by the epic love story ‘Chandrakanta’, where he played twin brothers Badrinath and Somnath. ‘Chandrakanta’ gave him the credit he deserved and Irrfan was seen in more memorable roles on India’s national service Doordarshan.
And that was just the beginning. When cable television services began in the country, Irrfan went on to star in ‘Banegi Apni Baat’ and ‘Just Mohabbat’, which were every 90’s kids’ favourite shows back in the day. He also hosted shows like ‘Kya Kahein’ and ‘Mano Ya Na Mano’, which dealt with the occult. He tried his hands at supernatural shows with ‘Ssshhhh…Koi Hai’ and ‘X Zone’, and also appeared in the seventh edition of the reality series ‘Roadies’. Irrfan later shifted his focus solely on films.
Although the alumnus of National School of Drama had started signing films in the late 80s, Irrfan Khan did not get the due he deserved for a long time. He struggled to find his footing in the industry and played roles that not many would remember. The Mira Nair directorial and India’s second official entry to the Oscars ‘Salaam Bombay’ had Irrfan Khan in a minuscule role, which was chopped off from the final product, thus marking the 1989 movie ‘Kamla Ki Maut’ as his debut film. Irrfan had years of struggle ahead of him before he struck gold at the box office.
After playing a public prosecutor in Vikram Bhatt’s romantic thriller ‘Kasoor’, Irrfan Khan finally made a remarkable footprint in Bollywood. His acting skills were taken note of and his talent was acknowledged in the film industry. With varied and offbeat roles in movies like ‘Charas’, ‘Haasil’, ‘Rog’ and ‘Chocolate’, Irrfan Khan went on to prove his mettle in the industry. Avid cinephiles started to notice an actor, who went beyond the conventional. His looks did not conform to Bollywood standards neither did his style of acting, yet Irrfan Khan was an actor people immediately connected with!
He played roles that the audiences identified with, making him a people’s actor. Not just the classes, but masses, too, loved him playing roles that defined an average Indian man. His portrayals in ‘The Namesake’, ‘Maqbool’, ‘The Lunchbox’, ‘New York’, ‘Saheb, Biwi Aur Gangster Returns’, ‘Mumbai Meri Jaan’, ‘Haider’, ‘Talvar’, ‘Madaari’ and ‘Blackmail’ were close to reality that were highly appreciated by the audiences. His depiction in the biographical film ‘Paan Singh Tomar’, where he played the eponymous role of the gold-medal-winning-athlete-turned-dacoit, won him critical acclaim. For his portrayal, Irrfan received the 60th National Film Award for the Best Actor. In 2011, Irrfan also received the Padma Bhushan, India’s fourth highest civilian honour, for his contribution towards art and cinema.
Taking the road towards the west, Irrfan starred in Hollywood movies like the Oscar-winning ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ and ‘Life Of Pi’, along with ‘Jurassic World’, ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’ and ‘Inferno’, where he shared the screen with Hollywood stars like Chris Pratt and Tom Hanks. Shekhar Kapur in his tribute called Irrfan Khan “Indian films’ most successful export to Hollywood”. Not just that, because of his schedules in India, he had to turn down Christopher Nolan’s ‘Interstellar’. He also refused to sign Steven Spielberg’s film because he did not find it appealing. Irrfan turned down Ridley Scott’s offer twice. He did not take up ‘The Martian’ and later ‘Body Of Lies’, because the characters did not work out for him. Irrfan Khan also dabbled in mainstream Indian cinema with different roles in movies like ‘Sunday’, ‘Life In A…Metro’, ‘Krazzy 4’, Piku’, Billu’ and ‘Hindi Medium’ to name a few.
While Indian fans are left heartbroken, his co-stars and colleagues in Hollywood, too, were shattered when the news of his sudden demise came out. Chris Pratt, who starred with him in ‘Jurassic World’, fondly remembered Irrfan as an exquisite actor. His ‘Mighty Heart’ co-star Angelina Jolie, too, mourned his death. Hollywood stars including Natalie Portman, Riz Ahmed, Ava DuVernay and Mindy Kaling also paid their tributes. ‘Life of Pi’ director Ang Lee remembered working with the actor in the Academy-nominated movie and mentioned how Irrfan’s passing away was cinema’s greatest loss. Not just Hollywood actors and directors, who worked with Irrfan paid homage, media houses like Sony Pictures India and The Academy, too, took to Twitter to share their thoughts on the versatile actor.
In 2018, Irrfan Khan had developed neuroendocrine cancer, the news of which he had posted on his official Twitter handle. He had travelled overseas for the treatment and had returned to India to complete (now credited as) his last film ‘Angrezi Medium’. But late in the evening of April 28, just four days after Irrfan lost his mother, he complained of respiratory problems and was rushed to Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital in Mumbai. But he couldn’t make it past and breathed his last in the morning of April 29, 2020. At 53 years of age, before he started to come out into mainstream cinema, Irrfan lost his battle against cancer, leaving the industry and his fans in tears. He is survived by his wife Sutapa Sikdar and two sons Babil and Ayan Khan.
From ‘Shrikant’ to ‘Angrezi Medium’, Irrfan had come a long way in his showbiz journey and left an indelible mark in the hearts of his fans. His memories shall be permanently etched in the minds of movie goers and there shall be none other like the multitalented Irrfan Khan!