“What happens with every role, you have to trick yourself, you have to creatively find ways to explore the mental state of your character.”
-Irrfan Khan on the basics of his craft
A man of few words and countless silent expressions. A background character capable of stealing the show. An exemplary gem of the Indian Cinema. Irrfan Khan was perhaps the most versatile actor to grace the big screen. From featuring in a number of Bollywood movies to starring in a number of A-list Hollywood movies, this man proved that he did entertain people through some substance. Known for his unconventional style of acting, he had the ability to engross the audience into the characters he would portray.
29th April 2020 marks a sad day not only for the cinema industry but for each one of us who were influenced by his work. His untimely demise has left everyone in a state of utter disbelief. Here, we take a look back at his successful and illustrious career.
“Kismat ki ek khaas baat hai… ki wo palatti hai”
-ACP Satyajit Sarkar, Gunday
Upon moving to Mumbai, Irrfan Khan worked in a number of TV serials and played quite a number of minor roles in movies. He also acted as a villain in some of these. Some would say that a negative role suited him. But, it was just one set of his extensive set of skills. His first major role came in 2004, in Haasil, which developed a cult following after it’s release, where he played the negative role and bagged the Filmfare Award for it.
“Chaand pe baadme chale jaana, pehle dharti ko to theek se jaan lo”
-Raja Bhaiyya, Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster Returns
Looking back at Irrfan’s movies is a bittersweet feeling. He served us with some heartwarming and hilarious performances. But, he also managed to draw a tear or two out of his audience. He stayed away from the generic, exploring untold chapters of romance, relationships, and even harsh truths about humanity with every script he brought to life.The body language, the dialogue delivery, everything about him gave a sense of homogeneity and relatability to his roles.
The bitter part kicks in with the realization that we won’t get to see such beautiful performances again.
” Death aur shit… ye do cheese kisi ko kahin bhi, kabhi bhi aa sakti hain”
-Rana Chaudhary, Piku
Irrfan’s first Bollywood role as a lead actor was in 2005 when he starred in Rog. This movie was a stepping stone in his career. Critics started recognizing the genius of this man. His ability to make people both comfortable and uncomfortable with only his expressions brought out his competence as an actor. In 2006, Irrfan also starred in a Telugu film called Sainikudu. This showed the range that this man had as an actor.
In a time where mainstream crowd appeal was beginning to prevail in the film industry, Irrfan was one of the few actors who didn’t just show integrity in his performances, but also in the films he chose. In the past decade, we’ve had the privilege of watching him work in some wholesome comedies. A persistent, friendly, and kind-hearted taxi business owner in Piku, a happy-go-lucky poet in Qarib Qarib Single, an accountant connecting with people after being shut off since becoming a widower in The Lunchbox, you name it.
His recent hit Angrezi Medium served as a conceptually linked sequel to Hindi Medium which released in 2017. Both of them did well in the box office. They also presented audiences with a whole new variety of entertaining cinema. Of course, when one speaks about his comic performances, Blackmail – the dark comedy featuring a toilet paper salesman stuck in a Mexican standoff of blackmail with his wife and her secret lover, should not be forgotten. Another notable mention remains Billu, the 2009 hit centric around a rural barber who gets tossed into a frenzy over rumours that he’s a childhood friend of a famous star who’s in the village for a shoot.
“Jo kahunga, nahi samjhoge… 5, 10, 15 saal baad shayad kahe ka asar hoga… gaharaa.”
-Nirmal Kumar, Madaari
But there’s more to Irrfan as an actor. The serious side of his acting brought to us an investigator seeking justice for a murdered 14-year-old in Talvar, an enraged father seeking revenge for losing his son to corrupt politics in Madaari, and a soldier turned dacoit in the biopic Paan Singh Tomar. A movie that did not do very well with the general public but entertained critics worldwide was Maqbool. The 2003 adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth saw Irrfan step into the role of the right-hand man to Mumbai’s underworld don, played by Pankaj Kapoor.
“Faith is a house with many rooms.”
“But no room for doubt?”
“Oh plenty, on every floor. Doubt is useful, it keeps faith a living thing. After all, you cannot know the strength of your faith until it is tested.”
-Pi Patel, Life of Pi
Pushing his borders beyond Bollywood, Irrfan also put up stellar performances in Hollywood. In 2009, Irrfan became the face of Indian Cinema at the International level. He starred in Slumdog Millionaire in 2009 alongside Dev Patel. The British crime drama film was awarded eight out of ten Academy Awards that year. Irrfan played a minor role in that movie. Although, his part was very crucial to the overall development of the plot.
The role got him recognition worldwide as well, as he then was involved with a number of international projects. Playing pivotal roles in films like Life of Pi, Jurassic World, Puzzle, and The Amazing Spider-Man also gained him international recognition – to an extent that global media outlets report his death today. His work in foreign films includes The Warrior, A Mighty Heart, The Song of Scorpions, and an Indo-Bangladeshi film named ‘Doob’, or ‘No Bed of Roses’. Smashing all of these opportunities, Irrfan made the cut as a global actor, while taking India to the next step in cinematic creation. India sure was proud of this man.
“The key to a happy life is to accept you are never actually in control”
-Masrani, Jurassic World
Every role was a virtue. Each film was a journey. Every character was a new mind for him to navigate through. Always pushing the horizon of what it is to be an artist, he cared less about having a charming face, and more about telling a charming story. Out of everything he’s ever achieved in the face of an actor, perhaps his biggest achievement was his ability to make you giggle with a subtle smile, to make you feel the emotion of a scene, to make you feel as though you were a part of the movie. The way he would do justice to a character was simply breathtaking.
Having already proven his mettle both in Bollywood as well as Hollywood, and being so consistent with his art, Irrfan was rewarded with the Padma Shri, the fourth highest civilian award in India, in 2011, for his exceptional contribution in the field of arts. In the same year, he won the International Indian Film Academy Award for Outstanding Achievement in International Cinema and the CNN-IBN Indian of the year award.
A cinematic legacy that spanned multiple decades comes to a sad end today. Nothing but a rich variety of examples on how to be a true actor has been left behind. The world doesn’t have many storytellers like Irrfan Khan. Heaven knows, there might not be many more to come.
“You cannot reduce the power of story with the tag of money because it’s not a share market. So, you must know the seriousness of the power of storytelling.”
–Irrfan Khan on immortalizing his craft as an artist
~Written By Rithik Talwar and Shreyes Srivastava for MTTN
~Featured Image by: www.indianexpress.com