Last year, Irffan Khan passed away after a two-year-long battle with neuroendocrine cancer and cinema all over the world lost one of its brightest stars. Acting in over 70 films since his debut in 1988, he had established a place in our hearts with his talent, his charm and most importantly his expressive eyes.
Irrfan was an actor, who was never bad in a film. He was rarely in a bad film, as he had an impeccable script sense. From Macbeth to Marvel, the actor constantly pushed the boundaries of his filmography. He was known worldwide, but for people back home he was a part of all of us, an embodiment of common people. He was the actor who looked like us, talked like us and told stories about people like us.
To point out the ‘best’ performance of the actor is a herculean task. How do you choose from Saajan Fernandez in Lunchbox, Miyan Maqbool from Maqbool, Paan Singh Tomar, Ashoke Ganguli in The Namesake, Pi Patel in Life of Pi, Rana Chaudhary in Piku or Raj Batra in Hindi Medium? And the many many other splendid performances that he gave in his career? Art might be subjective but the reason we cannot choose one performance over the other is because the actor was flawless in everything.
Irrfan’s chameleon-like skill of adapting into any character made him a great fit for the West too. Whether it was Life of Pi, Inferno, The Amazing Spider-Man or Jurassic World, Irrfan was sure to carve his niche amid the glitz of Hollywood A-listers. The fact that he chose roles that did not stereotype South Asians, from a limited list of projects was commendable.
In a way, he was instrumental in ensuring better roles for South Asian actors and paved a way for many of them. Actors like Freida Pinto, Riz Ahmed, Golshifteh Farahani, Mindy Kaling, Kal Penn and many other actors spoke about being devastated about his death is testament to the fact. He was also honoured by the Academy at the Oscars 2021 In Memoriam segment.
However, we also took Irrfan for granted. Despite giving his best in some of the most critically acclaimed films, he rarely tasted success at the box office. Hindi Medium was one of his biggest solo hits. Irrfan had a lot of expectations from Angrezi Medium, what was to be his last film that was released a month before his death. However, the film faced the wrath of the Coronavirus induced pandemic and could not make the impact it intended to.
Why did we only realise what we had lost after he passed away? Were we not evolved as an audience to appreciate some of his most profound work? Irrfan’s untimely death also meant that a bright career was cut short before it even reached its peak.
Irrfan’s death has left a permanent void in our hearts and the film industry. However, he has left behind a shining legacy of films that will never not be relevant. His work inspired and continues to inspire actors to pursue their dreams. He broke the notion that to be relevant in Bollywood, you need connections and have to fit into a beauty standard. Irrfan proved that it only took talent and sheer determination to make it big.
While talking about legacy, Irrfan’s son Babil will be making his film debut with Anvita Dutt’s Qala opposite Tripti Dimri. The film will be produced by Anushka Sharma’s Clean Slate Filmz. By the first look of it, the film looks extremely promising. Babil has also gained appreciation by members of the film fraternity for Qala’s teaser. It will be interesting to see what he does with his career in cinema. It will also be interesting to see how he creates his own footing in the industry.
Irrfan passed away on April 29, 2020. He was 53. He is also survived by his wife Sutapa Sikdar and younger son Ayan Khan.