Irrfan Khan – The man who personified subtlety

There are only a few actors in this world whose performances touch you in a way that you can’t even fathom. Irrfan Khan was one such actor. My heart still aches to write about him in the past tense. The fact that he is no more is yet to sink in. Yes, it’s almost a year since his sad demise but I still feel that he will come back, how? That I don’t know.

Ever since his death, I have been trying to pen my emotions but it has been extremely difficult. Because no matter what, I know my words won’t be enough to express how devastated his demise has left his admirers all over the world. Even attempting to describe that void is like describing the colour of air or the taste of water. You just can’t.

Irrfan’s death not only came as a huge shock to everyone but it felt like a personal loss. What was about him that made us all feel the pain of his death so innately? Well, for me he was not a superstar. He was just like one of us but a much more gifted mortal and perhaps that’s the reason why we all could relate to him so much no matter what kind of roles he played on-screen. Irrfan was not just one of the finest actor we had but he was a great human being too and that explains the kind of love he has been showered with all his life on national as well as international platforms.


In a field where being a star means flaunting box office numbers or boasting of the wealth that you have amassed, Irrfan was a different entity altogether. He didn’t live the characters that he played, instead, he infused life into those characters. And that’s the reason why all of his performances looked so effortless. Subtlety was Irrfan’s superpower. He had mastered the art of being simple which in itself is the most difficult thing to achieve for any artiste.


Hogging limelight just for the sake of being in the public eye was not Irrfan’s style. He let his work do the talking and his vast filmography will show the kind of films he wanted to be associated with or the kind of stories he wanted to reach to the audience.

If you go through his interviews, not even once you will find the actor boasting of his craft or the kind of accolades he has earned through his acting prowess. The hunger for doing something challenging and different kept him driving all his life. The ‘Life of Pi’ actor had once said that he has embraced uncertainty and believed in not planning the future. His wisdom, his way of looking at life and embracing its uncertainties has left an indelible impression on me.


Irrfan aspired to break the societal norms or not to get mould in other’s expectations right from his childhood. In one of his interviews for the show ‘Har Ghar Kuch Kehta Hai’, the actor had shared that in childhood while his family wanted him to go for hunting, he preferred flying kites and that made him father remark- a Brahmin has been born in the house of Pathans. That one line explains so much about the artiste Irrfan grew up to be. He walked the talk. Never believed in playing to the gallery and that set him apart from the other Khans in Bollywood. Unlike his peers, Irrfan never adhered to any gimmicks or used tricks of the trade to gain prominence. A quality that no other actor can boast of.


Irrfan’s love for poetry was yet another reason why he was one of my favourite artistes. In the majority of his films, writers and filmmaker like Gulzar and Vishal Bhardwaj had woven poetry in the form of dialogues. Gulzar’s lines “Ek baar toh yoon hoga, thoda saa sukun hoga, na dil mei kasak hogi, na sar pe junoon hoga,” mouthed by Irrfan in Bhardwaj’s ‘7 Khoon Maaf’ still rings in my ear.


As Vincent Van Gogh said, “Art is to console those who are broken by life.” Irrfan’s art is exactly that. I won’t be talking about his best performances because there’s isn’t just one or two that can be discussed. The actor was an institution in himself and his film were an extension of his personality. Just watch his films like ‘Paan Singh Tomar’, ‘Talvar’, Mumbai Meri Jaan’, ‘Life In a Metro’, ‘The Namesake’, ‘The Lunchbox’, ‘Life of Pi’ ‘Haider’, ‘Qissa’, ‘Thank You’, ‘Piku’, ‘Hindi Medium’, or ‘Qarib Qarib Single’ and you would know why it’s difficult to list down his best performances.


Back in 2015, when Nandita Das was making a biopic of Sadat Hassan Manto, I so badly wanted Irrfan to play the lead. In fact, everyone was rooting for him to take up that film. Back then, in one of her interviews, revealing how eager Irrfan was to play Manto, Nandita had shared that the actor had told her, “Manto karne ke liye toh koi qabar se bhi uth ke aa jaye (To play Manto one can even get up from the grave).” For reasons unknown, that role eventually went to Nawazuddin Siddiqui.


Someone, please make a film on Manto again, perhaps then Irrfan may live up to his words and comes back again. Irrfan, there never was, there never will be anyone like you. We sorely miss you.

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