Goodbye Irrfan Khan: The Roles We’ll Cherish Forever

Irrfan Khan breathed his last in Mumbai on 29 April. 

3 min read

For some reason, Irrfan Khan’s going away seems deeply personal. Some of us were lucky to have met him in person but for most of us, it was his magic on the big screen that made us feel like we had forged a special relationship with him. One of the last films I saw in a theatre and reviewed before this lockdown was Angrezi Medium. At that time I had no idea that it would indeed be his last. This sentence always tears me up and it is so difficult to imagine cinema and films without one of its brightest stars.

During the promotions of Angrezi Medium, Irrfan was unable to join in due to his ill health and had released an audio clip which started with the lines “Bhaiyon aur Behno…Namaskaar. Main hoon aapka Irrfan, main aaj aapke saath hoon bhi aur nahi bhi…,” the feeling is still sinking in.

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So how does one pay tribute to one who has gifted us so many enriching performances and who still had so much in him? Destiny is cruel and it robbed us of the chance to experience the Irrfan magic one more time but right now I’ll share some of my personal favourite Irrfan performances. Every time one sat down to watch an Irrfan film one knew for sure that regardless of the merit of the movie his performance would always stand out.

No one can romance like Shah Rukh Khan. That’s true. But then no one can romance quite like Irrfan khan either. Remember him as the free-spirited Rana Chaudhry in Piku opposite Deepika Padukone? When I had heard of this pairing I was curious about how it would pan out. But after having seen this delightful Shoojit Sircar film I came out wondering why no one thought of this pairing earlier! The car scene, where just using this electrifying gaze he made Deepika change her seat is a testament to Irrfan’s craft and how he made it all look deceptively easy. He showed us that to play a romantic lead, one did not necessarily have to conform to a set formula.

Deepika Padukone and Irrfan Khan in <i>Piku</i>.&nbsp;
Deepika Padukone and Irrfan Khan in Piku
(Photo courtesy: Twitter)

Qarib Qarib Singlle where he played Yogendra Kumar Devendra Nath Prajapathi urf Viyogi. Earthy, unpretentious without shedding an ounce of his natural aura, romance the Irrfan way had a charm of its own.

As I pen this down in a post- Irrfan’s lines from Life of Pi have acquired a solemn poignancy. “I suppose in the end, the whole of life becomes an act of letting go, but what always hurts the most is not taking a moment to say goodbye”. Playing the adult Pi in Ang Lee’s stunning Life of Pi, Khan was impeccable even in the limited screen time he had.

How many times have we had stars reveal to us their latest “look” for a film. A new wig, hairstyle, dexterously put together prosthetics and makeup but Irrfan would just transform, seducing us subtly with deceptive simplicity. So, while watching The Namesake as the mild-mannered Ashoke Ganguly one would wonder if Irrfan is indeed a Bengali or as the dominating patriarch in Anup Singh's powerful film Qissa his command over Punjabi seemed organic. How did Irrfan keep getting better and better…

In Paan Singh Tomar, Irrfan Khan immortalised a man who was just a footnote in Indian sports till then. It, to date, counts among his most compelling performances,
In Paan Singh Tomar, Irrfan Khan immortalised a man who was just a footnote in Indian sports till then. It, to date, counts among his most compelling performances,
(Photo: Twitter)

Come to think of it, Irrfan had the most powerful weapons - his intense almost hypnotic gaze and a guileless warm smile and a face that could register mired emotions, enchanting us. Tigmashu Dhulia’s Paan Singh Tomar where deftly he portrayed the full range of his character’s trajectory from an earnest hardworking sportsman to the dark solid core that belonged to an angry disillusioned rebel.

As Maqbool Miyaan in Maqbool who negotiated a plot full of surprises and reversals unfolding with confidence or Saajan Fernandes the man of meaningful silences in The Lunchbox. Only Irrfan could make us feel like dialogues can’t convey enough that his eyes can.

Little Gogol in The Namesake asks his father, “How long do I have to remember it for Remember it always,” Irrfan had said. And that’s what we would do too… celebrate his cinematic triumphs because he allowed us to carry a little bit of his magic every time we walked out after seeing his film.

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