Gone Too Soon – Irrfan Khan Dies at 53; World Cinema And Fans Bid Emotional Adieu

Irrfan Khan
Irrfan Khan - An Icon of Indian Cinema
Irrfan Khan
Irrfan Khan – An Icon of Indian Cinema

“I suppose, in the end, the whole of life becomes an act of letting go.

But what will always hurt the most …

is not taking a moment to say goodbye” – The Namesake

Maqbool actor Irrfan Khan breathed his last in Mumbai’s Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani hospital on Wednesday morning. He was taken into the intensive care department after his condition started deteriorating. He was 53.

Khan was diagnosed with a rare form of Cancer; a neuroendocrine tumour in 2018 and received extensive treatment in London before coming back to Mumbai.

A note has been released by his family confirming the news “Surrounded by his love, his family for whom he most cared about, he left for heavenly abode, leaving behind truly a legacy of his own. We all pray and hope that he is at peace.”

Irrfan Khan started his career with daily soap operas such as ‘Chanakya’, ‘Bharat Ek Khoj’, ‘Sara Jahaan Hamara’, ‘Banegi Apni Baat’, ‘Chandrakanta’, ‘Shrikant’ to name a few. And also the most talked-about work on Doordarshan, ‘Laal Ghaas par Neele Ghode’ where he portrayed the character of Lenin which is based on the work of Mikhail Shatrov.

But his acting career took a turn when Mira Nair approached him for ‘Salaam Bombay’ in 1988 where he sketched the role of a letter writer, one of the most iconic characters of Hindi cinema of all times. The film was later nominated as India’s second film submission for the Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film (Oscar).

Mira Nair first spotted Khan at the National School of Drama (NSD) where the actor was studying theatre literature.

Some other prolific roles that he played was in The Cloud Door (1944), A Mighty Heart (2007), The Darjeeling Limited (2007), and Kali Salwar (2002) based on a short story of Saddat Hassan Manto.

He also played the most critically acclaimed role in Mira Nair’s ‘The Namesake’ based on Jhumpa Lahiri’s novel where he played the character of Ashok who struggles with his wife in an arranged marriage situation initially in Kolkata and late moves out to the suburbs of New York. His character is also seen in a complex relationship with his son, who is a byproduct of the amalgamation of the Indo-American culture and the nostalgia.

He plays a police inspector in Slumdog Millionaire (2005) which tells the story of 18-year-old Jamal Malik from Asia’s biggest slum Dharavi. The film got ten nominations for Oscars and bagged eight of them, including seven BAFTA awards.

One of the most praised films of the actor and also the most underrated is Anup Singh’s ‘Quissa’ (2014) which is an Indian-German drama film in Punjabi about a man who raises a daughter as a son and keeps her in denial about her gender to carry on the lineage of the family. The film was screened in the Contemporary World Cinema at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival. The film is available to watch on YouTube currently.

Khan was truly an actor of substance. He once said, “I want to entertain people with some substance …” And the actor truly stood by it.

He simultaneously maintained a balance between parallel cinema and the cinema in the mainstream. Some of the most memorable roles which made a place for him in our hearts were in Life in Metro (2007) in which he played the role of a middle-aged single man who is desperate to find a girl and his iconic dialogue “yeh sheher hume jitna deta hain; badle mein kahin zyada hum se le leta hain”.

Or the character of Rana in Piku who comes as a breath of fresh air for Piku and her hypochondriac father, “Death aur shit … yeh dono cheezen kisiko, kahin bhi, kabhi bhi aa sakti hain”.

In one of his interviews, a critic told him probably he is one such actor to have bridged a gap between Anees Bazmee and Ang Lee. Irrfan Khan played the character of Pi Patel of the older age and left his mark in Hollywood.

He has also lent voice to Jon Favreau’s American live-action epic ‘The Jungle Book’ – the Hindi version to the friendly bear Baloo.

He was indeed an epitome of versatility, and his demise is a huge loss for cinema across the globe.

It was too soon Irrfan!