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The maverick named Irrfan

Bollywood may have Badshahs and Shahenshahs but there’s only one Irrfan who came and conquered our hearts.

Bollywood may have Badshahs and Shahenshahs but there’s only one Irrfan who came and conquered our hearts. 

Anurag Singh Bohra | New Delhi

As all of us are mourning the loss of cinema’s most precious gem, I write with grief about Irrfan Khan. Still holding on my emotions I find it hard to accept that Indian cinema’s greatest legend is no more. 

 From theatre to television and finally the silver-screen, Irrfan came a long way as an actor. Starting his innings at a time when Indian films were meant to be for the mainstream audience with song, dance and action sequences, Irrfan carved a niche for himself. Working on his craft and staying relevant from the 80s till the emergence of the multiplex in the early 2000s, the actor continued working in theatre, television, and films, irrespective of the length of the character he portrayed. 

Starting his television career with Shrikant (1985-86) he starred in Shyam Benegal’s Bharat Ek Khoj (1988), Dr. Chandraprakash Dwivedi’s Chanakya (1992), Nirja Guleri’s Chandrakanta (1994) and Sanjay Khan’s The Great Maratha (1994). Irrfan also played Maharishi Valmiki in Sanjay Khan’s Jai Hanuman (1997). His television stint was as long as his movies. But whatever character he played it would be with such artistic finesse that the viewers will be left spellbound and mesmerized. His anthology television-series ‘Star Bestsellers’ is revisited by the audience of all age groups.

Irrfan, who began his film career with Salaam Bombay (1988), is known for his exceptional and captivating performances in Maqbool (2003), The Namesake (2006), Saat Khoon Maaf (2011), Paan Singh Tomar (2012), The Lunchbox (2013), Haider (2014) and Madaari (2016). Later in his career, he did some light-hearted films like Piku (2015), Hindi Medium (2017), Qarib Qarib Single (2017), and his last release Angrezi Medium (2020). Apart from grey shade roles or dark characters, the audience gave a thumbs-up to the actor’s spectacular performances where he portrayed a simpleton enacting diverse emotions. His 2018 dark comedy Blackmail was also well received and Irrfan was revered for his comic timings and effortless acting skills.

While it would take a prolonged feature mentioning each and every character he’s played, it’s the time to reminiscence not merely Irrfan the actor but our very own Irrfan who was as human as any of us. His vulnerability was felt in his performances and interviews, which made him a household name. Never got embroiled in a controversy, yet made it to the top with sheer hard work and dedication towards his passion. Irrfan was the true depiction of a common man both on-screen and off-screen. Whenever the actor used to speak his lines in a movie, one could relate with him due to the conviction with which he adapted to the soul of the script and character. 

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Irrfan would never shy away from bearing his soul. He would speak candidly about his views on acting, theatre, cinema, and filmmaking. Coming from a theatre background, Irrfan always stressed the need for an actor to get into the skin of the character. In his brief role in Ang Lee’s Life of Pi, the same could be witnessed. It’s nostalgic and hurtful for cinema lovers globally remembering his last shot in the film. “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,” – Irrfan as older Pi Patel in Life of Pi. 

It hurts indeed. But in no way, people will ever forget Irrfan and his magnificent performances throughout his career.

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The actor survived over three decades where an ideal hero must know how to dance and lip-sync, and later on the six-packs revolution. Irrfan time and again broke all the conventional norms and reached the pinnacle of artistry through persistence and focus. In the present times, Irrfan taught us the way of living without regrets and to never give up on life come what may. In the current scenario when people are in a state of chaos and hostility, Irrfan’s life paves the way for self-belief, positivity, compassion, and empathy. 

Whenever you lose hope just remind yourself if Irrfan could make it this far so can I. There will be times when the news on pandemic may shake your spirits, just think about Irrfan’s life journey. 

As Hrishikesh Mukherjee preached in Anand (1971), ‘Zindagi Badi Honi Chahiye Lambi Nahi.’ Irrfan lived a life worthy of love and reverence by living his dream and making it big not just in Indian cinema, but Hollywood as well. One could get a glimpse of Irrfan’s vision for his craft among unconventional actors comprising Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Rajkumar Rao, Vicky Kaushal.

Bollywood may have Badshahs and Shahenshahs but there’s only one Irrfan who came and conquered our hearts. 

As Paan Singh Tomar said, “Their lies the finish line. Tell my story to everyone. That Paan Singh finished his race. He didn’t surrender.” Neither did Irrfan.

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