Indian actor Irrfan no more


Actor par excellence, Indian actor Irrfan Khan passed away early on April 29. He was 53.

The actor, who was diagnosed with a neuroendocrine tumour in 2018, was admitted to a Mumbai hospital on April 28 with a colon infection, as per agencies.

“Irrfan was a strong soul, someone who fought till the very end and always inspired everyone who came close to him. After having been struck by lightning in 2018 with the news of a rare cancer, he took life soon after as it came and he fought the many battles that came with it. Surrounded by his love, his family for whom he most cared about, he left for heaven abode, leaving behind truly a legacy of his own. We all pray and hope that he is at peace,” said the statement by Irrfan’s publicist, confirming the news of the actor’s death on April 29.

Irrfan was laid to rest at Mumbai’s Versova burial ground at 3:00 pm the same day in the presence of his family, close relatives and a few friends — keeping with India’s strict lockdown to curb the spread of coronavirus. Just four days ago, Irrfan’s mother Saeda Begum died on April 25 morning.

Loved by millions at home and globally, Irrfan was known for his international hits such as Slumdog Millionaire, Life of Pi and The Amazing Spider-Man as well as acclaimed Bollywood flicks such as Piku, Paan Singh Tomar, Life in A Metro, Maqbool and The Lunchbox among others.

Global fame

Born in Rajasthan, India on January 7, 1967, Irrfan discovered an early passion for acting and studied at the National School of Drama (NSD). After completing his graduation from NSD in 1987, he worked in television serials including Panchari, Banegi Apni Baat, Chandrakanta and Darr Bhanvar.

“Television has been a significant part of my career as I got to explore my acting skills here,” Irrfan told The Himalayan Times in a November 2010 interview when he was in the Capital to attend the Kathmandu International Theatre Festival. And though he started his career with TV, Irrfan in the same interview had shared, “It never helped me get a break in any of the Bollywood movies. My entering the world of Bollywood was total luck.”

As such from a cameo in Salaam Bombay, he went to act in the critically acclaimed Ek Doctor Ki Maut (1991) that paved his way into mainstream Bollywood with his most recent being Angrezi Medium that was released just before the lockdown was clamped. Irrfan consciously sidestepped traditional Bollywood tropes, focussing on the subtleties of his craft.

Bollywood actor Amitabh Bachchan, who worked with Irrfan in Piku described him as “an incredible talent” and “a gracious colleague” whose death had left “a huge vacuum” in the industry.

Irrfan’s Slumdog Millionaire costar Anil Kapoor said he was “indescribably saddened” by the news.

“He was an inspiration for everyone, a remarkable actor, unmatched talent & a great human being,” Kapoor said on Twitter.

“Thank you for enriching our Cinema,” tweeted filmmaker Karan Johar, who praised the star for “raising the bar as an artist”.

While Bollywood films made Irrfan famous amongst Bollywood movie lovers, he became an international actor with his foray into Hollywood — The Warrior, The Namesake, A Mighty Heart, multiple Oscar winning Slumdog Millionaire, and The Amazing Spiderman being some of his works.

He regarded Hollywood as “really very important in my career” because working in Hollywood means “experiencing another world”.

“I have been experiencing two different worlds — there is diversity in terms of working technique, environment and technology,” he had told THT.

American filmmaker Colin Trevorrow, who directed Irrfan in the 2015 blockbuster Jurassic World, described the actor as “a thoughtful man who found beauty in the world around him, even in pain”. Trevorrow tweeted, “In our last correspondence, he asked me to remember ‘the wonderful aspects of our existence’ in the darkest of days,” Trevorrow tweeted.

Irrfan acted in almost 100 films, winning awards and the admiration of his peers for his nuanced performances.

Irrfan won a number of film awards in India, including a 2012 Indian National Film Award for best actor for his performance in Paan Singh Tomar, a compelling tale of a seven-time national champion athlete who quit India’s armed forces to rule the Chambal ravines in central India.

He received an Independent Spirit Award for supporting actor in 2006 for the Indian-American drama The Namesake and a viewers’ choice award at the Cannes festival 2013 for his role in the romantic drama The Lunchbox.

Nepal connection

When the news of his sudden demise broke out early on April 29, along with the world, the Nepali theatre fraternity also started mourning the loss on social media.

That’s because Irrfan shared a special connection with the Nepali theatre world via his friend, classmate and veteran Nepali theatre personality Sunil Pokharel.

The duo were classmates back in NSD where their friendship started. They were a group of four best friends — Irrfan, his wife Sutapa Sikdar, Pokharel and another girl named Sumata. “Four of us were very close friends and were always together. Those were the days…” Irrfan had told THT in a February 2010 interview at the Bharat Ranga Mahotsav in New Delhi, India.

And during his Nepal visit in November the same year, he had told THT, “I will be doing a play with Sunil in Nepal very soon.”

When THT approached Pokharel regarding his friend’s sudden demise, he was unwilling to talk at first as he said in a very sad tone, “I don’t think I will be able to talk. I need a few more days to open up about him. I am deeply sad.”

However, after a promise to keep the interview short, he agreed to speak up, and shared, “It was during 1984, I met him at NSD. He had a different aura and personality and was really humble.”

Expressing deep grief over his demise, Pokharel said, “I lost a great friend and I am deeply moved. He was a man with a golden heart.”

In was in 2018 that Pokharel had the last conversation with Irrfan , while “Irrfan was undergoing cancer treatment in London”.

Reminiscing Irrfan’s visit to Nepal in 2010, Pokharel added, “That day I was very happy. He not just made me happy but also motivated me and my team to continue with our effort. We had a great time.”

And he added, “He was such an inspiring individual.

He will always be in everyone’s heart. I will miss him a lot.”

“Irrfan Bhai jaan will miss you,” wrote theatre actor Nisha Sharma on her Facebook page.

“Departure of a thespian actor. The magic of your heart touching ‘spontaneous’ acting will always remain in our heart. Your are not only a senior for me (at NSD), you are also a pioneer of the acting procedure that I believe in. Albida my dear actor,” wrote actor/ director Anup Baral.

Theatre actor Bhola Raj Sapkota wrote: “You are in our heart, Albida dear actor.”

“God also loves good people, may be that’s why all good people have been taken by god. Miss you Irrfan sir,” wrote actor Aruna Karki on her Facebook page while sharing a photo of her with the late actor.

Irrfan is survived by wife Sikdar and two sons Babil and Aayan.

(With inputs from AFP/ AP / IANS)

A version of this article appears in e-paper on April 30, 2020 of The Himalayan Times.