It was a deep collective sigh one heard on receiving the sad news of Irrfan Khan passing away. Everyone who had known him closely, and the millions of others who had only felt his presence through the silver screen, were shaken. It had been two years since he had been diagnosed with a relatively rare and deadly illness, but the hope had grown stronger after he returned to give his last number, Angrezi Medium. However, it was not to be, and the 'cosmic intelligence' he had surrendered to, two years ago, has claimed his life.
In just a little under two decades, he had managed to steal hearts with his performances in Bollywood, as well as international cinema. From struggling in television shows, perhaps it was with Mira Nair's Salaam Bombay in 1988 that he first shot to prominence. Then followed a couple of films with the same director, among which Namesake saw him play a NRI couple with Tabu. Maqbool, Paan Singh Tomar, The Lunchbox, Piku, Life in a Metro, Qaribqarib single, Karavan, Blackmail, Hindi Medium and Angrezi Medium are some of the more noticed performances.
The big-budget Hollywood films casting Irrfanincluded Slumdog Millionaire, Life of Pi, Jurassic World and The Amazing Spider-Man.
From the dark and villainy Macbeth in Maqbool to the innocent office accountant who falls in love with the food and the cook in The Lunch Box, Irrfan excelled playing the national athlete Tomar, and was equally at ease in quasi-comic roles like in Piku or Karvaan. His subtle acting and sensibilities went to paint each character in indelible strokes.
Talking of how the cork doesn't need to control the current it is floating in, Irrfan spoke of trust and surrender to the cosmic intelligence
This was true whether the movie belonged to the art film genre or the box-office kind. Directors couldn't ask for more. Co-stars could rely on him. 'Brilliant' was how an artiste who worked with him on the sets of 'Life of Pi' describes the actor. It is well-known how director Wes Anderson wrote in a part into the film Darjeeling Limited just so he could work with Irrfan. High tribute from colleagues are proof of the man's personality. Director Mira Nair refers to him as an 'everyman' and also as one who connected with the common man. While acknowledging his acting prowess as carrying 'oceans within him' she also notes about a certain enigma, 'something great.. maybe honest' about his persona.
Intelligent and spiritual person
Yes, there was something more than his acting genius that endeared Irrfan to his fans and colleagues. Was it his innate kindness that has seen many co-stars come out and express their gratitude-filled condolences? Or was it the guileless aspect of his presence that won over people? As part of his audience, all I can say is that the man had a charm that went beyond the charisma of your usual super stars. This charm spoke to one, piercing the gap between the virtual and real world. One felt at ease with Irrfan. He was one of us. A good guy.
At home, the children accosted their dad, asking him why he was shedding tears for a film star. All he could say in reply was that 'there was something about Irrfan'.
When Irrfan wrote to fans (on being diagnosed with neuroendocrine tumour) of the initial panic and how slowly he came to grips with uncertainty being the 'only certainty', it was an intelligent and spiritual person that spoke. Talking of how the cork doesn't need to control the current it is floating in, Irrfan spoke of trust and surrender to the cosmic intelligence.
Carried hope and a fighting spirit
Even as he accepted the verdict delivered, he carried hope and a fighting spirit that saw him enact what was to be his last film -- Angrezi Medium. The actor was hopeful, still. In his promotional audio note, he apologised for not being present while endorsing the film. Closing the talk, Irrfan told his fans 'be kind to each other... and wait for me.'
The wait is over. Too soon.
Both for him and his fans. The actor is gone but not without leaving his stamp, or rather, in Irrfan's case, let us say his touch. It brings to mind the famous lines of John Donne 'for whom the bells toll'.
No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main... wrote John Donne, the 17th century English poet in his spiritual musings... any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee."
These lines have been interpreted in many ways but the most commonly accepted version is that Donne was talking of how connected we all are. In that sense, Irrfan is not dead but lives in each of us who connected to him in different ways, be it as family, friends, colleagues or fans.