Irrfan Khan believed in talent than mere looks

Irrfan was legendary for his creative restlessness; he knew one has to keep reinventing oneself from time to time. Irrfan didn't set much store by histrionics to prove his competence. He set his own rules of acting

In the Eighties, when Irrfan was a teenager, people used to say he looked like the spitting image of the then Bollywood star Mithun Chakraborty. This young lad would take it as a compliment. In fact, Irrfan used to love watching Mithun’s movies, and even imitated his hairstyle. From his teenage days, when he was living in Rajasthan with his family, Irrfan wanted to do something which would make him famous. His father wanted his son to become a professor in a college. When Irrfan told his father that he wanted to become an actor, the latter hardly looked excited and enthused. Why, Irrfan couldn’t fathom at that time. He was struggling with too many thoughts running through his mind. Finally, he decided to follow his life’s calling, and try his luck in Delhi’s NSD. Fuelling his determination was the conviction that one day he would make his presence felt as an actor of repute.

On 29th April, 2020, the tragic and untimely death of Irrfan took the entire film fraternity by surprise. His countless fans were left speechless with shock and disbelief. The actor lost his mother just a week before, but couldn’t make it to Jaipur due to the lockdown. This is life’s cruel coincidence. Irrfan was a brave man to the core. He was fighting a relentless battle against cancer for the last two years, and had almost made it through the worst of his illness. The ominous “eternal footman” knocked at the door, and snatched him away from us.

NSD Interview and TV Serials

The easygoing and facetious Irrfan never ceased to amuse. In an interview to a news channel some years ago, Irrfan, with an impish smile on his face, said that when he was called for an interview to NSD, he told a lie to the interviewers. He told them that he had already acted in ten plays, and that his objective in life was to do theatre and nothing else. He told his parents that after learning acting in NSD, he would come back to his home town and teach theatre at Jaipur University.

After passing out from NSD, Irrfan started getting roles in TV serials like Bharat Ek Khoj, Chanakaya, Chandrakanta and several others. But soon he would get impatient with these roles and opt out. He wanted to act in movies because somewhere deep down he felt that he was cut out for something big. It was not arrogance but his conviction in his worth and abilities.

Mission Bollywood

In 2003, Tigmanshu Dhulia offered Irrfan a negative role which eventually became one of the landmark films in his career. Irrfan won the Filmfare Award for Best Actor in a Negative Role for his portrayal of Ranvijay Singh. Irrfan was going from strength to strength and made it clear that he was a powerhouse of talent. In 2004, Irrfan got an opportunity to work in another memorable movie, Maqbool, directed by Vishal Bhardwaj. This was also a movie in which Irrfan played a negative role. The fact that he pulled off the role with panache and a rare artistic ingenuity, despite being pitted against veterans such as Naseeruddin Shah, Pankaj Kapoor and Om Puri, speaks volumes about Irrfan’s competence and confidence level.

In 2012, Dhulia again teamed up with Irrfan for the film Paan Singh Tomar, based on the story of an athlete who is forced to become a dacoit when his mother is murdered and the police refuse to arrest the culprits. According to Irrfan, this was the movie which actually catapulted him to the big league in Bollywood. For his memorable role as Tomar Singh, Irrfan won the National Award for Best Actor.

After Paan Singh Tomar, Irrfan became a household name and his movies had the stamp of his mastery, mojo and magic written all over them. Movies like The Lunchbox (2013), Talvar (2014), Piku (2015), Hindi Medium (2017) and his last released movie in March this year, English Medium simply swept his audience off their feet. It looked as if the maverick actor could never put a foot wrong. Here was an actor who raised the bar of acting: he didn’t scream at the top of his voice; who didn’t break into a dance at the drop of a hat; who didn’t bash up villains with maniacal energy; yet the moviegoers couldn’t get enough of him. That was the secret behind his success.

Looks Don’t Really Matter

When Irrfan decided to become an actor, he was in a quandary. He thought that to become an actor, one needs to be good looking and physically attractive. “I would often stand in front of the mirror to check whether I could really make the cut as an actor.’’ But the actor never allowed such negativity to come in the way of his talent and self-confidence. The result of this struggle has always been his positive outlook and sense of joie de vivre. In an interview to a TV channel, he said that to be a successful actor, one doesn’t need to be handsome and attractive looking; all one needs is inner potential and the talent to set the Thames on fire.

International Projects

In 1988, Irrfan worked with Mira Nair in Salaam Bombay which went on to bag several prestigious awards in international film festivals. That was just the beginning. In 2002, he played the role of a warrior in movie, The Warrior, set in feudal Rajasthan, and directed by British filmmaker Asif Kapadia. Other notable movies which gave him international recognition are The Namesake (2007), Slumdog Millionaire (2009), Life of Pi (2012), and The Amazing Spider-Man (2012).

We will Always Love and Miss You

Even as his countless fans and the film fraternity come to terms with the magnitude of the tragedy, Irrfan’s contribution to Indian and world cinema cannot be forgotten. He always gave the raison d’ etre of his life’s goals: One should always work hard to achieve one’s objectives in life; no matter even if it comes late. You will always be missed, Irrfan.

Aditya Mukherjee

The writer is an independent journalist based in Delhi

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