A tribute: With Irrfan Khan, less was always more


It was the same gruesome month in April 2002. Irrfan Khan, despite more than a decade of struggle and the popular Tony and Deeya Singh series Banegi Apni Baat behind him had just begun to impress Hindi cinema-goers. But the London-based director Asif Kapadia, who directed him in his award-winning debut film The warrior In 2001 Irrfan told me: “The Indian Benicio del Toro, Sean Penn, Gary Oldman or Vincent Gallo … He can do anything he wants … I look forward to seeing him fly.” He said that for a piece that I made for back then outlook Magazine about the new convincing actors on the horizon of Hindi cinema.

When this flight, too early, was cruelly canceled for one of the best actors in India and truly international talent today, I look back in astonishment at how prophetic Kapadia could be then. Over the following 15 years, Irrfan has witnessed some of Irrfan’s most groundbreaking appearances in a variety of roles and films.

Irrfan’s appeal was exactly what he couldn’t be: a textbook Hindi film idol. He was an alternative hero. One wondered if Bollywood could accommodate the Jaipur boy’s unusual personality. It did. He was initially an actor who later gained the charm of a mainstream star without losing his roots. An actor with unconventional professional ambitions that wasn’t limited to Indian cinema. An actor who can cross nationalities and borders and appeal to a global audience. An actor who can do everything, everyone becomes. Above all, one who would always be there for young filmmakers to tell new stories in newer forms, despite being courted by international giants like Ang Lee, Michael Winterbottom and Danny Boyle.

Actor of the best nominated film

Anil Kapoor, Irrfan Khan, Freida Pinto and Madhur Mittal cast actors for the best film nominee “Slumdog Millionaire” (L-R) on February 22, 2009 at the 81st Academy Awards in Hollywood, California

| Photo credit: JASON REED

It was not easy to get to this point in life. His debut itself was bewitched: a cameo with Mira Nair Salaam Bombay (1988) was finally hacked at the processing table. He fought hard and long. The struggle, however, did not leave him tired, bitter or cynical. He did not show himself and did not allow himself to wallow in it. “I feel spoiled by the recognition. It is as if all these years of acting were worth it, ”he had told me in one of the interviews.

He would look back on his time at the National School of Drama in Delhi, which offered him an atmosphere in which he could “think concentrated and engage in the craft of concentrated action”. He appreciated the years of television that had made him stand in front of the camera and made him make a living.

The films that really caught his eye were those of Tigmanshu Dhulia Haasil (2003), Vishal Bhardwajs Maqbool (2004) and Nair The namesake (2007). in the Haasil, a love story against the background of the politics of the small town university, he played a student guide who betrays the young hero, but leaves with the heart of the audience. He smoldered and was thrilled when the Indian Macbeth cultivated forbidden love and longed for his boss’s minor. And then just as unforgettable as the gentle, introverted Bengali professor Ashoke, who tries to take root and live a life in a foreign country The namesake. in the Paan Singh Tomar (2012) he played the eponymous character of the steeplechase champion, who became a Dacoit, with strength, daring, simplicity and humor. It earned him the National Award for Best Actor. He was awarded the Padma Shri in 2011.

In this file, actors Omar Sy, Irrfan Khan, director Ron Howard and actor Tom Hanks take pictures on October 07, 2016 (L-R) during a photo op on the eve of the film's world premiere

In this file, actors Omar Sy, Irrfan Khan, director Ron Howard, and actor Tom Hanks take pictures on October 7, 2016 (L-R) during a photo op on the eve of the world premiere of the film “Inferno” in Florence

| Photo credit: GIUSI SPROVIERO

With Irrfan, less was always more. He could enter and live a character and show the many layers and nuances with just a few words and expressions. Irrfan let his eyes speak all the way as the eccentric, unpopular widower Saajan in Ritesh Batras The lunch box (2013). He was tight and just right as the policeman Ashwin Kumar who led the double homicide probe Talvar (2015), even if his own marriage is about to collapse. in the The warrior (2001) the challenge for Irrfan was to portray a brutal warrior’s journey to redemption with minimal tools. “The entire script probably contained seven dialog pages. I thought Irfan was a master at saying a huge amount with one look, ”said Kapadia in the outlook Interview. Also in a relatively smaller role by Roohdar in Haiderhe became the political, emotional and moral linchpin of the film.

The understatement extended to his comic and romantic roles, as well as his fabulous chemistry with Konkona Sen Sharma as the mismatched couple in Anurag Basus Life in a metro (2007). He was perfect with his timing, both funny and romantic, as the straight-forward taxi owner Rana, with whom the father-daughter duo Amitabh Bachchan and Deepika Padukone travel from Delhi to Kolkata in Shoojit Sarcar Piku (2015). I have never seen another actor who used the dead end as well as he did.

There are strange scenes with him that refuse to leave my thoughts. How he breaks your heart when he writes Ila (Nimrat Kaur) about his age and thanks her for giving him room in her young life The lunch box, or argue with his mother (NSD actor Nutan Surya) in a finely tuned scene Piku that defines what give and take between two actors is about.

Irrfan Khan in

Irrfan Khan in “The Lunchbox”

I have often told colleagues that all of the obituaries that I have written over the years come from older people whose work I have admired from afar without having a personal connection. Irrfan had the privilege of having several close-up encounters, but never curious and private, including a memorable lunch that I had forced him to invite to the Indian Women’s Press Corp in Delhi, where he wrote the journalists Put pressure and the staff alike.

Every interview with him was shaped by his personal touch. That intense, penetrating look not only jumped off the screen, but followed me as I interviewed him. Questions were asked even though mine was answered. Why do you post so many food pictures on Facebook? How is The Hindu do in Mumbai? What is the state of the nation? Where is India going?

He and his wife Sutapa Sikdar (who could easily be described as the “sex symbol of the thinking woman” after his slight romanticism) Piku) defined the secular, liberal foundation that the nation always had and hopefully will have in the future. I remember that Irrfan once wrote a piece for me about marginalized groups trying to restrict freedom of expression. The exchange we had on it is saved in my inbox. For eternity. I pulled out a paragraph that still resonates.

Irrfan Khan, an experienced actor in Bollywood films and one of India's best-known exports to Hollywood, has died. He was 54 years old

Irrfan Khan, an experienced actor in Bollywood films and one of India’s best-known exports to Hollywood, has died. He was 54 years old

| Photo credit: Rafiq Maqbool

He writes: “It is really sad to see that religion, after so many years of civilization and evolution, does not help us to coexist. The basic philosophy of every religion is pure, but is kidnapped and controlled by those who control the masses My point is, why should one attach so much importance to an individual’s religion at all? I think religion is and should remain a very private, personal matter between you and God. There is no place for a third person. “

The last time I met the couple was an interview before the film was released Qarib Qarib Singlle (2017) in a suite with a sea view at the Novotel Hotel in Juhu. It had been a busy day for him to do pre-release interviews, sipping a late lunch, and choosing his wardrobe for a promotional trip to Delhi. There was the usual fun and joke, but he also looked very thin and pale. Then who should know that the neuroendocrine tumor would be discovered just a few months later in March 2018 and it would be the last I would see of it.

In a strange way, I have linked my own trip in film journalism with that of Irrfan in the cinema. He gave me some of the most valuable memories. He was the one who made me drive all the way to Madh Island – the only time I was there – to do an interview about his golden 50s. We joked about how I discovered Govinda on my way to him: his birthday present for me, as he would put it. My first major league international film festival in 2013 was the Toronto International Film Festival in good company. Irrfan was with the toast of India there The lunch box and his new film Qissa, which not only had its premiere there, but also won the Netpac Award. He was the one who generously brought me my most valued interview with the rebellious Iranian actor Golshifteh Farahani, with whom he shot in Jaisalmer for Anup Singhs The song of the scorpions.

On-screen brothers in “Hindi Medium; and

On-screen brothers in “Hindi Medium; and “Angrezi Medium”: Deepak Dobriyal and Irrfan Khan

There were other markers. My last review before I quit outlook was an Irrfan film by Sanjay Gupta Jazbaa. The last film I saw and reviewed before the lockdown was again: Homi Adjania’s director Angrezi medium. Friday, March 13th at PVR Juhu. He cannot be in my mind when I go into a multiplex to watch a movie whenever this may be in the near or distant future.

Amidst the helpless feeling that swallows the world as a whole, it will be particularly difficult to accept and reconcile the injustice of his death. After all, this was only the first act of his long journey to the cinema. Who will write the next two acts now?

“As a student in the 1980s, Irrfan was obsessed with Naseeruddin Shah”

This is an excerpt that was used with permission from the book Irrfan Khan: The man, the dreamer, the star by the author Aseem Chhabra, printed by Rupa Publications.

While he managed to get into the NSD, Irrfan took a while to get rid of his shy, introverted personality. His NSD friends remember him as someone who didn’t mix much with others. He had a calmer, but more focused side. It is also possible that since he came from a small town, he felt somewhat uncomfortable in the presence of others who came from big cities.

The NSD men’s home was on Vakil Lane. “Hostel mein bilkul bekaar sa kamra tha uska, chhota sa, kone mein“Says his friend Tigmanshu Dhulia. Tishu, as his friends and now colleagues from the Hindi film industry call him, was two years younger than Irrfan (class from 1989). Most first-year NSD students apparently had to share a room , with some of them living in each room, but Irrfan had managed to get one of the two single rooms.

Actor Vipin Sharma, also an NSD graduate (1983 class), reacts the same way when he remembers Irrfan’s room. “It was in the corner and we had to get past his room to get to the bathroom.” I have the picture of Irrfan sitting in the room or at the window and smoking Beedi. “Vipin believes Irrfan chose this room on purpose. “He seemed distant from the start, but maybe he needed his place,” he says. “In retrospect, I now think that is why he chose this room. Maybe he wanted to stay in his own world. “

Irrfan’s class had a total of 18 students, most of them with scholarships, and all came from different parts of India. Two close friends that Irrfan would later win were both from big cities – Mita Vashisht from Chandigarh and Sutapa Sikdar from Delhi.

The students spent long, intense hours together – holding Addas in the tea shop at Mandi House, eating parathas at 2 a.m., discussing, competing, rehearsing plays and working together.

When Mita talks about Irrfan, he remembers not having noticed him at the beginning. “He was a lanky guy with a curly hair, very thin, with pockets under his eyes. But he had an incredible grin. It was a very shy grin and totally angry. And he had that voice. I am someone who likes structured voices. It wasn’t a deep voice; It was a shady voice like a banjo. “

Mita recalls an anecdote from when they were still in their first year. One morning Mita and Irrfan were beaten in class. She can’t remember what they were arguing about, but she remembers that much: “He said something and I said something. Next I knew we had to hit each other and the class had to pull apart. “

Another person I spoke to about Irrfan Khan was his NSD teacher Ram Gopal Bajaj – affectionately called Bajjo Bhai – who also graduated from the NSD (1965 class). “Irrfan sabse sehma hua tha“Bajjo Bhai recalls.” I see a connection between him, slim, with big eyes, angry and yet sehma hua ke kuch kar nahi sakta. I have a feeling that Irrfan had no friend in class other than Sutapa. He was basically a loner, and that’s why I noticed him. “And then he adds:” This boy had a kind of gentleness that might go on. “

Irrfan, however, stood out in one respect. He thought it was a waste of time hanging out, drinking chai at Addas, having conversations and arguing with classmates. Since Sutapa was from Delhi, she was exposed to the theater and the arts. She could see the hunger in Irrfan to learn quickly, the desperate desire to catch up with the rest of his colleagues and soak up as much as possible so that he was equal to them.

Tishu agrees. “I have seen Irrfan’s growth over the years,” he says. “He had come from Jaipur, where he didn’t have much to do with philosophy and ideas. But by seeing, watching, reading, and discovering world cinema, he grew quite quickly. I have a lot of friends, but this development is remarkable in Irrfan. “

“He would always read books; It was always the latest script for a play in his hand, ”added Sutapa. “I don’t remember any other classmate with so many scripts and books in hand.”

Tishu and Irrfan first linked through their shared interest in films. Tishu was seriously interested in directing films and wanted to use NSD training as a springboard for the Hindi film industry. And Irrfan wanted to play in films. They spent a lot of time watching and talking about Hollywood films with actors like Robert De Niro and Al Pacino and the works of Martin Scorsese. Together they would discuss other international filmmakers like Rainer Werner Fassbinder.

One thing Irrfan’s NSD classmates remember is his obsession with Naseeruddin Shah. In the 1980s, the NSD’s young students had some role models – independent spirit actors who pioneered the New Wave or parallel cinema movement, and Naseer was definitely one of them, along with Shabana Azmi, Smita Patil, and Om Puri.

“We would all annoy him about it,” Mita Vashisht says. ‘It was like, “Arre yaar Irrfan, Naseer ko chhod do (Please, Irrfan, forget Naseer). “But that was how he wanted to approach a role the way he wanted to act. We have often seen Naseer in his appearances.”

Years later, Irrfan was honest enough to admit to Naseeruddin Shah how much the lead actor had inspired him. “I am glad that he did not try to become another Naseeruddin Shah and discovered his own identity,” said Naseer. “He said to me:” My mother always cursed you. “So I asked,” Why yaar? “And he said,”Tum uss Naseeruddin Shah ki nakal kar rahe ho. Where to pahunch gaya, aur tum kahan ho? “When he finally did it, I said,”Yaar, apni ammi ko mera salaam kehna. And tell her Ki Main Itna Bura example Nahi Tha. “”