Remembering Irrfan Khan- the actor, the person

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Remembering Irrfan Khan- the actor, the person

He was possessed with the magic of making every film his own

Remembering Irrfan Khan- the actor, the person

On a cozy summer afternoon some 11-12 years ago, my elder cousins decided to watch a movie that had created buzz at the Oscars. The name of the film was ‘Slumdog Millionaire’. We put it on a DVD player, switched off the lights and sat down to watch the film. The film itself is special in many ways but to me, it is special because it introduced me to Irrfan Khan.

Too young to understand the art of acting rather than just enjoying it, the experience certainly didn’t tell me how great of an actor Irrfan was. Neither was it an Irrfan Khan film, he played a relatively minor character of a Mumbai police officer in it. But the thing about Irrfan Khan is, he never played a minor part. He was possessed with the magic of making every film his own, no matter how big or small the role is.

In the words of the director of Slumdog Millionaire, Danny Boyle, “Irrfan was a wonderful actor and a pivotal figure in the making of Slumdog Millionaire. It wasn’t a huge role, in fact on paper it was even less rewarding looking. But Irrfan saw the possibility of guiding our audience with his dignity, his grace, his charm, his intelligence and his calmness, through this crossword puzzle of an idea, of a film.”, and I am not the one to disagree with this.

I even remember the second film I saw him in, ‘Billu’, where he played the role of a barber in a village. In a film where he shared the screen with arguably the biggest Bollywood star, Shahrukh Khan, he managed to make sure it was his film, again! By this time, I became familiar with him, knew his name, recognized his face.

Maybe it was his humble roots that he borrowed from, but the way he embraced simplicity gave more life to his characters. It made the characters feel more real. Also, the choice of characters he played was also very peculiar, roles only he could play or maybe he acted so well that it’s almost impossible to imagine anyone else playing those roles.

Credit: Film Companion 


Throughout his filmography, it is evident, at least to me, that his characters were not ‘larger than life’ but more grounded. Those were the characters that we could see around us and believe were real.

Raj Batra from Hindi Medium, who grew up in Chandni Chowk but moves to some posh Delhi locality, was played to perfection by Irrfan. Much like Irrfan who never tried to fit in to make it big in the Hindi film industry, Raj Batra also never tried to fit in the upper-class society although he is adequately well off.

Credit: TIE 


Even in a film like Blackmail with an offbeat plot, Irrfan managed to drive the film entirely by himself. It can only take an actor of his caliber to keep the audience not only hooked but constantly laughing through such bizarre comedy of errors. He plays Dev Kaushal, a middle-class man whose struggles are very regular and every day- EMIs, bills, work pressure, less salary and to top all of this, a cheating wife. In such a plot-driven film, it was Irrfan who sat in the passenger seat and took the ride in the right direction.

Credit: Cinestaan


Shaukat from Karwaan was indeed the most interesting one of the trio, at least for me. He induced laughter even in the most tense situations and I was enthralled by the brilliance of Irrfan Khan in a comedy role.

Irrfan had the capability of understanding the nuances of such characters and it showed. The man is believed to have the ability to act with his eyes and it is true. The range of the characters he has played is a testament to the talent he had. It also reflects the love he had for the art of acting, because how else can someone play every role with the same honesty? Even when I was not very informed about the world of films, I was fascinated by his presence on screen.

Apart from acting, it was the person that Irrfan Khan was that truly turned me into his fan. The time he featured in AIB’s ‘Every Bollywood Party Song Ever’ video, no other actor could have done that. He took a dig at, well, ‘Every Bollywood Party Song Ever’ with this banger video and it was all the more hilarious because of his presence.

The candidness with which he gave his interviews and addressed the media was unlike any other actor.  Every time I have heard or read an anecdote about him, it has told me he was not just a brilliant actor but a gem of a person as well. It was as if he was someone I knew.

Undoubtedly, he had a major role in me falling in love with cinema and I am pretty sure, this must be true for a lot of other people as well. There is still so much of his work that I am yet to see and this is how he has kept himself alive in my life. This is how he will always be alive in our hearts.

Happy birthday, Irrfan!