A legend, an enigma, a versatile actor, a great human being, an international achiever— these are some of the ways Irrfan Khan has been described today by those who knew him, those who poured out their grief after hearing the tragic news. For some it felt like a bad dream or a nightmare, but it wasn’t—Irrfan was no more, passing away at the age of 54 at the Kokilaben Ambani hospital in Mumbai. The news first came through a tweet by filmmaker Shoojit Sircar, who had directed Khan in the hit Piku, and was later confirmed by an official statement. The actor had been rushed to ICU on Tuesday due to a colon infection. He is survived by his wife and two sons. The last rites were performed at the Versova crematorium in Mumbai in a small, sombre ceremony, given the lockdown restrictions.
Irrfan had been ailing since 2018, when he was detected with a neuroendocrine tumour, a rare form of cancer and rushed to the UK for its treatment. Complications remained presumably even after his hospital discharge, although it seemed that he had recovered successfully as he returned to filming Angrezi Medium in 2019, a film which turned out to be his last. He shot for the film mostly in UK so he could be in close proximity of his doctors and did not promote it because of his low immunity. An interesting point raised by some was that the film was the last to run in theatres before the lockdown imposition, and so turned out to be a farewell for him from the industry and theatres the worldover. Had the lockdown been imposed earlier, the film would not have released in Khan’s lifetime and so it was fitting that he got to hear the audience and critics praise him one last time for his swansong film. In a tragic turn of events, Irrfan had also just lost his mother in Jaipur a few days ago and could not travel for her last rites because of the lockdown restrictions. Due to the lockdown, it was also an uncharacteristically quiet send-off for the actor, without the large crowds and film industry presence as is usually the norm when a member of the fraternity passes away.
I will remember Irrfan for his dry sense of humour, wry smile and for not changing as a person despite commercial success in Bollywood and mainstream success in Hollywood. He could straddle the gap between commercial cinema and arthouse cinema with ease, effortlessly portraying a romantic role in Piku or a villainous portrayal in Haasil, to a comedic performance in Hindi Medium, or an intense role in biopic Paan Singh Tomar. BJP MP Diya Kumari from the royal family of Jaipur condoled the loss of one of Jaipur’s most celebrated sons, recalling how he was awarded by her late father with their museum award. I remember how Khan chatted with Amitabh Bachchan at the Rajmata of Jaipur’s 70th birthday at the City Palace; interestingly, they went on to do Piku soon after. Bachchan also condoled Khan’s demise, calling it a loss of someone who was a prolific contributor to world cinema—and that Irrfan certainly was. From starring in versions of classics like Jurassic Park and Spiderman, to working in the HBO drama In Treatment, Khan stood shoulder to shoulder with artists like Tom Hanks and Angelina Jolie in his films abroad. No surprise then that The Academy in Hollywood also condoled his demise, mentioning his performances in Slumdog Millionaire, Life Of Pi and The Namesake.
Shahrukh Khan referred to him as the greatest actor of our times, Anil Kapoor called him Sonam Kapoor’s guiding light, Priyanka Chopra Jonas called his work magic, but one of the most heartfelt tributes was put forth by Nawazuddin Siddiqui, who was often compared to Khan. Nawaz called Khan his mentor and shared that he had worked in Irrfan’s directorial called Alvida in 2000, adding that the void left can never be filled. Khan was at the prime of his career when he departed, winning a Filmfare and a Screen award in his last active year in the industry, 2017, apart from a Padma Shri and National Award earlier. From members of the film industry who will not get a chance to work with him again, to his fans who will not get to see his new work on the big screen again, Irrfan has left the world devastated. But I will leave you with hope that he has now gone to a better world as he in his last words said, “I trust, I have surrendered; as if I was tasting life for the first time, the magical side of it.”