Irrfan Khan: He Always Left You Wanting More

What sad news to wake up to. Truly, just sad. There is no drama or excitement in this death, just sorrow.

Irrfan Khan was in the worst Hindi movie I have seen. A horror movie about young people being killed in a remote house because of jealousy over a beauty pageant, that suddenly shifts to young people being killed in a mall over the secret gangster past of one of them. It’s Ramsey Brothers produced, the kings of low budget bad horror in India. It came out in 2003, and Irrfan plays the jealous brother of the beauty pageant winner. He sneers and grimaces, and then is killed, and then is a ghost, and then is no longer in the movie. That same year, Irrfan played the lead in Maqbool, arguably his greatest performance and certainly one of his greatest roles.

Dhund (2003 film) - Wikipedia

The thing is, almost anyone can be impressive in Maqbool. It’s Shakespeare, it’s brilliant, it’s complicated, it has Vishal Bardwaj directing and Tabu playing opposite. But how many people could be impressive in Dhund: The Fog? How many actors can leave you wanting more from them as the villain in a terrible slasher movie?

I first noticed in Irrfan in Aaja Nachle, another part that isn’t one of his Great performances and Great Characters. He plays the land developer who wants to tear down the theater, and the husband of our heroine’s best friend. From another actor this would be a one dimensional evil sort of role. But Irrfan made him frustrated, decent, loving, and just a little bit sexy too. This performance is so minor it doesn’t even appear on most of his official filmographies, but it is what made me go “wow, who is this guy?”

Irrfan Khan Wallpaper 6 | Koimoi

Irrfan had years of being “wow, who is this guy?” before he finally got noticed. His whole career is kind of a miracle, someone from a poor family with dark skin and an odd face, who can’t dance, is not a likely bet for Hindi film stardom. He was born in Jaipur to a man who ran a tire business. He got admission to the National School of Drama, completed his course, and came to Bombay. After arriving in Bombay, it was years of finding work on TV, in ads, whatever he could do. This is life for the majority of actors in the world, small roles in small things, a little family at home, a normal non-famous kind of life. He didn’t go to parties, he didn’t mix with the elites, he worked in crowded TV studio sets, got a paycheck, and went home to have dinner with his family. Irrfan arrived in Bombay at 22 in 1988, and it was ten years before he started getting roles (even small roles) in Hindi films.

Television kept Irrfan alive during those times, as it keeps many actors alive. It fed his body, but to feed his soul he turned to art films. He was in Cloud Door, a short erotic film starring Anu Agarwal. The Goal, a children’s film produced by the Children’s Film Society. And then The Warrior by Asif Kapadia, the British filmmaker who went on to make the Oscar winning documentary Amy (2015). The Warrior was not a commercial hit by any measure, but it won raves at film festivals and multiple awards. That wouldn’t get Irrfan cast as the lead in a Hindi film (still too dark, odd, and non-dancing) but it started to get him noticed and offered the roles that required interesting acting, those small bits of brightness in the cast.

The Cloud Door (1994) - Filmaffinity

Dhundh: The Fog was just one of many bad horror movies featuring Irrfan Khan that released in the early 2000s. Bad horror, and risky art films, that was his life. Irrfan worked with Shabana Azmi, and Bipasha Basu. He worked with Mahesh Bhatt multiple times, but on the low budget sexy remake side of Bhatt films rather than the artistic side. He got his first FilmFare during this time as well, as “Best Villain” in the movie Haasil, a student crime thriller. Hindi film was using him regularly now, they knew he was something special, they just couldn’t quite figure out what to do with him.

2007, 19 years after he arrived in Bombay, is when everything came together all at once. For no particular reason. I was watching Hindi films heavily then, and I vaguely knew the name “Irrfan Khan”, but I couldn’t even tell you how. Just that suddenly he was a thing, and before he wasn’t. In one year, he was in A Mighty Heart, The Namesake, and Life…in a Metro. He became a name in art films and serious dramas in America, the same year he had his break out performance in Hindi film that showed he could be more than just the interesting villain.

In Hindi film, when you are looking at the lead roles in a film, there are three: Hero, Love Interest, Villain. Irrfan was far too interesting an actor to be wasted in a smaller part, that was clear by the time he got his first FilmFare. But no one really thought he could pull off the “Hero” or “Love Interest” categories. Life…in a Metro showed that Irrfan had the skill to pull off “Love Interest” at least, something beyond villain.

Irrfan Khan in Life In A Metro sequel? | Entertainment News,The ...

After 2008, suddenly it wasn’t a matter of casting Irrfan in a role, it was a matter of writing a role for Irrfan to play. He did comedy, thrillers, romance, everything. If you wanted a tinge of difference in your film, you wrote him a role. In New York, the angsty YRF drama about 9/11, he was the sane and level-headed police officer bringing a bite of sense to the youthful love triangle. In Billu, he was the every man barber. In D-Day, he was the heartbreaking family man small time spy. He wasn’t the big name, the one on the cover of magazines and on talk shows, but he was the one who added the spice of contrast to the performances, who made you sit up and keep watching. He was also one of the few Hindi film actors who could play “love interest” well. In Piku, Qarrib Qarrib Singlle, Jazbaa, and Puzzle in America, he played the support and potential romance to a female lead.

Over the past ten years, he has had his fair share of leading roles. But somehow even in lead performances, he doesn’t feel like a “lead”. He feels like something extra, something different, something special mixed in. Maybe it’s just that you never feel like there is enough of him. In Billu, he is the central character, onscreen almost the whole film, and yet I wanted more. In Talwar, he is merely the detective investigating a terrible crime, and yet I cared more about his divorce than the murder.

And now, once again, there isn’t enough of him. Irrfan had 20 years in Hindi film, working his way up from unnamed characters to leading roles. But it doesn’t feel like enough, I wanted more.

Legendary actor Irrfan Khan passes away - Celebrity - Images

35 thoughts on “Irrfan Khan: He Always Left You Wanting More

  1. He was the best love interest. A brilliant way to describe so many of the characters he played. His face always amazed me, those giant eyes bugging out of his head. I wouldn’t see them move, I couldn’t consciously see the emotions move across his eyeballs as I can in some actors, and yet, yet I always knew what his character was feeling. “How does he do that?” I always thought, how can he express such complicated emotions in an unmoving face? As he grew older, imagine how he would have played Amitabh’s role in Piku – he would have been fantastic. FANTASTIC! He was always fantastic. He couldn’t dance, but man could he act. And now he is gone, I’m not taking it well.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Isn’t it lucky we already had JHMS scheduled for this Friday? We all need a lift this week.

      On Wed, Apr 29, 2020 at 8:21 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

      >

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I love the versatility of his parts. I’m always a fan of the weirdo outsider actors, but most of the time they get pushed into a type and never emerge. I always thought he was born to play a Bond villain but he never did that either. But I love that he got the chance to play love interests and character parts. I do wish he could have had a few proper hero parts, too.

    Like

    • It’s strangely reassuring to think that, no matter what, he missed his chance for “hero” parts. At 53, a traditional hero role was probably never going to happy. Angrezi Medium was probably as close we will come.

      On Wed, Apr 29, 2020 at 8:55 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

      >

      Like

      • You’re right there. It’s not something his death makes us miss out of, but it’s something I wish we could have had, anyway. Oh well. We’ll always have Lunchbox. If only I could find it somewhere.

        Like

  3. What a terrible news to wake up to! Such a shock, I thought his health was improving. Was thinking of watching Angrezi Medium, now it’ll be even more bittersweet!

    Like

    • I thought so too! I did some brief research, looks like he had a semi-rare form of colon cancer. And he died from the complications (infection of the colon), not the cancer directly. So he was more or less getting better but the risk of infection was higher, and he succumbed.

      On Wed, Apr 29, 2020 at 9:04 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

      >

      Like

  4. He was such a good actor. Loved him in The Lunchbox and Piku and was all the more surprised to see him and happy to see him in Hollywood or UK films. It was especially a delight to see him in Inferno, where he became the best thing about the movie after knowing he was in it. Such an “everyman” in his roles, yet somehow not fitting any category except the one he made for himself. He always seemed to be in a category all his own in a way. It’s just so sad to lose him when all the “what ifs” of movies he could have been a part of in the future…I’m coping with watching Piku now…still doesn’t seem real that he is gone…

    Like

    • I haven’t seen Inferno (lucky me), but I did see Jurassic World. That wasn’t a horrible movie, but it wasn’t super good, and Irrfan was a delightful silly bright spot.

      On Wed, Apr 29, 2020 at 9:13 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

      >

      Like

      • I wouldn’t have seen Inferno if weren’t for my parents introducing me to the film series and the books, it was kind of a family tradition to go see it in the same vein as Mamma Mia 2 or any Bond film. Might not be a good movie, but it will be more enjoyable together anyway.

        Like

  5. His death has shocked me in a way that other celebrity deaths haven’t recently because of how long I’ve been familiar with his work and how much I adored him as an actor. Irrfan in particular felt special to me because of how often he’d cross over to Hollywood. I’d get super happy when I’d see him during an English movie. Haven’t seen The Namesake but I remember a time when every desi NRI teenager was watching it. I still can’t believe he’s gone and like you said I wanted to see even more of him. I was just loving the softer love interest type roles he was doing in recent years.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. One of his first acting roles, and the first time I saw Irrfan onscreen, I saw Salaam Bombay in the theater, it was a foreign film hit in the usa back, at least among foreign film cinephiles, and it put Mira Nair on the map.

    The slow blinking of his eyes, the comic timing with which he crumbles and tosses the letter… you knew right then that he was something special. Yeah for me for a while here was “that guy from Salaam Bombay, glad he’s getting work!”.

    Thanks for running a retrospective on his work! Maybe one Friday we can watch one of his films together. Billu would be the obvious choice because SRK, plus Lara’s best role. But open to anything. Maybe Lunchbox since you haven’t seen it yet.

    Like someone said above, he was bound to have an amazing latter life career ala Amitabh, esp as his age caught up tp his old soul. I’m sad that he didn’t have the opportunity to experience that.

    Like

    • Aaja Nachle! I’ve been wanting to see that on a Friday for a while now. I don’t want The Lunchbox or something brilliant because they we can’t talk over it, but Irrfan has so many interesting parts in so-so movies, and any one of them would be a fun Friday watch.

      On Wed, Apr 29, 2020 at 12:06 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

      >

      Like

  7. I think you really captured him in a way most of the tributes havejjjjhhhhhn’t quite. Though the actor tributes have been quite sad and beautiful. He was “discovered” way too late and had way too short a run.

    Like

    • I was feeling bad because I really have seen very few of his “great” roles and best movies. But then, most of his career wasn’t in those movies, right? There were 10 Dhunds to every one Lunchbox. I like looking at him that way, the hardworking talented actor who gave his best to every part and made people love him because of that.

      On Wed, Apr 29, 2020 at 12:30 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

      >

      Like

  8. Was so sad to wake up and hear the news of Irrfan. He was such an amazing actor and I remember absolutely loving him in Piku. I started watching Qarrib Qarrib Single a couple of weeks ago, so I’ll try and finish it now. Also, on a slightly funnier note Irrfan’s Party Song has always been a fave of mine and a funny send up of his image as a ‘serious’ actor:

    Like

    • Oo! Watch Aaja Nachle! If you want something fun. Watch D-Day if you want something brilliant and remarkable that is not usually included in the Irrfan lists.

      Like

  9. I found out about 3 pm yesterday and it totally killed my day off. I knew things weren’t good with him recently, what with not doing publicity for Angrezi, but this was so sudden. I wouldn’t be watching Hindi films now if it weren’t for him.

    He was so perfect in a sort of straight man role, the best of course was Piku. His expressive face reacting to the zaniness around him was always the best part of the movie. No one mentions 71/2 Phere, the light little movie he did with Juhi, but he was a great foil for Juhi being nutty.

    Also, can we talk about how completely sexy he was? Here he is Yeh Saali Zindagi, sadly nowhere available with subtitles anymore. Look at how his face subtly changes as he watches his lover Chitrangada:

    And, I’ve posted this before, but here he is being completely silly:

    He couldn’t dance! But he could do everything else.

    Like

    • So sorry you had a bad day! That’s the nice thing about the time change, mostly bad news comes in the middle of the night for me, and then I wake up and all the dust has settled and it’s kind of calm.

      Anyway, swing back here in about 5 hours, I’ve got a nice thing planned for tomorrow (already today for you) that should cheer you right up.

      On Wed, Apr 29, 2020 at 9:46 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

      >

      Like

    • I have not seen all of his movies, your video is the only time I have seen him attempt to dance. It was cute. Thanks for posting it.

      Like

  10. I’m so sad to lose Irrfan! Wanting more is exactly it, I wanted much more, many more beautiful performances with that dry wit and lanky confidence, nailing the line delivery as only he could. Watching for that perfect moment to pull out, you realize how much of his performance is layers, playing off his co-stars and making them better, building a character over the arc of a story.

    We’re lucky we have so many Irrfans to visit and spend time with, but I was really looking forward to his future and losing that is deeply sad.

    A short tribute I liked:

    This inside a scene from Piku with Shoojit Sircar is kind of a small tribute to Irrfan as well:

    And of course the Filmfare self-parody with SRK, love seeing them together in command of the audience like this. True showmen.

    Like

  11. I am shocked at how sad I am of his passing. I rewatched the namesake today and his role in it seems so much more poignant now that he is gone. I am just sad at the fact the world won’t have the opportunity to have him push more boundaries. May he rest in peace.

    Like

    • At least he left behind a rich library for us to enjoy, considering his film career only really began 17 years ago he has an enormous variety of films for us to explore.

      On Thu, Apr 30, 2020 at 6:04 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

      >

      Like

  12. AIB wrote a beautiful tribute to him also, on Instagram and Facebook which I don’t seem to be able to link.

    Like

    • I was wondering if they would do something. They didn’t interact with him a lot, but it was such a strange generous collaberation.

      On Fri, May 1, 2020 at 2:15 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

      >

      Like

  13. Have anyone here watched ye saali Zindagi, another Irfan movie directed by Sudheer Mishra with his muse chitrangda as the lead.Its on you tube. Irfan is as always awesome in it. Please reply if anyone had watched it?

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.