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Bollywood actor Irrfan Khan noted for ‘Slumdog Millionaire’, ‘Life of Pi’ dies at 53

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Irrfan Khan
Image Credit: Supplied

Indian National Award-winning actor and cancer warrior Irrfan Khan, whose films are a masterclass in seamless acting, died in Mumbai on Wednesday morning after battling a medical complication arising from colon infection.

He was 53 and is survived by his wife Sutapa Sikdar and two sons, Babil and Ayan.

Khan, who had endured a prolonged battle with cancer, was laid to rest at a cemetery in the Versova suburb of Mumbai. His burial was a muted, low-profile affair with his funeral devoid of many people due to the existing coronavirus restrictions in India.

“Irrfan was buried at the Versova kabrastan (cemetery) in Mumbai at 3pm this afternoon soon after the news of his passing away was announced, in presence were his family, close relatives and friends,” Khan’s publicist stated.

He further added: “Everyone paid their final respects and mourned the loss of his passing away. We pray for his peace and we hope he’s in a better place today. He was strong in his fight, and we all have to be strong too in this loss.”

Khan’s wife Sikdar and his two sons were a part of the burial. The publicist also confirmed that due to the existing coronavirus restrictions, Khan would not be having a star-fuelled gatherings or prayer meets, as is the custom.

Earlier in the day, Khan’s publicist spoke of the actor’s loss and his brave battle with cancer.

“‘I trust, i have surrendered'”; these were some of the many words that Irrfan expressed in a heartfelt note he wrote in 2018, opening up about his fight with cancer. And a man of few words and an actor of silent expressions with his deep eyes and his memorable actions on screen,” Khan’s spokesperson stated.

“It’s saddening that this day, we have to bring forward the news of him passing away. Irrfan was a strong soul, someone who fought till the very end and always inspired everyone who came close to him. After having been struck by lightning in 2018 with the news of a rare cancer, he took life as it came and fought the many battles that came with the dreaded disease. Surrounded by his love, his family, for whom he most cared about, he left for heaven[ly] abode, leaving behind truly a legacy of his own. We all pray and hope that he is at peace. And to resonate and part with his words …, ‘As if I was tasting life for the first time, the magical side of it’,” the spokesperson added.

News of Khan’s death was also confirmed by director and a close friend of Khan – Shoojit Sircar.

“My dear friend Irfaan. You fought and fought and fought. i will always be proud of you. We shall meet again,” said Sircar, saluting Khan on social media.

They both worked together in the Bollywood blockbuster Piku. Sircar also mentioned that Khan’s wife Sutapa was alongside her husband.

Many top stars in Bollywood and political leaders in India, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, expressed their grief over Khan’s death.

“Irrfan Khan’s demise is a loss to the world of cinema and theatre. He will be remembered for his versatile performances across different mediums. My thoughts are with his family, friends and admirers. May his soul rest in peace,” tweeted Prime Minister Modi.

Shah Rukh Khan posted a picture with Khan, tweeting: “My friend…inspiration & the greatest actor of our times. Allah bless your soul Irrfan bhai…will miss you as much as cherish the fact that you were part of our lives.”

Khan, who spent most of 2018 and 2019 battling high-grade neuroendocrine tumour in London, is one of India’s finest actors who understood the syntax and grammar of Hollywood films.

The actor, who had graduated from Indian National School Of Drama, was last seen in director Homi Adjania’s Angrezi Medium, a heart-warming father-daughter tale that was released in March this year. But the film couldn’t enjoy an uninterrupted screening at the cinemas because of the global coronavirus outbreak that led to the closure of theatres around the world. Even though his last film wasn’t allowed to blossom, Khan, who has appeared in more than 100 Hindi films, charted a fruitful career filled with cinematic gems.

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Mumbai: Actor Irrfan Khan during the special screening of the film Madaari, in Mumbai on July 19, 2016. (Photo: IANS)
Image Credit: IANS

Be it his turn as the erudite, immigrant father in director Mira Nair’s The Namesake or playing the ruthless rebel in gangster epic Paan Singh Tomar or the ageing widower in the sumptuous romance The Lunchbox, Khan had the power to inject grace and gravitas into any role that he took on.

Irrfan Khan in Abu Dhabi
Irrfan Khan in Abu Dhabi
Image Credit: GN Archives

Khan, who had brought his cracking films to the Dubai International Film Festival and Abu Dhabi Film Festival in the past, was an actor who shattered the conventional rules of Bollywood and created his own benchmark of celluloid excellence. The actor, who was honoured with the highest Indian civilian honour, Padma Shri, in 2011, was neither handsome in the conventional sense, like Hrithik Roshan, nor could he romance women with the smoothness of a suave Shah Rukh Khan.

Truth be told, he didn’t have the swagger and cool quotient of Salman Khan either, but what worked in Irrfan Khan’s favour was his incredible and magnetic screen presence. His acting in films like Piku, with Amitabh Bachchan and Deepika Padukone, and his ethereal turn in the thriller Haider, comprised a succinct crash-course on subtlety. A genius on the silver screen, Khan believed in the economy of emotions.

In a dazzling entertainment industry like Bollywood, in which melodrama and hamming are condoned, Khan was cut from a different cloth. He walked to a different tune. He wasn’t willing to limit his acting and art to Hindi films alone. He had worked in Hollywood films including Slumdog Millionaire, in which he played a cop, and The Amazing Spider-Man, Jurrassic World and director Ang Lee’s celebrated film Life Of Pi.

Long before Priyanka Chopra Jonas courted and won over the West with Quantico and her infectious charm, it was Khan who was India’s biggest cultural export and he paved the way for other stars to tread a similar path.

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Born in Jaipur in a Muslim family, Khan didn’t hail from an influential acting dynasty. His fame and fortune were derived from his immaculate command over his craft. A scholarship student of National School Of Drama, Khan began his career in the entertainment industry with hit television serials including Banegi Apni Baat.

What made Khan invincible on screen was his ability to portray characters with conviction. From playing an ageing bachelor in a road-trip film like Piku to playing a cold-blooded villain in Haasil, Khan was that proverbial chameleon on the big screen. He took on the colours of his on-screen characters and had the ability to leave a lasting impression.

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Mumbai: Actor Irrfan Khan at the special screening of film “Qarib Qarib Singlle” in Mumbai on Nov 10, 2017.(Photo: IANS)
Image Credit: IANS

It wasn’t just his on-screen personality that was crackling. His press interactions and interviews were insightful and interesting.

In one of his last interviews with this journalist, Khan spoke about how his tryst with cancer had caught him by surprise. But he didn’t let the disease define him. In his latest film Angrezi Medium, Khan did all the heavy lifting without breaking into a sweat. He proved that he still had it in him. When asked about his grim battle with cancer, Khan had told Gulf News that an iconic Hindi song kept playing in his head:

“I tell life: ‘Lag jaa gale ki phir yeh haseen raat ho naa ho; Shayad ke iss janam mein, mulaqaat ho na ho’ [Embrace and hug me life, for you never know if we will ever have this magical evening again; Perhaps we may meet or never meet again in this lifetime]’.”

While life may have been cruel with him, his fans and cinephiles aren’t likely to let go of this fine actor and his marvellous roles any time soon.


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