As I sit here to pen this, I ask myself: how do you sincerely begin to write about someone you never knew? Someone you never met? Someone who touched your soul in an inexplicable way, beyond the scope of fully encapsulating the same in words?
How do you begin to encapsulate how someone, who was a warring nation’s son, spread his warmth with the utmost ease across borders, through the very earth that had begotten him, and would testify to his brilliance?
Irrfan Khan was not an ordinary man. His work is not ordinary work. And his story is not an ordinary story.
I cannot, in good faith, sit here and pretend to know what the entirety of his narrative was. Before today, I had perhaps seen a handful of his work. However, whatever it is that I saw, I felt it resonate deep within the very fabric of my soul.
While the comparison might seem unfair, watching Irrfan Khan was not like watching anyone else on screen.
When you watch Shahrukh Khan romance a younger woman or watch Salman Khan battle evil men, you see two superstars indulging their fans with their created and established personas, perhaps venturing out of their comfort zones from time to time.
You see Shahrukh Khan as the magnanimous Rahul or Raj. You see Salman Khan as the bubbly or macho Prem or Chulbul Pandey.
When you watch Irrfan Khan, you don’t see Irrfan Khan play a character. No, you see the character itself, bearing a resemblance to Irrfan Khan, sure, but a complete entity on its own.
You see Billu, the downtrodden barber trying to make ends meet. You see Fernandes, the aging desk-worker, enthralled by his lunchbox and the purest form of love it contains. You see the police inspector in Slumdog Millionaire, hell-bent on receiving answers.
Most importantly, you witness, awestruck, a fantastical command over an undeniably important form of art, embodied by a man who is one with the masterpiece he is creating.
Irrfan Khan was not just any other celebrity.
Underrated, understated, yet thoroughly accomplished, he was an institute in himself. While his dedication to each role is evident, his humbleness, modesty, and the tribulations that shaped his journey shine in each interview.
He was one of us. Paving a path to escape the mundanity of routine and unexciting conformist jobs, he set himself apart. He struggled. He felt the dirt blind him as those who undermined his skill tried to break his spirit. Yet, he persevered.
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There’s nothing we can say about Irrfan the actor that won’t be said more eloquently by those who understand the craft better than us. So we’d like to take a moment to remember Irrfan the person, as we knew him. When Maqbool himself agrees to a work meeting that you never dreamed would happen, intimidation is understandable. More so when you’re a group of twenty-somethings with none of the credibility or swag his usual collaborators have. But from minute one, Irrfan was courteous, receptive, warm, and involved. He took to our Party Song with a gusto that made us wonder if we’d even written something that deserved the sort of dignity he was giving it. But. That’s just the sort of guy Irrfan was. He walked off the set of Jurassic World, where they were probably serving him flavoured cappuccinos on velvet cushions, onto the shoestring budget Party Song shoot. It was the middle of May and the temperature and humidity were soaring. The air conditioner wasn’t working in the club we shot in. We had no special vanity van to give him when we shot the pool scenes. We tensed for a star tantrum. But Irrfan just grinned, stretched out on the floor in the corner of the room, and took a nap. That’s just the sort of guy Irrfan was. When ill health forced him to drop out of a project we were supposed to do together, we understood his situation immediately, and yet, he was the one who had tears in his eyes because he thought he was letting down some kids who were starting out. Because that’s just the sort of guy Irrfan was. He was being treated in London in July 2018, and we happened to be there. Not only did he insist on coming to the show, but also on taking us all to dinner after, where he regaled us with stories in his trademark drawl while also making sure everyone ate until they couldn’t move. Because that’s just the sort of guy Irrfan was. “Yaar cricket khelte hai!” he chirped, and even had a friend in London book us some nets. Sadly, on the day, his health took a turn for the worse and he had to drop out. He still called and said “I’m not cancelling the booking, tum log toh jaa kar khelo yaar!” Because that’s just the sort of guy Irrfan was.
There is an undeniable, enviable, almost enlightened clarity in his interviews.
He does not forget where he came from. He does not wish to be someone he’s not. Yet, he is kind, and believes in creating nothing less than magic. When he falters, he is apologetic. When he is uncertain, he is hopeful. When he is faced with the immensity of his own mortality, he is wise.
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God speaks to each of us as he makes us, then walks with us silently out of the night. These are the words we dimly hear: You, sent out beyond your recall, go to the limits of your longing. Embody me. Flare up like a flame and make big shadows I can move in. Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror. Just keep going. No feeling is final. Don’t let yourself lose me. Nearby is the country they call life. You will know it by its seriousness. Give me your hand #rainermariarilke
Irrfan Khan didn’t just act. He created a space within our hearts with each role he dutifully played. He left an imprint with each bout of wisdom he shared. He entranced us with a letter that contained nothing but the absolute truth at his absolute lowest.
Coming to terms with your own mortality, after having struggled to achieve certain milestones, is a task that is perhaps beyond many of us.
The anger, the dismay, the shattering of one’s belief system – it is overwhelming. Yet, Irrfan Khan’s last set of words seemed to condole those who would remember him, serving as a reassurance to himself that, perhaps, the time for him to disembark is nigh, and he can either dismount gracefully, or suffer every minute as he awaits an inevitable end.
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I wanted my hair to be like #MithunChakraborty, so I used to go to a barber shop and tell them ke mere baal seedhe kar do …. because my hair were curly and kind of stiff .. Aur kya hota tha ke first day my hair would look good .. just like Mithuns, but after that they would turn into a bird’s nest ! #FilmyInfluence This picture is Day 1 just so you guys know 😉
His death is no ordinary loss.
It’s personal. It’s spiritual. It’s political.
Each tribute – be it from an organization as esteemed as The Academy, or an individual who had to sneak CDs of his movies to watch secretly – is a testament to the man the world has lost on this dark day.
The world is poorer without Irrfan Khan in it.
It is dimmer, gloomier, and less filled with hope. There is an Irrfan Khan-shaped void on the very canvas of film itself. There are shoes left behind that can never be filled.
There is a gaping hole where his presence once used to be, and it is a stark reminder of the individualistic nature of everything a man can be.
The world was not ready for Irrfan and his genius. Yet, the world tried.
Irrfan won every heart, stole every show, and conquered every ground he set foot in. It didn’t come easy, but he took each uphill battle in his stride and marched on with unmatched resilience.
Now, having created an unimaginably unparalleled legacy, he has set off for greener pastures.
Perhaps, when he does reach the gates of Paradise, its heavenly inhabitants will be waiting eagerly at the gate, the call for his arrival having ricocheted off of each wall within.
Perhaps, angels are holding his mother high on a pedestal, only for the gates to swing open, and for Irrfan to finally enter, home at last.
Perhaps, Irrfan will smile, and further light up the atmosphere, for only he could possess such might. As he makes his way in, he will embrace his mother, whom he could not bear to be away from, and say, “Amma, you came for me. And here I am.”
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Cover image via @irrfan/Instagram