I have waited a bit to comment on the passing of Irrfan Khan, and that is one of the blessings of not being on a deadline, under the gun to produce an obit while it’s all topical, leaving one time to pause and reflect. He was one of those artists who brought something rare to his roles, in an industry of cookie cutter characters and stock situations, there was something of himself in everything he did, and that is perhaps why so many of us feel a deep sense of loss, over and beyond what one feels when a supremely talented individual is taken from us, way before his time. There is always that “aah what more there might have been” when someone dies this young and at the height of their prowess, but again, this runs far deeper, and one has to ask oneself why.
It was said of Sachin that at his best, he was the only batsman who could take the pitch out of the equation, and the quality of the other batsmen, and as long as he was at the crease, it didn’t matter how everything else was. One can say something similar to Irrfan. He has held a scene with Aryan Vaid (Mr. Hundred Per Cent—the Real Player), as well as with Tom Hanks (Inferno), and if that range sounds amazing it surely is, because no man in the film industry we love has done this variation, but that’s not the point—it’s that Irrfan Khan spoke to you, regardless of the quality of the material he had to work with, or the calibre of his colleagues, or even the presence of any colleague, as his brilliant “Chota Recharge” commercials from Hutch bear testament to.
Perhaps some of the deep connect is because we see in Irrfan the struggles of everyman. In an industry where your worth is determined by your genes, here is someone who graduates from bit roles in TV serials to mainstream Hollywood, purely on the basis of his talent, a fairy-tale that just happens to happen.
Perhaps some of the love was because he was, by common consent, an extremely polite and friendly individual, full of life, who carried his fame light, in a world of arrogant stars, a grounded and articulate gentleman. Maybe that’s why we have always rooted for him, for the good man to win at the end.
But, and this is where I dip into the personal, my sense of loss stems from the fact that Irrfan Khan spoke to me. Whether it be about coping with loss and death in “Life of Pi”, or about happiness in the remembrance of the small things in “Namesake”; these were not lines from a script only, any actor could have delivered them, but I doubt they would have made the impact they did, at least for me, had it not been for Irrfan Khan. Maybe it’s the way he said it, with that slight chuckle and the eyes, tranquil and sad and yet ethereally happy, with a quick blink, as Dr. Ashok Ganguly talking to Gogol about why he gave him that name, but I don’t know, it is beyond my ability to analyze, just as I will never know why shehnai or my daughter saying “Good night bubu, love you” makes me sad as well as happy, but they do.
And somehow his untimely death, gives greater poignancy to those lines, as you can hear him, in his voice, “The whole of life becomes the act of letting go” and “Ah, remember it always. Remember that you and I made the journey and went together to a place where there was nowhere left to go”, and the significance of it all seeps in, of the time we have in this world, and why it is so important to savor the little things on the way.
Thank you sir for taking us on this journey, together to a place from where there was nowhere left to go.
We will remember always.