Irrfan and I go way back. Being an 80’s kid, I’ve always been an ardent movie and television enthusiast. During the 90’s we kind of grew up together, Irrfan and I. Well, I grew up, he just grew! Of course, we have never met. Never even have had any conversation either. Neither physically nor virtually (only in dreams though, if that counts). But we share something special that’s beyond any meet-cute! It started when I first saw him on Banegi Apni Baat in 1997. And with each passing year of my life (and his), we both ventured, explored, and discovered cinema in our own ways. So, here’s the story of Irrfan and I and how we eventually became parts of a larger script! Because that’s my way of remembering him – by ruminating on my cinematic memories!
It Wasn’t Love At First Sight!
I was hooked to Banegi Apni Baat for the same reasons a 16-year-old teenage girl would naturally be to a romantic-comedy-drama series. BAB told stories about friendship, love, dating, and relationships of young hearts! The ’90s was a simpler era. With fewer but strong content on TV, it was way easier to feel connected to the characters. I met Irrfan Khan for the first time, through BAB, where he played Kumar, a 40-something jealous, twisted husband who always used harsh and bitter language in his conversations. Definitely not the kind of character a teenage girl back then, would fall in love with! But still, there was something that struck me hard. His commitment to the role. I almost believed, he was a rude man and I’d never like to meet him (told you, the ’90s was a simpler era!). He made Kumar seem real. And I, as an immature adolescent, believed him. He said his words with such conviction that it used to stress me out! It didn’t feel like acting. I thought, he wasn’t acting!
Our next rendezvous happened in the 2003 political crime film Haasil where Irrfan played the character of Ranvijay Singh. To summarise his role a bit, Irrfan played a gangster who pretended to help Anirudhha (Jimmy Shergil) escape from a college rival gang, but in reality, had ulterior motives. Why am I talking about this film? Simply because Ranvijay Singh scared the hell out of me. Once again, Irrfan managed to liven up the character so vividly, I was terrified by the mere sight of him on screen. He didn’t look like a typical monstrous villain. Oh no! That would have been easier to label as a “bad man” and move on! He looked like a regular college senior that could be anyone I knew. Someone who’d convince you he’s a friend and then would betray you in the most shocking and disturbing ways. His look, his eyes petrified me. I prayed to never meet someone like Ranvijay in my life. Irrfan was haunting!
When Our Eyes Met…
After Haasil I knew one thing. Irrfan didn’t need words to express. He had the ability to touch a part of your soul just with his eyes. During my college days, our eyes met on many occasions. The most memorable being Star Bestsellers, where he appeared a couple of times. Every episode had different stories (almost always with great twists & storytelling) with different teams of actors, writers, and directors. One of those stories was “Fursat Mein…” written and directed by Timangshu Dhulia where Irrfan played the character of an old man in his 60s. Not only was it a heart-wrenching story, but Irrfan and his eyes didn’t let me forget that episode for years.
Yes, we’ve all been blown away by the gutsy endeavour of Anupam Kher playing a sexagenarian when he was in his 30’s in Saaransh. But when I saw “Fursat Mein…” as a 20-year-old girl, I couldn’t believe his level of adherence to the role. His body language, dialogue delivery, mannerisms, and above all…those eyes! It was hard to believe that this was the same Irrfan from Haasil who gave me the chills. This old man too haunted me, for years… but I had started to experience a new feeling. Was it love? Or was it sheer amazement, I didn’t know.
As We Both Evolved…
Yes, we both evolved over the years. Irrfan and I. Him as an actor who only aged like wine. Getting more refined and exquisite with each performance. And I, evolved with my taste and understanding in cinema. I developed my passion in world cinema, explored different genres and filmmakers of the world, and started enjoying the taste of cinematic pleasure. And all this while, my amazement for Irrfan’s craft only grew with his every piece of work. Maqbool, The Namesake, Life of Pi, Salaam Bombay, Mumbai Meri Jaan, The Lunchbox, Paan Singh Tomar, the list is endless. He kept astounding the world with his unbelievable versatility.
The world had discovered a powerhouse of talent in Irrfan. I, on the other hand, was now very much aware of my feelings towards him. It wasn’t just love, respect, and fascination. I was in complete awe. Almost to the level of worship. I watched and re-watched his old films and series repeatedly. And every time, my feelings elevated to a height I never knew existed. I wasn’t a teenage girl of 16 anymore. This time it was for real.
We Laughed Together…
So, whenever people talked about Irrfan’s incredible performances, they invariably mention the names that I did above. And for obvious reasons. However, I’ve always believed in the notion, that a good comic actor is always a great actor because making people laugh is the toughest job in the world! So, if an actor can effortlessly make you laugh, you know he’s a brilliant performer. And Irrfan did that seamlessly, every single time! Not by tickling your funny bone, not by making crass jokes but simply by being him! His unbelievable command over dialogue delivery, his flawless comic timing, and of course… those eyes!
Two films – Life in a Metro and Dil Kabaddi. These two multi-starrer movies literally make me LOL every time Irrfan appears on-screen. Dil Kabaddi’s Samit is a hilarious, disastrous, over-confident husband who separates with his wife Mita (Soha Ali Khan) and starts romancing a hot yoga trainer (Payal Rohatagi). The way Irrfan integrates the minute details in his craft makes it a priceless character.
Monty, on the other hand, stares at women’s chest shamelessly, chews Gutkha, and lies about his age to his future potential wife in Life in a Metro! And yet, instead of cringing, you can’t stop laughing! Irrfan makes an otherwise repulsive character like Monty likable by the end. Just the way it’s supposed to be!
Irrfan makes you hate him when he wants to. And love him the very next moment. He can make you cry and laugh along with him without uttering even a single word. I, for one, have experienced every single emotion along with him, or rather with his characters. We have a long history. A history of our love for cinema and television. And no matter who wrote the lines, they impacted me because of the way Irrfan said them. Like, even today when I have confusion over some silly “to do or not to do” kinda situation, my other half quotes Monty’s “Arrey Gaadi Nikalo! Take a chance baby…take a chance”! And we laugh out loud together, along with the Gutkha chewing, poorly dressed yet so wise Monty!
Have you too felt a special connection with the legend through any of his movies?? A list of Irrfan’s characters that maybe stayed with you? Why don’t you share them with me…we can exchange notes!
Cover Image Source: Film Companion
Wow. That read like a homage. Yes, he was a truly brilliant actor. Thank you for writing this.
Aah …… what an apt tribute to this man , this personality . I can totally relate to this article and again felt reconnected to him . Thanks a lot for writing this . To me , his brilliance shone as a pained Maqbool and as a boisterous Rana Chaudhary in Piku . Paan Singh Tomar , i watched just for him . Thank you again .
Like a mini-biography to the man, who acted with his eyes. Movies and feelings that you can relate to..
He is from that league, where It is difficult to find anybody who dislikes this actor, and this writeup is a fitting tribute to such a persona.
Maybe a quick line about his presence in multiple Hollywood movies could be added.
Beautifully written…cud relate to every word n emotion…it feels so bad to use the word was with his name…he shall always remaun in our hearts with his brilliant performances
You will sure become a full time film journalist. Beautiful writing on a legendary actor. Never read a tribute like this . Please keep it up.
Very well written! Good job ??? A gem of an actor he was, or as you said, was he an actor at all? He always appeared so natural on screen, be it any role, didn’t seem like he is acting! Irrfan will be remembered forever!
Actions speak louder than words & yours tell an incredible story, brilliant.
Oh terrific! A just tribute! And I loved him in Yeh Saali Zindagi too!
I absolutely absolutely love him as Yogi in his last- Qarib Qarib Singlle