Happy Birthday, Irrfan Khan! The actor may not be between us, but his words and cinematic legacy will live on forever in the hearts of his millions of fans. Born on January 7, 1967, in a Muslim Pathaan family in Tonk, a small city in the Northwestern state of India, Rajasthan, Irrfan's life was nowhere close to the glitzy world of showbiz. But what he had was the desire to become an actor, for which Irrfan left no stone unturned. With his relentless hard work, dedication, and acting skills, the actor not only achieved stardom in Indian cinema, but he transcended boundaries to reach Hollywood.
Irrfan's family was not at all in favour of seeing him leave a well-settled family business and choose a career where everything was sceptical. However, to fulfil his acting dreams, the actor lied to his mother, saying that he was only going to the National School of Drama (NSD) to study and that one day he would return and start teaching. During one of his appearances on an Indian news channel, the actor said, “My family always looked down upon cinema. For them, it is a profession for those who sing and dance.” ''I lied to my mother. I told her that I was not going there to become an actor. And I am going there to study acting, so I can come back and teach acting at Jaipur University,” he further said.
The shy boy with curly hair also went on to lie to the NSD staff, saying that he has done 10 plays and is only there to do theatre. ''To the NSD staff, I lied that I have done 10 plays and I have no interest in films. I want to learn theatre, and I will only do theatre. These were my lies, but I had to do it,” he said.
After completing his studies at the National School of Drama, Irrfan Khan was willing to take on any role that came his way. He started by playing small parts in various television shows. However, his big break came when he made his debut on the silver screen with the Academy Award-nominated film Salaam Bombay. The director, Mira Nair, spotted a young Irrfan in the basement of the drama school and chose him to play the role of one of the street kids in the movie. “I noticed his focus, his intensity, and his very remarkable look—his hooded eyes. I clocked him,” Nair said later.
Irrfan, who was craving to make a mark, went on to play several roles in TV shows like Chandrakanta, Banegi Apni Baat, Chanakya, Bharat Ek Khoj, Laal Ghas Par Neela Ghode, and others. After a decade of playing supporting characters, Khan got his break in leading roles in the 2000s. While Bollywood was still giving him hard times, he got his first break from British Indian filmmaker Asif Kapadia, who starred him in The Warrior (2001).
The movie won a Bafta award, and subsequently, the actor landed the leading role in Haasil. In the 2003 film, he played the role of a student leader, a negative character. His exceptional performance as Ranvijay Singh earned him the Filmfare Award for Best Actor in a Negative Role. Then came Mira Nair's film, The Namesake, a critically acclaimed movie that showcased Irrfan's outstanding acting skills. Based on Jhumpa Lahiri's novel by the same name, Irrfan plays the role of a Bengali man named Ashoke (Irrfan Khan), who is trying to adjust his life in America with his wife Ashima (Tabu) and son Gogol. In one of Khan's most endearing performances, he made the audience connect with emotions, body language, and effective dialogue delivery.
In the first half of 2000s, the actor got roles that went on to define him as an actor, like Maqbool, in which he played an underworld don's henchman who falls in love with his boss's mistress, Nimmi. Then comes the 2007 Indian musical drama Life in a Metro, in which Khan played the role of a straightforward and socially inept Monty.
Irrfan Khan was one of the few Indian actors who gained acceptance in Western cinema. He began his journey in the West with the 2001 film The Warrior, directed by a British Indian filmmaker. In the movie, Irrfan played the role of a ruthless soldier. However, his breakthrough in Hollywood came much later, when he appeared in Danny Boyle's blockbuster film, Slumdog Millionaire.
The success of the movie changed the trajectory of his career forever. He later starred in big Hollywood projects, including Jurassic World, Inferno, Life of Pi, The Amazing Spider-Man, and more. Although there were plenty of opportunities for the actor in Hollywood, he always prioritised his roots and remained committed to cinema. As Hollywood was a bonus to him, the actor continued to excel in India. And one of its best examples is when he chose the sweet and heartwarming story of Piku over Ridley Scott's The Martin.
Irrfan carved his legacy in Indian cinema as an artist who wanted to tell stories and made an ordinary character extraordinary with his sheer performance.
Throughout his career, the actor portrayed a wide range of characters, from the villainous role in Haasil to the lovable character in Piku or the humorous Delhi man in Hindi Medium. He had a unique talent for embodying his characters and bringing them to life like no one else. From playing a roadside boy in Salaam Bombay to becoming one of Bollywood’s most cherished actors, Irrfan's journey is unmatchable and his legacy is irreplaceable. (Agencies)