The universe seems to be unkind to us these days, amidst the doom and gloom that marks the Covid-19 pandemic another affliction of pain comes towards us in the guise of the sad demise of the maverick actor Irrfan Khan. As the outpouring of grief and condolence messages flood our virtual mediums, I reflect on the actor who seemed so intimate to me.
I first saw Irrfan in a movie called Haasil where he played the negative role of an ambitious and wicked student leader Ranvijay Singh. His acting skills, deeply penetrating eyes and his unusual voice made me search for his other films and soon I became his ‘fan’. Irrfan was not a quintessential Hindi film superstar in terms of his looks. He looked like a common Indian man. He looked like one of us. His entire demeanour on and off-screen was not hero-like, which made him relate so intimately with many of us. He played a diverse range of characters so effortlessly as if they were different parts of his persona. He could not be restricted to one kind of role; he carried a sense of diversity and freedom with him. He was always a fresh breath of air in Hindi films adding his flavours to every character he played. In addition to all his accomplishments in the Indian film Industry, he is the most successful Indian actor in Hollywood essaying many significant roles in big banner movies there.
Apart from his acting skills, Irrfan was philosophical in his way, anyone familiar with his interviews would have seen the philosophical side of his personality. His letter which he wrote while he was being treated for cancer in London captures the philosophical side of a successful person who is undergoing immense suffering and dealing with existential questions. Also, unlike other successful actors in India, he liked to express his views on the various matter which led to controversies sometimes.
However, my relationship with Irrfan goes beyond my admiration for his acting and films. Irrfan Khan expressed his sheer love for kite flying in a few of his interviews. It is this love for kite flying I share with him which makes him so intimate to me. Only a kite flyer could have been so prolific yet ubiquitous like Irrfan. Like the colourful kites that fly nonchalantly in the beautiful blue background of the sky, Irrfan brought the colours of the characters he played to life, so effortlessly. The elegance with which kites sway in the wind, Irrfan moved with the same elegance in the screen. The inexpressible sense of joy that kite flying provides in the age of videogames and spectator sports, Irrfan provided the same joy to the audience through his art of acting in the age of the superstars. I have always watched Irrfan’s movies with utmost delight in the same way in which Hassan in Khaled Hosseini’s Kite Runner looked at the kites flying the skies of the tormented city of Kabul.
Now that Irrfan has departed for his heavenly abode, I would miss the actor who seemed so intimate to me. He would continue to make his presence felt through the work he leaves behind for us to cherish. Like the one bright colourful kite, you always wanted to keep for yourself but that goes adrift in the wind and falls in nature’s lap, Irrfan too went away according to the wishes of the nature leaving us wanting more from him. Rest in Peace, Irrfan!
Kunal Shahdeo is a Doctoral Researcher at IIT, Mumbai.