A tribute to Irrfan Khan
This is not the article I ever thought I would be writing on Irrfan Khan. Not this soon. Yesterday night when I got the text from his PR saying that he is admitted in the ICU of Kokilaben hospital with a colon infection, I said a silent prayer and didn’t think much about it. I was sure, he will be back soon… just as I was sure that he will be back soon when two years back one March 16, 2018 he had confirmed on social media that he has been diagnosed with a rare neuroendocrine tumour. He had ended that Twitter post with “I hope to be back with more stories to tell”.
And I was all for Irrfan’s stories having had the rare opportunity of getting to hear quite a few from him during the course of one of our cover stories. It was no regular interview. I was on a movie date with Irrfan!
The idea was to do a quick run-through of his movies and trace his decade-long journey in Hollywood. That day, over a duration of around five hours, we had watched bits and parts of almost 10 of his international movies interspersed with smoke breaks, where he would carefully roll his cigarette and then let it hang from his fingers seldom taking a puff, and stories that would include his gripe with Mira Nair before the latter offered him The Namesake (2006), how Wes Anderson specially wrote a part for him in The Darjeeling Limited (2007), the embarrassing media headlines involving Angelina Jolie during the India promotions of The Mighty Heart (2007), how an attempt at Method Acting almost made him lose his sanity, how he reshot an entire complicated scene in The Life of Pi (2012) because he was not happy with how his cardigan was looking, and of course a rendezvous with a cow in New York among other things.
“My film The Warrior (2001) had just released and it was the first time I had travelled to London. There I stayed at a very small hotel where you had to lug your own suitcase up the narrow stairs. In the middle of the night I suddenly saw a huge cow standing next to my bed. I was perplexed…how did the cow climb up that narrow staircase? I was of course dreaming! But now that I think of it, it is funny that it didn’t cross my mind that there can be no cows roaming on the streets of New York, instead I was thinking how it climbed the stairs!”
It is interesting that Irrfan is one actor whose first stint as a leading man was not in Bollywood but in Asif Kapadia’s The Warrior. And we had started our movie marathon with the very film that started the journey of Irrfan Khan. “Movies mein to tab koi consider hi nahin karte thhe…main sochta thha ke koi teen minute ka bhi role de de to kar loon…”
And it was an audition call from Tigmanshu Dhulia (who was the casting director for the film) that changed everything for Irrfan. But as soon as we start the film, Irrfan pauses the screen, he eyes glued to the opening credit which reads: “Irrfan Khan, in and as The Warrior”. He seems mesmerised seeing his own name on the big screen. It is not something one would expect from a National Award-winning actor of International repute, who was then waiting for the release of the release of Ron Howard’s Inferno (2016), in which he shared screen space with Tom Hanks. “See how he gave me such a grand entry! It was like some Clint Eastwood movie!” he had quipped like a little kid, I still vividly remember the excitement oozing from his eyes.
“The first time I saw the film on a big screen, I realised that I can have a grand presence. I was not sure I was capable of that. The way he presented me was huge. He captured something in me I was not aware of. In many ways it gave birth to the Irrfan Khan you know now,” he had said with a modesty that was disarming.
And his sense of humour was always spot on. During the course of the interview, I had asked him what is that one thing he has that the other Khans in Bollywood don’t…I had expected a long rambling reply, but he had summed it up in one word, “Height!” and the 6-feet-tall actor had burst out laughing at his own answer.
Almost one year after this interview, the actor had come to the HT office to promote his movie Qarib Qarib Singlle (2017), and I had almost bumped into him at the door of the newsroom. “Arre aap! We should do another movie marathon!” he had quipped and “Absolutely! This time with your Bollywood films!” I had said before complimenting on his very boho chic wardrobe.
I had not expected that to be our last meeting. In fact, it seemed that the actor is finally back. Although he had excused himself from being physically present at the promotions of his new movie Angrezi Medium (2020), it seemed the worst was over. But as the actor himself said in one of his very last audio notes: “It says when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Par jab zindegi aapke haath mein nimbu thhamati hai na, to shikanji banana bahut mushkil ho jata hai.”
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From HT Brunch, April 29, 2020
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