One of Indian cinema’s greats takes his final bow
Irrfan, the virtuoso Bollywood actor who made a mark in Hollywood as well, died on Wednesday in the presence of his family in Mumbai, having added to his legacy until the final rounds of a hard-fought battle with cancer over two years.
The 53-year-old actor was on Tuesday admitted to the intensive care unit at Mumbai’s Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital where he was under observation for colon infection. He had been battling cancer since 2018, when he was diagnosed with a neuroendocrine tumour.
Irrfan had lost his mother on April 25 but could not be present for her funeral in Jaipur due to the nationwide lockdown. Filmmaker Shoojit Sircar was the first to tweet about Irrfan’s death. “My dear friend Irrfan. You fought and fought and fought. I will always be proud of you.. we shall meet again...” Sircar wrote.
Irrfan’s family later issued an official statement, saying: “...A man of few words and an actor of silent expressions with his deep eyes and his memorable actions on screen. It’s saddening that this day, we have to bring forward the news of him passing away. Irrfan was a strong soul, someone who fought till the very end and always inspired everyone who came close to him...”
Irrfan, who dropped the surname Khan in 2016, was buried at the Versova burial ground. He is survived by his wife, writer-producer and his NSD classmate, Sutapa Sikdar, and sons Babil and Ayan.
In March 2018, Irrfan shared the news of being diagnosed with a rare form of cancer for which he underwent extensive treatment for a year in the UK. He returned to India in February 2019 and shot for Angrezi Medium, his last film. Released in March, the film bore the brunt of the coronavirus pandemic and was later re-released on an OTT platform.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi said Irrfan will be remembered for his versatile performances across different mediums. His demise is a loss to the world of cinema and theatre, Modi wrote on Twitter.
Superstar Shah Rukh Khan called him a “friend...inspiration & the greatest actor of our times”.
Born in Jaipur, Irrfan aspired to become a cricketer and was even selected for the CK Nayudu Tournament for emerging players under 23, but fate had something else in store, as the tournament was shelved, and in 1984, he joined the National School of Drama.
Though Irrfan made his acting debut in 1988 with a small role in Mira Nair’s Salaam Bombay!, it took him more than a decade to be recognised as a commercially viable actor and secure his place in the Hindi film industry. In between, he worked in a number of TV soaps including Banegi Apni Baat, Chanakya, Chandrakanta, Shrikant, Bharat Ek Khoj and Darr.
With a career spanning three decades, Irrfan is celebrated for Hindi films such as Haasil (2003), Maqbool (2003), Life in a... Metro (2007), Paan Singh Tomar (2012), Lunchbox (2013), Haider (2014), Piku (2015), Hindi Medium (2017), Blackmail (2018), among others.
One of the most recognizable Indian faces in the West, Irrfan also worked in a bunch of British and American films including Slumdog Millionaire (2008), Life of Pi (2012), The Warrior (2001), A Mighty Heart (2007), The Amazing Spider-Man (2012), Jurassic World (2015) and Inferno (2016).
Irrfan won the National Film Award for Paan Singh Tomar and, in 2011, was conferred the Padma Shri, India’s fourth highest civilian honour.