How do you mourn the loss of someone you’ve never met? If they are someone like Irrfan Khan, it is difficult to come to terms with it. I never knew him personally but as with millions of others, I feel a deep connection. He felt like he was one of us. This was due to the person he was as well as the roles that he played. His death feels more personal than most celebrity deaths. I wanted to pen down a few thoughts yesterday but I couldn’t find the words. I don’t think I know where I’m going with this but as with life, I just hope that the journey is beautiful.
Irrfan was known worldwide for being one of the best actors of his generation and that is a fact. In the world of cinema, pretty much everything is subjective but ask around and most people would agree that he was among the best. But what made him such a good actor? I’ve thought long and hard about this and I’ve narrowed this down to three things. The first is his voice that seemed to flow like a body of water. Sometimes it used to gush like a waterfall and other times it was as still as a pond. But no matter whether he spoke in English or in Hindi, his words carried a power that most actors can only dream of. It never felt like he had memorized his lines, it sounded like words that were formed then and there. The second factor would be the way he walks. A good way to notice this is when he takes up roles where he has to play someone older.
Think about The Namesake and The Lunchbox, both are different films featuring different characters but Irrfan brings a sense of familiarity with them. With Ashoke in The Namesake, you feel a man who understands the weight of responsibility on him but wants to solider on. In The Lunchbox, we see a withered and resigned man who seems to have given up. It is one thing to bring this out through words and body language but the fact that we can sense this through walking, is a testament to his remarkable talent. And third is the gold standard by which most actors are measured against, reacting.
Whether he was being subtle or going a little over the top, Irrfan always seemed to find the right note for the required reaction. Take the above picture from The Namesake, this is a father teaching his son a valuable life lesson. But the smile does not indicate that he has achieved something, its just an acknowledgement of what he has done. And given what we know of Ashoke so far, it seems like the right reaction. This was a magical quality that Irrfan had and that permeated through every role he played. Whether he was being the badass Roohdar in Haider or the melancholic Pi in Life of Pi and even the student leader Ranvijay in Haasil, Irrfan made all of them feel like different people.
Today as we are reeling from the news of Irrfan’s passing away, the cinematic community gets hit with another hammer blow in the form of Rishi Kapoor’s passing. Two legends taken away from us without giving us any time to grieve. But as we know, the legacy that these stars have left behind is not the money they made but the love they inspired within us. Their work made us root for them, root against them, hate them, love them. Now and forever, they will always be a part of our lives. I’d like to finish this tribute with an excerpt from a poem by Mary Elizabeth Frye that seems apt on a day like this
“When you awaken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there; I did not die”
Until next time, bye.