Irrfan, the ‘Thinking Actor’: There Was Nothing Mythical About This Khan

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Irrfan Khan died at the age of 53 after battling cancer for two years.

Irrfan Khan died at the age of 53 after battling cancer for two years.

Irrfan Khan’s interests were not just limited to films. He expanded his tastes and discernment to other subjects also, says historian and author S Irfan Habib.

  • Last Updated: April 30, 2020, 12:45 AM IST

There is certain kind of mythical charm surrounding our silver screen actors. And then there are exceptions like the thinking, philosophical, simple and accessible Irrfan Khan.

The Hindi film industry actor breathed his last today leaving his fans in a teary-eyed disbelief. We know him for his powerful performances but personally, in whatever little engagements I have had with him, I know him as a “thinking actor.” I have not had long terms of relation or conversations with him but whatever little we spoke, revealed a meaningful and thoughtful side of him. He respected people for whatever work they did in this world.

It was 2011-12 that my interactions started with Irrfan Khan over Twitter. He sent me a DM (direct message) inquiring about some political relevance of tweets and their meaning. He wanted to understand the political tones and debated what was unfolding on social media. That’s how my engagement with him started – one DM at a time.

I met him for the special screening of his film “Lunchbox.” He invited me saying if I am free I should try to join him for the special show, and also gave his number to me, saying that I must message him on reaching Siri Fort auditorium.

I messaged him and I saw he was standing outside the door to welcome me for the screening of his film. Together we walked inside and I was introduced to other guests by him. The simplicity of the man touched me.

I could see that the way he conducted himself with other people, he acknowledged and respected others like me for whatever work they had done in their life. We sat together for the film and he was watching it like an audience member – he was just watching the movie, making light comments and laughing.

For those two and a half hours, I could see there was nothing mythical about this Khan. He was a man of such powerful performances but one cannot relate to him in some Bollywood-ish way.

After the movie he told me that he had read about my books but not read them and wanted me to send them to him. He was very keen to get the copy of my book on Bhagat Singh (Inquilab: Bhagat Singh on Religion and Revolution) and on Islam – (Jihad Or Ijtihad : Religious Orthodoxy And Modern Science In Contemporary Islam).

It was heartening to see that he wanted to read the stuff not directly related to his profession. He wanted to read for his own enrichment and learning. He told me that he wanted my book on Islam because lot of people asked him about his religion, and he wanted to know more to be able answer and know better. His interest in reading was out of craving to know more… his interests were not just limited to films and expanded his tastes and discernment to other subjects also.

I think everything that he did as a person reflected in the kind of work he chose – he was choosy and didn’t go for a movie for its commercial success but substance and meaning.

The directors he worked with are known for powerful cinema and he was the best one to perform the roles for their films. Other actors are also choosy but they would pick a film with commercial success, he worked differently and chose films for their subjects, themes. I have huge respect for his work in Paan Singh Tomar. He is from Rajasthan and with such effortlessness he spoke the language of Bundelkhand.

His work reflected his love for learning and life.

As told to Eram Agha

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