Irrfan Khan: Why The Actor's Messages and Dialogues Have A Whole New Meaning Now
Irrfan Khan’s appeal shows the power of art and artistes on our lives
Words seem meaningless at some point. What can one say in the midst of hundreds of tributes, features and articles flooding our timelines? Irrfan Khan’s sudden death has come at a time when we felt nothing could shock us anymore post COVID. In a year that has given us one piece of bad news after another, this seems to be the most brutal. Shock, disbelief, grief… varied shades of emotions have been expressed on social media by his adoring fans, stunned journalists and colleagues who have seen him fight the disease up, close and personal.
But as we said, words can’t do justice to such a situation because there are far too many ironies here. One, the fact that the last rites of such a hugely loved actor was a private affair with only a few friends and close family in attendance. Two, that he lost his mother a few days ago and couldn’t attend her funeral because of the lockdown. And that perhaps he himself wasn’t aware of how his popularity transcended borders, touching everyone’s life in some way or the other.
Simply put, more than our words at this delicate moment, it is Irrfan’s lines – mouthed through the characters of his films or by the actor himself – that seem to bring a semblance of sense to the entire situation. Currently, his last Instagram post appears almost prophetic.
“God speaks to each of us as he makes us, then walks with us silently out of the night...” he wrote quoting poet Rainer Maria Rilke in 2018.
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God speaks to each of us as he makes us, then walks with us silently out of the night. These are the words we dimly hear: You, sent out beyond your recall, go to the limits of your longing. Embody me. Flare up like a flame and make big shadows I can move in. Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror. Just keep going. No feeling is final. Don’t let yourself lose me. Nearby is the country they call life. You will know it by its seriousness. Give me your hand #rainermariarilke
But stronger were the words he used while promoting Angrezi Medium, his last film. Irrfan was very ill by then and naturally, could not go around the world talking about his movie, a sequel to the very successful 2017 drama Hindi Medium. Instead, he posted a video about an ‘unwanted mehmaan’ (guest) in his body that prevented him from promoting the film the way he wanted to.” His honesty was touching. “There is a saying,” he said, “When life gives you lemons, you make a lemonade. But it is always easier said than done. Because when life gives you lemons for real, then it is extremely difficult to make a shikanji (lemon juice). But you have no other choice apart from remaining positive.”
It was typically Irrfan – sardonic, humorous yet deep. No posturing or putting up a false brave front yet not whining about the condition he was in. In a lot of his films, Irrfan played the philosopher. In a very famous scene in Life in a Metro, he gives a standoffish and confused Konkona Sharma, some important relationship lessons. Irrfan’s Monty encourages her to let it all out, cry and express herself. At once funny, at another moment inspiring, it might as well have been Irrfan and not Monty speaking! Once again, seen in the wake of his death, it has deeper meaning attached than what was intended by the filmmaker.
The fact that these lines are being shared widely on social media by cinephiles and fans shows that Irrfan’s appeal exemplifies the power of art and artistes. Irrfan was not a superstar in the mould of a Shah Rukh Khan or a Salman Khan or an Amitabh Bachchan. The Khans, Bacchans, Kumars and Kapoors are massy, their one look and one dance move is enough to send fans in a tizzy. But Irrfan, as it turns out, had a deeper, more emotional connect. The outpouring of grief and the rich, glowing tributes by everyone who knew and even those who didn’t, indicate that he had struck our core in a way few artistes did. And more than him, it is his art that has spoken. The angst of an Ashoke Ganguli (Namesake), the maturity of a Pi Patel (Life of Pi), the irreverence of a Monty (Life in a Metro) and the loneliness of a Sajan (The Lunchbox) is something that relates to each one of us. He is not the superhero, he is us, as one of the posts on Twitter pointed out.
Actors have a way of touching our lives in a way few other achievers can. They live our lives on screen, they portray emotions that we feel and subconsciously, they give us points to relate to with episodes from our own lives. In a strange way, through their characters, they become part of us even if we don’t know the man or woman behind the greasepaint. The better the actor, the more we identify with them. And when it comes to acting, there were few as good as Irrfan in contemporary cinema. No wonder, with his passing away, the loss also seems deeply personal. The fact that his demise coincidences with one of the biggest ongoing health crisis that has turned the world upside down, makes it all the more poignant.
So at this point, nothing seems more relevant that this dialogue from one of his most famous films – Life of Pi, directed by Ang Lee. “I suppose in the end, the whole of life becomes an act of letting go, but what hurts the most is not taking a moment to say goodbye.”
Letting go and saying goodbye to Irrfan Khan is just so difficult!