Irrfan Khan's 7 Best Performances

Irrfan Khan's 7 Best Performances

Sadiq Saleem relives the best of Irrfan Khan and asks the question that most cinephiles do - how did he do it?

Today, the world woke up to the sad news of Irrfan Khan’s passing away and what followed were the non-stop tributes from all corners of the world. Where superstars like Amitabh Bachchan and Shah Rukh Khan addressed him as an inspiration and the best actor of our times, freshers like Kartik Aaryan and Siddhant Chaturvedi remembered him as an institution of the craft called acting.

One quality of Irrfan was that you could never comfortably categorize him into an asset of the parallel cinema. The moment you put him in that box, a surprise like Hindi Medium, Jurassic World or Gunday would spring out and you would want to bring him back to the mainstream frontline. He could just play about any role, in any medium, across industries with ease. As an actor, Irfan enjoyed playing on the nuances rather than the obvious and kept his inner actor’s streak under complete control.
As a tribute, Masala! Lists down seven of Irfan’s career best performances that proved Irrfan to be almost invincible among the current crop of Indian actors.

Miyan Maqbool in Maqbool:
Playing the trusted lieutenant of an underworld don (Abbaji), Maqbul partners with Abbaji’s mistress in a plan to assassinate the underworld king. Bhardwaj took ‘Macbeth’ from its palatial confines and turned it into an underworld drama yet his adaptation did complete justice to the original play. The adaptation worked like a magic on the cinegoers and its success was majorly attributed to the prolific contribution of Irrfan Khan, who played the titular role.

Ashoke Ganguli in The Namesake

There is a reason why Irrfan was respected as much in the west as in India. One of his best works was the character of a Bengali man which he played in Mira Nair’s The Namesake. Ashoke Ganguli, an aspiring engineer, who moves to America in 1977 after an arranged-marriage in Calcutta. The film captures his soulful longing for roots as displaced middle-class Indian and he successfully lends a warm texture to the film and reassures your faith in family solidarity.

Pi (Piscine)  in Life of Pi

Ang Lee's Life of Pi is widely known as a miraculous achievement of storytelling and a landmark of visual mastery. The story involves the 227 days that its teenage hero spends drifting across the Pacific in a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger. The heartbreaking narrative by Irrfan towards the end about how he was denied the right of a formal goodbye by his companion will bring tears to the eyes.

Rana in Piku:
Irfan played a manager of a hire-car fleet with whom Piku has been involved in a legal tussle ever since her vehicle was rear-ended. He plays the perfect patty between Amitabh Bachchan and Deepika yet he held his own and in some scenes, he stands taller than the two combined, sheerly because of his subtle comic wonders with wry looks.

Saajan Fernandes in The Lunchbox

In this film, Irrfan played Saajan, an ageing office worker who finds the wrong lunchbox delivered to his desk and stumbles into a chaste relationship with an unhappy housewife. His acting will make you believe that sometimes "the wrong train can get you to the right station".

Paan Singh in Paan Singh Tomar

Here Irrfan plays Paan Singh, a small-town lad who wins the steeplechase at the national games. A series of life changing events, however, forced Paan Singh to give up athletics, pick up the gun and become a dacoit of the infamous Chambal valley. For portraying the title character, Irrfan also won the National Film Award for Best Actor.

Raj Batra in Hindi Medium

A boutique owner from Delhi who hasa 5-year-old daughter with his wife Meeta, who struggle endlessly to get her the admission to a prestigious English-medium school as they feel that this will enable her to become a part of the elites. Khan is a treat to watch in Hindi Medium. Through the film Irrfan asks everyone to take a stand against the faulty education system. The sequel to this film, Angrezi Medium was the last film to release before the lockdown was announced.

To be honest, few words and a list will never do justice to the genius of irrfan Khan. What set Irrfan apart was his trademark ease, while acting. The ease with which he whispered a romantic line into his lover’s ear or a lethal threat as he held a pistol at someone's face, he was absolutely convincing at whatever he did. Now that he is no more, he took away with him the secret of ‘How he did it?’.

Sadiq Saleem is a Dubai based entertainment journalist. He can be contacted on

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