'RIP Irrfan Khan, There Won't Be Another One Like You'

'RIP Irrfan Khan, There Won't Be Another One Like You'

Subhash K Jha pays a heartfelt tribute to Irrfan Khan who passed away in Mumbai at the age of 54

Dearest Irrfan,

I can't believe you are gone. Knowing you the way I do, you know better than most of us, what a cruel blow destiny can deal in our lives just when everything seems to be going as planned.

In 2017 you were supremely on top of the game with English Medium becoming both a critical  and commercial success. I remember how pleased you were with the turn of events and how much it meant  to you to be in  a film that was not just praised by critics but also loved by the masses. I remember how disappointed you were when earlier your collaboration with the Raja of  the Masses Anees Bazmi had failed.

Come to think of  it, the film (I think it was called Thank You, though Sorry would have been a more appropriate title) failed. You didn’t. You never do. Have we ever seen a substandard performance from you? Not possible.

When your health began to fail you were puzzled. Why would Destiny play such a cruel game? When  your worst fears came true, you left for London for your treatment. But your films were released in your absence. Most notable of these was the American Indie oddity named Puzzle where, I am proud to say, you were the first Indian actor to play  the romantic lead in an American film.This Marc Turtletaub –directed romance featured you as a jigsaw puzzle aficionado who has an affair with  the married  mother-of-two heroine (Kelly Macdonald).

Puzzle was ….well, a  puzzle.While  on  the surface the deep silences and  the  bonding between two abandoned  individuals over  jigsaw puzzles suggested a wealth of enigmatic possibilities, the film   possessed a bankrupt soul. Nothing happened. It was just an empty exercise in doing a variation on the classic film Falling In Love.

What  stood out in Puzzle was the fact  that you played  a colour-blind  culture-unspecific role. Nowhere was it mentioned that your character was a brownskinned Asian. You had broken another  glass ceiling, and done us proud again.

But Puzzle came  at a time when movies were  the last thing on your mind. As you healed you needed  your privacy more than ever before. I felt intrusive even to ask about your health. I didn’t want you to think I was being a prying journalist. Ever since you came back after healing I’ve kept my distance. The one text that you sent me said you are in  no position to talk. I miss our conversations. So matter of fact, so free of artifice.

Then suddenly you reconnected with me at the time when Angrezi Medium released. I requested for an interview, and you said speaking was not possible and would I email  my questions. You answered  every question with  characteristic candour. It felt like old times. I was confident we would soon be speaking again.

Your kindness always struck me as  unique to a business where self-interest always comes first and last. I remember once in 2015, my daughter who was studying at Columbia University, needed to talk to you for a research project.  You went out of your way to coordinate the Indian timing with the American, and spoke at length  with her. Then you called to ask if she  got the information she  required.

Aisa  kaun karta hai?

I remember  speaking to you  on  your 47th birthday about how  young and healthy you looked.
You had laughed  and  replied, “I do look after myself. But not in an obsessive way. I work-out. But in my own way. I follow the regimen that my body demands and not what the physical trainer thinks my body requires. Besides that, I think I am getting to do the work that I want. Inner contentment always reflects on your face and body.”

Sadly you signed only one film after your  return.The  lucky producer was Dinesh Vijan who managed to get Irrfan  to do Angrezi  Medium, the sequel to the 2017 hit Hindi Medium. Now  there won't be  a  third film.

The last time  I  spoke to you  was  two years  ago in January 2018. You were   very excited about the future. “The most interesting thing was, I was honoured at the Dubai  International Film Festival  along with Cate Blanchett who is my  most favourite actor. So it couldn't get any better  for me,” you  had told me enthusiastically.  "I am happy of the audiences’ need  now  to watch fresher and newer content , hence it’s becoming easier to reach a wider audience a mass audience through my kind of films. So at this juncture its all coming together and happening organically.”

Kisiki  nazar lag gayi, Irrfan.  I will  miss talking to you. Until we talk again I will connect with  you through your  performances. You don’t play characters. You own them.

There will be another one like  you, my friend.

Until  we  meet again

Subhash K Jha

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