Scene 1: A mid-age man, partly-tired, partly-lost becomes even more lost whilst looking at a hauntingly beautiful portrait of a woman. She’s a model looking at whom, the dazed and confused man becomes immersed akin to a tiny shred of paper lost in an inferno. Only the particles remain.
As he stares like some fixated dude on a lissome lass, he says nothing, not one word; only his eyes emote the passion that needs no explanation. Later, as the movie pans out, it turns out that this man, a cop is in love with a dead woman; that very portrait.
That movie was Rog.
Scene 2: A couple is sitting at the rustic end of a beach in Bombay. It’s evening. The breeze is flowing gently. There’s some cigarettes, beer and nonchalance. Then, suddenly, “Monty,” who’s this character, breaks into passage of tears, saying, “Thank you, Shruti, thank you very much.” A happy-go-lucky man is expressing his contentment cutely to a woman he so adores but knows won’t be his.
That was Life In A Metro.
Scene 3: The elegant looker who’s sitting comfortably behind with her father, the very difficult Bhask’o’r played by the great Mr. Bachchan is perturbed as to why the driver of the “for-hire” Innova isn’t moving despite everyone tucked in the wagon safe and sound. The man at the wheel says nothing, but just looks at the mirror, as if to express that he’s disconcerted. He moves his eyes gently towards the backseat, where Deepika Padukone understands what’s up. In a flash, the pillion rider, so to speak, becomes the co-passenger out in front and our pilot just smiles ever so briefly, and the journey from Delhi to Kolkata commences.
That was Piku.
Scene 4: The student politician Ranvijay expresses in sheer disbelief the fact that the girl he’s so besotted with left the classroom college lecture and evaded him as if he were a bandit. He then asks his buddies, the gangly youth, ” Achcha Main Election Jeetunga (will I win the elections)?”
He’s not hot-headed, but just confused with what is it that’s hurting more- the girl who’s not so keen on him or the imminent fate of his student politics in Allahabad.
That was Haasil (one of Tigmanshu Dhulia’s cult classics).
Scene 5: Billu, the earnest barber with not much to live for and definitely nothing much to fall back on is stunned to see just who turned up at his home upon opening the door. His eyes can’t believe it; they are moist in admiration. But the tears are held back, but only just. Sahir Khan, played by SRK, complaints that not once did his childhood friend try to meet him, to which our man simply emotes his tragic story that he had nothing, absolutely no means to search for a man who had by then become too big and hence, a bit beyond his reach.
As audiences you feel his helplessness and imagine the struggle.
That was Billu.
In each of the five scenes there’s a common cord that connects audiences to the movie screen akin to how a Tendulkar kept the fans on the tenterhooks when he was batting.
The only difference was that while Sachin brought up his century and with it, the hopes of a billion plus nation, Irrfan Khan, in nearly every single role kept us glued o to him in rapt attention.
Your eyes didn’t move anywhere when Irrfan Khan was in a movie. The same way your eyes probably still don’t focus elsewhere when you catch a glimpse of a trailer or some scene featuring arguably the greatest Khan to have ever acted in Indian cinema.
To a country that loves it all- comedies featuring lame jokes, emotional melodrama, B-grade infested dialogues in adult comedies and nonsensical action that’s a bit too much like Ranveer Singh’s normal dressing attire- Irrfan Khan was normality with a sense of exquisiteness.
Here was an actor that merged substance or solidity with a sense of ease about it all. His was a sense of style that cannot be taught in any New York Film Academy and definitely not in any of Mumbai’s acting schools that have mushroomed all over whether Saat Bangla, Bandra, Mira Road or Ghatkopar.
You could be anyone; whether a die-hard romantic who swore by Shah Rukh Khan or a Big B obsessed, but whenever Irrfan Khan appeared on the TV screen, you listened to him.
Using with melancholic eyes that seemed to say a lot whilst hiding something- or so it seemed- Irrfan managed to convey the magic that we call cinema. In fact, Irrfan Khan was cinema.
Not the goofy Bollywood films. Not the over-the-top boisterous commercial potboilers.
Precisely the thing that we all crave for, the two and a half hour relationship we feel strongly about whenever a chance arrives to immerse in a film.
There are actors who’ve been typecast given their proclivity to feature in a particular genre. Picture Hrithik Roshan, who does need a big rollicking enterprise to exude his powerhouse talent. Which is why you see Bang Bang or a War or even Mohenjo Daro, films replete with an entire paraphernalia.
Ditto for Akshay Kumar or Ajay Devgn, who need ventures that get the cash registers ringing on each Friday, hence the Khiladi-antics and the Supercop dramas that are perhaps as implausible as they are entertaining albeit goofy.
But Irrfan Khan didn’t need any such thing.
He could do a weirdly funny role in a forgettable nutjob of a movie such as Sunday, one of the most underrated films around and pull the strings of our heart in The Lunchbox, where practically speaking, through some spicy food and the oil-soaked letters, Irrfan carried the entire film in the Lunchbox, pun unintended.
Here was a guy who’s mere reading of a letter whilst licking his fingers immersed in traditional home-cooked food formed the key narrative of a movie whose central theme wasn’t actually food, but a case of misplaced lunchboxes!
Can you believe it?
He was our plainly-dressed letter-writer in Mira Nair’s Salaam Bombay whose five minute appearance on the big screen had more appeal and an element of believability than there is in plush movies that need expensive satin sheets, velvety clothing and over the top Martini to convey a point.
One of the finest ambassadors of the spirit of Indian Cinema, Irrfan Khan was the Ambassador, plain and simple and yet, backed a profundity of solidity in a world of Rolls Royce, Ferrari California T GT, and the BMW i7.
He was a bottle of drinking water that you always turned to during travails and long distance travels than the incorrigible need to stuff oneself on a glass of Martini as if to prove a point to others.
An excellent modulator of voice, he was sober and smart when he spoke softly and a wild cannon with nothing held back as seen in temperamental outbursts such as Maqbool, which floored us completely.
Despite coming from Tonk in Rajasthan and making it big all by his own efforts in the back-breakingly tough Mumbai, Irrfan Khan didn’t play the victim card that few backed him when he struggled so hard initially. Neither did he encash the emotional currency of playing the man who came from a small town.
He was both the city boy who one adored as also the aspirer from the tier-two city who dreamt of making it- and ultimately made it- big.
And truth be told; Irrfan’s audiences lay in both, the Swades as well as India. He was liked by both, admired by all social strata.
To the poor man who lives on savings, Irrfan Khan was a secular face of an India where everything is possible, where hopes don’t wane away. At the same time, Irrfan Khan was the easy-going chiller who stood for a rich vein of talent that was impressive and alluring in equal measure.
Perhaps to this day, we’ve never been able to place a finger convincingly yet on what made him a hotseller in movies; were it just the haunting albeit penetrative eyes or the ability to cater to everyone’s sensibilities or the sufi-esque soul that embodied a free persona that couldn’t be caged.
Or was it a mix of everything?
Regardless, it suffices to say that it’s easy to be a star but very difficult to be an actor. When Irrfan Khan played Paan Singh Tomar, he became Paan Singh Tomar, a movie that one ought to remember was one of the early vehicles for rising Bollywood director Bhav Dhulia, the main force behind the acclaimed recent release “Khaki!”
Likewise, when Irfan Khan starred as the hard-as-nails cops in Talwar, he became the cop Talwar, a man possessed by the inborn need to solve a gruesome murder.
He would get into the skin of the character like how alcohol gets into our nerves, leaving behind a trail of intoxicity that’s hard to get on top of.
Yet, there was this everyday-ness about the Khan we can’t get enough of and likely never will; he’d lend his innate affability and poise to ads that we remember to this day, not because of their brand value but because of the value that Irrfan Khan brought on. Think Hutch ka chota recharge. Think Syska LED!
Truth is that the Irrfan Khan legend will likely only soar in the times to come for actors there’ll be many. But only a few will dare to surrender themselves to the labyrinth that is a film script. Which is why perhaps there’s sense to alter the great dialogue from the film Bawarchi that says, it is so simple to be happy, but it is so difficult to be simple.
Likewise, in appreciation of this late but evergreen actor, one ought to say- it is so simple to be successful, but is so difficult to be another like Irrfan Khan!
Gone but never forgotten! Actually, is he even gone?
The physical body left the planet over two summers ago but the easygoing essence, the memories, the gentle pauses before breaking into a captivating monologue all remain. They’re a part of us. And we won’t let it dispel into oblivion.