Irrfan died at 53 in Mumbai today (April 29). The loss of an actor of his stature is a big one for Hindi cinema. Whether in bitsy roles like that in Mira Nair’s Salaam Bombay or ones where he shoulders the weight entirely like in The Lunchbox – Irrfan’s contribution to the cinema cannot be put in words.
We will still try, with a heavy heart and trembling fingers.
Salaam Bombay, 1988
Re-watching Irrfan was initially cast to play a full-fledged role of Salim, a street kids, in Mira Nair’s Salaam Bombay. He attended workshops with Raghubhir Yadav, but later, Nair had to uncast him because she thought he didn’t fit with the malnourished street kids. Nair gave him a small role instead and promised to cast him later in a lead role. “I remember sobbing all night when Mira told me that my part was reduced to merely nothing. But it changed something within me. I was prepared for anything after that,” Irrfan had said about the incident.
Through the 90s, Irrfan was seen in a slew of TV shows, and a few films which failed to make a mark. After films like Kasoor (2001), Gunaah (2002), Dhund: The fog, and Footpath (both 2003) came to Maqbool the same year. Vishal Bharadwaj’s adaption of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth saw Irrfan in the titular role, and this turned his career around.
The Namesake (2006)
Life in a… Metro (2007)
Anurag Basu’s Life in a… Metro had an ensemble cast, with some really big names to boast. But Irrfan stood his ground and ensured he was noticed. His character, Monty, emerged as one of the most endearing ones in the film.\
Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
In Bollywood, films like Life in a… Metro was hard to come by. Irrfan, therefore, took a conscious step towards Hollywood and crossover cinema, something he had already tasted in The Namesake. With Slumdog Millionaire, that went on to win eight Academy Awards in 2009, he struck gold.
Paan Singh Tomar (2012)
Perhaps the only biopic Bollywood got right was that of Paan Singh Tomar and credit to Re-watching Irrfan nuanced performance for that. He effectively portrayed the angst of an Indian Amry soldier and athlete reduced to just a rebel fighting the very system he was part of and proud of in Tigmanshu Dhulia’s film.
Life of Pi (2012)
Ang Lee’s Life Of Pi, based on Yann Martel’s 2001 novel of the same name, was another film that won accolades on the international stage. It won the Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score and four Academy Awards, including Best Director.
The Lunchbox (2013)
With just two prime characters who actually never meet, The Lunchbox was a simple yet complex love story and was initially lobbied to be India’s official entry to the Oscars that year. Irrfan’s measured performance elevated the film. Re-watching Irrfan.
After Maqbool, Irrfan did a rather small role in Vishal Bharadwaj’s Haider, an adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. But a role that could not be forgotten. As Roohdaar, Irrfan was both the conscience and the guiding force for Haider (Shahid Kapoor), and an integral part of the storyline.
It isn’t easy to stand out when you have Amitabh Bachchan performing right next to you, but Irrfan did that brilliantly in Shoojit Sircar’s Piku. Some might even say he outshone both Bachchan and Deepika Padukone.
Based on the Arushi Talwar murder case, Meghna Gulzar’s Talvar saw Irrfan as Ashwin Kumar who finally cracks the case. Irrfan’s measured performance was apt for the role he was essaying – something that’s fresh in the public psyche.
A revenge drama with pain and suffering at the center, Madaari was also produced by Irrfan’s wife, Sutapa Sikdar. All Nirmal (Irrfan) wants is his son, who was lost in an act of negligence by the government, but the path he chooses is wrong. Yet, your heart goes out to him.
Hindi Medium (2017)
Qarib Qarib Singlle (2017)
Angrezi Medium (2020)
Irrfan’s last on-screen performance was Angrezi Medium, that had a theatrical release on March 13. Owing to the closure of theatres, the makers had announced that they will re-release the film once theatres re-open, but eventually had to release it on OTT.