As someone who has been a student of English literature, when I first sat down to watch Maqbool, I was quite excited to see how the story and its characters would unfold in this Indianized adaptation. Of everything that had me hooked, it was Irrfan Khan as Maqbool who stayed with me. Caught between love and loyalty, the man brought such nuance and honesty to the screen that you couldn’t not notice him.
The fact that his debut in Mira Nair’s Salaam Bombay! was cut short disappointed him, but never dissuaded him. Over the years, he went on to play bigger and better characters. He was someone who refused to be typecast and explored all genres. Although the roles he took on earlier in his career had much meat to it, the cinematic world was yet to acknowledge and celebrate his brilliance. In his defense, Khan was not conventionally good looking and it is no secret that Bollywood has a penchant for casting Greek gods and goddesses in lead roles. But, his acting chops more than made up for it.
The actor chose to portray characters with depth and flaws; he did not shy away from experimenting and his roster of films is good enough proof. From being a character actor on the fringe to leading films like Paan Singh Tomar, The Lunchbox, and The Namesake, Irrfan managed to carve a place for himself in the industry and our hearts. I believe his characters endeared him to his audience. Irrfan wasn’t much into telling larger than life stories; he was the quintessential middle-class hero and had no qualms about it. As a common man, dressed in not-so-glitzy clothes, Irrfan’s characters made him relatable and likeable.
The Namesake happens to be the first Jhumpa Lahiri book I had read, and when I watched the movie, it was just like I had imagined. You know how when you’re so engrossed in a book that the plot plays scene by scene right in front of your eyes? There was no one else who could have slipped into the character of Ashok better. As the owner of a taxi business in Piku, Irrfan casually strolled into our hearts and left his mark. As an accountant who strikes up a letter-writing romance with a lonely housewife to an athlete-turned-outlaw, the actor lent his characters a disarming honesty and earthiness that we as an audience had grown to love; nobody did subtlety more justice.
When I read reports that he had been hospitalized just yesterday, I somehow had a feeling that this might be the end. The fact that 2020 has been such a disappointment up till now probably had something to do with it. But, his death was so sudden that it almost feels unreal. We lost an extraordinary actor and a beautiful soul. Thank you for showing us your magic, Irrfan Khan! Cinema will never be the same again without you.
“I suppose, in the end, the whole of life becomes about letting go. But what hurts the most, is not taking a moment to say goodbye.”
(Image courtesy: Press Information Bureau, Created: 2011-04-01, The President, Smt. Pratibha Devisingh Patil presenting the Padma Shri Award to Shri Sahabzade Irrfan Ali Khan, at an Investiture Ceremony II, at Rashtrapati Bhavan, in New Delhi on April 01, 2011.jpg, https://pib.gov.in/newsite/photo.aspx?photoid=34371,CNR :37361 Photo ID :34371)