Everyone who grew up in a Bollywood adoring household was most likely asked to pick their favourite Khan during a movie night. In my family, it was often a tie between Sharukh or Salman, with Amir creeping in around the early 2000s. While these choices are legends of their own, I eventually came to find my solace in Irrfan Khan. His versatility knew no bounds, his face spoke a thousand words and his roles were equally compelling. 

Known internationally for his roles in movies like Slumdog Millionaire and Life of Pi, the actor died at the age of 53 due to a colon infection in a hospital in Mumbai. Khan had been battling cancer since 2018. 

Irrfan Khan was not your typical 6-pack, fair-faced actor that Bollywood loves to screen as the dreamy protagonist. Instead, Khan started by playing side characters to A-listers and later actively took on roles of complicated villains that made viewers doubt morals and reality. His ability to bring humanity and intensity to even the vilest of characters made audiences crave his presence. 

For me, Khan was extraordinary at playing the role of an average man and exceptional at blurring the line between good and evil. His use of silence and intelligently placed pauses during his performances gave chills.

Though Khan worked mostly in Indian cinema, he was sought after in Hollywood too where he refused to whitewash his persona like other Bollywood actors that made the same transition (*cough* Priyanka Chopra *cough*).  

  1. Maqbool: A Complicated Villain 

In an adaptation of Shakespeare’s famous play Macbeth, Khan did the remarkable role of Maqbool, a man of crime caught between love and loyalty. Even though the movie did not do very well on the box office, Khan’s work brought life to Shakespeare’s Macbeth. His other roles as an acclaimed bad guy can also be noted in Haider, an adaption of Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Haasil. 

  1. Billu: The Average Man 

Billu is the story of a small-town barber who has a tough time making ends meet when a megastar (played by Shahrukh Khan) and Billu’s childhood friend comes to town for a shoot. Billu’s poverty-stricken life is contrasted beautifully against the star’s and he also brings a certain human dignity and respect not only to the character of Billu and his profession but also to the life of poverty, convening so much by saying very little. He manages to make his character extremely believable and likeable with ease. 

  1. Hindi Medium: A Comic with a Lesson 

Not only has Irrfan Khan trickled into Hollywood, but he also collaborated with Lollywood’s acclaimed Saba Qamar. Projects between actors of Pakistan and India are rare due to political tensions between the two countries but this movie about a rich couple that pretends to be poor to get their child into a good school through its poverty quota was taken well by all Bollywood fans. The film speaks volumes about the extent parents go to give their child a better future.

  1. The Lunchbox: A Romantic 

This film gathered laurels galore in many award festivals because of Irrfan Khan’s unmatched portrayal of a lonely accountant who is about to retire from his job. Even though he never shared screen space with Nimrat Kaur (the lead actress in the movie), his chemistry with her character is hyper-visible because of his brilliant role.  Piku and Qarib Qarib Singlle are also movies where Khan opens to romance but in a cheekier persona. 

  1. Life of Pi: An International Intellect  

Directed by Ang Lee, Life of Pi was just one of the many Hollywood films that the actor starred in. It received four Oscars and grossed over $600 million worldwide. In the movie, the actor talks about life and death. Irrfan’s character, the adult Piscine ‘Pi’ Patel, says, “I suppose in the end, the whole of life becomes an act of letting go, but what always hurts the most is not taking a moment to say goodbye.” Other movies that made him well known in Hollywood are Slumdog Millionaire and The Namesake. 

Zahra Khozema