As the sun sets in the gloomy sky, I sit down to write my scattered thoughts and shattered feelings after reading the death of one of my favourite actors in contemporary times. Mr Irrfan Khan’s death justifies the poetic prediction of T. S Eliot; April is truly the cruellest month in memories and desires of life. It is death that eclipsed all and outlines the limitations of human life. But human creativity outlives the body and shines in history, in the making and unmaking of human stories, and their fate within everyday struggles of life, which shines in cinema screens because of abilities of an actor. These abilities separate Irrfan from other fellow actors of Hindi cinema.
Acting as a profession is notorious for microscopic scrutiny and preoccupations. The success of a film depends on the synergy of many other people in a film set but the actors carry all the burdens of failure. It is a ruthless profession that takes toll on life of actors who take acting seriously as an art. Mr Irrfan Khan falls within such a tradition of cinema. His presence in a film set breeds confidence in all involved in the film making. His commitment is unparallelly distinctive in the film industry. All his films are testimony to his incredible abilities of an actor.
Mr Irrfan Khan has achieved pinnacles of success in the world of cinema within and outside India. The tinsel club of Hindi cinema in Mumbai is known for its nepotistic approach, where family linages take primacy over acting talents. Mr Irrfan Khan was among the few actors who managed to demolish the entrenched glass ceilings with sheer qualities of acting. He did not stop there. He went on to create his own space in the fables of cinema in Hollywood. He is among few Indian actors with global reach. He left his incredible trademark on world of cinema and theatre within fifty-three years of his life. Fifty-three is not the age to go but everything comes to an end in the Shakespearean play of life. But Irrfan Khan has left this world too soon.
Mr Irfan Khan’s death is an immense loss to the world of cinema. He is among rare breed of Indian actors who can tell stories with movement of his eyes. His acting can tell stories in silence. In these stories, Mr Irrfan Khan will survive and continue to inspire both actors and film makers to move beyond commercial logic of cinema and entertainment. When commercial logic sets the stage of cinema, Irrfan Khan pushed the boundaries and significance of cinematic art. From the beginning of his creative career, he has been telling a counter narrative undermining commercial bid for storytelling and acting.
Unlike some others, Irrfan Khan achieved his wider recognition without revolting against mainstream commercial cinema. He used the platform to promote a new culture of cinema where cinema as an art did not die in search of commercial success. He did not follow the culture of acting determined by the mainstream market logic of cinema. His unflinching commitment to acting in cinema led to his commercial success. Awards and glories did not stop him in search of good cinema. His curiosity continued to grow with the growth of his popularity as an actor. His composed public appearances are glaring examples of his personality. He never projected himself bigger than the stories of his films. He did not promote himself larger than life like other actors of Bollywood. His humble behaviour reflects his attachment with his humble beginning. These qualities are rare among his contemporaries. In the death of Mr Irrfan Khan, the stake here is not who would uphold the legacies of his style of acting, sense and sensibilities, but who would remain standing in the folklores of acting, cinema and memories of audience after the curtain falls in theatres of life. His name is the answer. His journeying from Jaipur to Mumbai via Delhi ends in his death but legacies of his foot prints in silver screen will continue to tell stories to entertain the masses.
As India and Indians in en-masse mourn the death of one of their finest actors; the outpouring of sorrow and love for Mr Irrfan Khan restores my hopes on the idea of inclusive India on such an unusual day. In his death, people like me realise that it is not all lost to the politics of hate practiced by the Hindutva fascists in India. It will be a befitting tribute to Irrfan Khan, if all people mourn the same way for common Muslims, Dalits and activists who were killed, butchered and lynched by the Hindutva vigilante groups. It would be truly amazing tribute if we mourn the same way during the deaths of women, migrant labourers, tribals, workers and farmers in India due to the policies of this government led by Narendra Modi.
Irrfan’s family life reflects the beauties of liberal and secular India which is under threat. It would be a tribute to his life to uphold liberal and secular traditions of India as a republic. Mr Irrfan Khan’s death reminds us that it is death that defines our lives. It is better to live life with a purpose and principles than travel in the glittering flow of power and money.
Bhabani Shankar Nayak Coventry University, UK