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A Few Good Men: Why Irrfan Khan’s Loss Feels So Personal To So Many

Posted: April 29, 2020
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He was one of the few good men, and he is gone too soon. Rest in peace, Irrfan Khan – you are missed deeply, especially by women, whose lives he showed a great deal of sensitivity to.

The announcement of actor Irrfan Khan’s passing away was received with an outpouring of grief, especially by women, who wrote that his passing felt like a personal loss. Perhaps it is because he reminded us so much of the truly good men in our lives.

It was past midnight where I live, when I read about Padmashri Irrfan Khan’s death, and I thought I felt the night getting darker and heavier. On waking up, I have shed actual tears –something I haven’t done for other celebrities, and even for some distant relatives.

A personal loss

— Imaan Sheikh 🌈 (@sheikhimaan) April 29, 2020

I’m certainly not the only one who feels his loss so keenly. All over my feeds on Twitter and Facebook, “the loss feels personal,” is a constant refrain.

The more I scrolled through my feed some things quickly became clear.

One, that it doesn’t matter what else people differed on, they agreed on the fact that his death is a loss to all of us. His popularity transcended fandoms, ideologies and politics.

Two, that he is perhaps one of those rare few celebrities these days, whose death is not accompanied by posts that highlight his hypocrisy, or his misdeeds. Instead, the posts universally talk about his greatness, not only as an actor but also as a genuinely kind human being.

There were reminders that he was one of the few good men in the industry who were on the right side of the #MeToo movement. And this perhaps, is why his loss feels like such a gut punch to so many women, especially. He reminded us, both via his reel life avatars, and his real life personality, of the good men in our lives.

The man on screen

About his reel-life roles in particular, much has been written. The completeness with which he immersed himself in his roles, the way his voice could carry any emotion with ease, and they way his eyes spoke volumes when his lips stayed silent. To quote a 2011 piece by Reema Moudgil, “Looking back at Irrfan’s oeuvre, there are many such moments when he created indefinable magic with subtle power. The way he bids goodbye just with a nod and a gaze and a smile full of love to his wife at the airport in The Namesake, not knowing it will be his last. The way, his eyes coax Tabu in Maqbool, to stop tormenting him during a trek to a dargah when she is trying to get him to confess his love for her.”

Even in his unlikeable roles, he shone.

Everyone has a favourite performance by this incredibly versatile actor.

Versatile actor

To me, it is a particular scene in Hindi Medium (2017) that comes to mind when I think of him. The scene where he doesn’t see the need to confirm to the arbitrary rules of a “high class party,” and dances like no one is looking to a loud, rambunctious song, simply because that is what makes his daughter happy. In that moment, he was every dad who wants to see his daughter smile.

It certainly wasn’t the only movie in which he reminded us of the good fathers. As Ashoke in The Namesake (2006), he was the involved father and sensitive husband. As Danish Husain writes in The Quint, in the scene where he calls Tabu to complain about his stomach ache, “Irrfan becomes every father we do not wish to lose ever.”

I haven’t been able to watch Angrezi Medium (2020), his last movie, but those who have watched it can’t stop praising his performance in the movie, which also sensitively explores the father-daughter dynamic.

Nowhere is his performance more subtle than in Piku (2015). The film essentially belongs to Amitabh and Deepika, who are the father-daughter duo. The movie is about their oddball relationship, in which he is the outsider. Yet, it is his Rana, who is instrumental in taking them on a literal and figurative journey, that helps their relationship grow. That he makes his presence felt, without talking over or edging out Deepika, is testimony not only to his acting prowess, but also his sensitivity as an actor. It truly is something some other male actors (cough cough Akshay Kumar) in Bollywood can learn from.

Also worth noting are the unconventional love stories that he was part of.  His characters, shorn of toxic masculinity, were men that were imperfect, yet endearing, and reminded us that love transcends boundaries like age.

Many, including myself, found his vulnerability as Saajan Fernandes in The Lunchbox (2013) authentic. His ache for social connection and love was palpable and relatable.

In Qarib Qarib Single (2017), his pairing with Parvathy Thiruvothu, ensured that we couldn’t take our eyes of the screen. His equations with his ex-girlfriends in the movie, and the fondness he retains for them without laying any claim on them, reflect a matured and sensitive mind behind the brash and carefree exterior.

Even in his international roles, he made his presence felt, irrespective of how much screen-time he had.

His moving performance as the adult Piscine in The Life of Pi (2012), reveals his incredible talent that transformed highly complex ideas into an empathetic, grounded slice of life. As director Ang Lee said of his monologue in the movie, “I thank him for that. It’s very inspiring for a lot of people around the world. His speech was a dream for a filmmaker. He should have been nominated. He should have gotten an award for that speech.”

Even where his role was short, he delivered with impact. For example, his character in Jurassic World (2015), though pivotal, did not have much screen time. Yet in that short time, he managed to leave a lasting impression of an affable man, who leads from the front, is not afraid to take risks, and who cares about people. It isn’t even his best or most significant work, and yet it is one that people remember.

Irrfan Khan’s filmography is a treasure trove. We could sit and dissect each performance over and over again, and yet find nuances we didn’t notice before. As an artist, he will always be an inspiration.

Those who have had the good fortune of meeting him and working with him, speak of his humility and authenticity.

Which is why our heart is breaking today. He was one of the few good men, and he is gone too soon. Rest in peace, Irrfan bhai –you are missed deeply.

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