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29 April 2020

And Movies Will Never Be The Same

Death is a rude visitor. It doesn't ask you whether it's welcome. It doesn't care if it is or not. Sometimes, it appears unannounced. Sometimes, we know it's coming but we aren't prepared for it. Let me correct that – however much we know that Death is but a part of Life, we are never prepared for it. We might – rationally – know that it is better that someone dies: without pain, without suffering too much. 'They were old," we might tell ourselves. "They were ailing, in pain..." "It's better they went without suffering," we might intone in a bid to console others. Or ourselves. But in all our Life lessons, it is the hardest to learn. When to let go.  

In these past months, I have lost someone very dear to me. An aunt-in-law to whom I once dedicated a post. She lived life to the fullest. She personified Carpe Diem. Whenever I felt low, all I had to do was think of her and the lovely smile that lit up her face whenever she saw me. She loved me unconditionally; her warmth reached out and enveloped me to let me know that love. 

She was an incredible woman. And when she died in February, my husband and I said the same thing. “It’s good she didn’t suffer.” “She died as she had lived, without troubling anyone.” But selfishly, I shook my fist at the universe. How dare it? How dare it take away someone like Aunt R? We needed her! I needed her! 

I thought of writing a tribute to her. I wrote one. I deleted it. I wrote it again. Rinse, repeat. I wanted to hold on to her memories, not share them, not share her with the world. 

So why am I mentioning her now?

Because, today, I woke up to the news that Irrfan Khan had died. No, there’s no connection between Aunt R and Irrfan. Except that, once again, I felt the loss deeply. Not quite in the same way because I don’t – didn’t – know Irrfan personally. But I did ‘know’ him through his work.

I first saw Irrfan (back when he was Irfan Khan) in a TV serial called Banegi Apni Baat. 
It was filled with a whole host of characters played by Surekha Sikri, Shefali Shah, Sadiya Siddiqui, Varun Badola, Anita Kanwal, Irfan Khan, Madhavan, etc. Irrfan didn’t play a very likeable character in it, and I wasn’t sure if I liked or hated him; he didn’t strike me as ‘good looking’ in the conventional sense, but there was still something rather attractive about that craggy face. As the serial progressed, I began to appreciate what a good actor he was.
I watched him next in The Warrior (2001), a British film made by Asif Kapadia. A very touching story of a feudal warrior’s journey in search of peace, it brought Irffan into my ken as a fabulous onscreen presence. Then, since he wasn’t yet completely ‘mainstream’, I didn’t really see much of his work, until I caught, quite by accident, Tigmanshu Dhulia’s Haasil (2003). I’d initially watched it for Jimmy Shergill, but Irrfan’s portrayal of Ranvijay Singh, a brash, ambitious student leader blew me away. 
That same year, Vishal Bhardwaj made his second film, Maqbool (2003). This time around, despite the presence of heavyweights like Pankaj Kapoor, Naseeruddin Shah, and Om Puri, I watched the film for Irrfan and Tabu. In this retelling of Macbeth, Irrfan brought out the inherent insecurities of a man who's being instigated against his mentor.
I’m sure he acted in a slew of films in between, but my next recollection of him was in a small film called 7 ½ Phere (2005), where he acted opposite Juhi Chawla. The film was so-so, but Juhi and Irrfan lit up the screen. Then came Yun Hota Toh Kya Hota (2006) – Naseeruddin Shah’s rather interesting directorial debut saw Irrfan don the role of Salim Rajabali, a man who’s fleeing the country after being involved in a murder.

These were all one-offs, really; it was only in 2007 when he acted in Anurag Basu’s anthology Life in a Metro,  and in Mira Nair’s The Namesake that I really began to sit up and take notice. To watch Irrfan subtly express his emotions a look, a smile, and have those ably complemented by Tabu, who never spells out what can be shown by a glance, was cinematic gold.
By the time The Life of Pi (2012), and more importantly, The Lunchbox (2013) rolled around, his very ordinariness became an extraordinary screen experience. As Sajan in the latter film, he brought exquisite old-world charm to his subtle rendering of a middle-aged accountant who finds ‘love’ on the cusp of retirement.
Watch him play the undercover agent in D-Day (2013) or 'Roohdar' in Haider (2014); play the investigator in Talvar (2015) or in Piku (2015), where his performance turned what could be a tiresome character into an endearingly quirky one.
Qarib Qarib Single and Karwaan showcased his comic timing, and used his deadpan expressions and dry dialogue delivery to their fullest potential. These, obviously, are only about films of his that I have seen, but from all that I have read of the man, he did not need a great movie to give a great performance.

He gave us much to appreciate and hold on to. But now, the performances have ended. The stage is empty. And the world of cinema is the poorer for it.

Rahne ko sada dahar mein aata nahin koyi
Tum jaise gaye aise bhi jaata nahin koyi  
Ik baar toh khud maut bhi ghabra gayi hogi
Yun maut ko seene se lagaata nahin koyi… * 

Somewhere, there’s the grief of knowing that we don’t always get a chance to say goodbye; a chance to make peace with Death. Aunt R was 80+ and she would have been the first to tell me not to grieve her death – “It’s okay, molu! I'm fine!” And smiled her lovely smile.

But Irrfan was only 53! Too soon, too, too soon.  And perhaps that's his epitaph: "He died too soon." 

You will be missed. Both of you.

*From Kaifi Azmi's poem which he wrote and recited as a tribute to Guru Dutt.

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