India loses a Irreplaceable Performer Irfan Khan
MUMBAI:Irrfan Khan, the Indian-born actor who found fame in Hollywood as well as Bollywood, has died aged 53.
The actor had recently been admitted to the intensive care unit of Mumbai’s Kokilaben hospital with a colon infection. Khan is survived by his wife Sutapa Sikdar, and sons Babil and Ayan.
last rites took place in Mumbai on Wednesday afternoon, soon after he died in Mumbai’s Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital. Mr Khan, 53, was being treated for an colon infection and just hours before he died, his spokesperson said he “was still fighting the battle.”
The actor has struggled with health issues over recent years, in 2018 Kahn revealed that he had been diagnosed with a neuroendocrine tumour. However, he was well enough to continue shooting Angrezi Medium, which will now be his last picture. Khan’s most famous role in the west is as the police inspector in Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire but was a Bollywood mainstay acting in smash hits like Hindi
A veteran of nearly 80 films, he almost gave up acting in his 30s – after an unrewarding decade in TV soaps. Khan lacked the looks for a traditional Bollywood romantic lead but made his name as a character actor in Hindi cinema and in Hollywood productions like Life of Pi, Slumdog Millionaire and Jurassic World.
Khan was cast in Asif Kapadia’s first feature film, the quasi-samurai film The Warrior, which was shot in India. It quickly became a cult classic and won a BAFTA in 2002 for best British film.
It would propel Khan into mainstream Indian cinema. It saw Khan regularly cast as villains or policemen, a trait he shared in Hollywood too, most notably in the Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire.
After Boyle’s film, Khan soon became a well-loved character actor for big-budget Hollywood films including Jurassic World, Inferno and his star-performance in Ang Lee’s Life of Pi. It was a career littered with success and classy performances and is a testament to Khan’s skill and personality.
He was born Sahabzada Irfan Ali Khan on 7 January, 1967 in the Rajasthan village of Tonk. His mother’s family had a royal lineage and his father was a wealthy, self-made businessman who owned a tyre business.
Khan dropped the “Sahabzada” from his name as it pointed to his family’s privileged past – he felt this would get in the way. He also changed his name from “Irfan” to “Irrfan” – not for any noble motive – but simply because he preferred the way it sounds.
When his father died, he side-stepped expectations he would go into the tyre business. He was determined to become an actor, although it was not a future his family and friends could easily foresee.
“No-one could have imagined I would be an actor, I was so shy. So thin. But the desire was so intense.”In 1984, he applied for a scholarship to the National School of Drama in Delhi. He lied about his previous experience in the theatre and got in.
“I thought I would suffocate if I didn’t get admission,” he told one interviewer. It was at drama school that he also met his future wife – the writer Sutapa Sikdar. “He was always focused. I remember when he would come home, he would head straight for the bedroom, sit on the floor, and read books. The rest of us would be hanging around gossiping,” she recalled.
His big screen debut was a further disappointment. Cast as one of the younger characters in Mira Nair’s Oscar nominated Salaam Bombay!, he was devastated when his character hit the cutting room floor.
His breakthrough came in the British-Indian film The Warrior. It was shot in the high Himalayas and the roasting deserts of Rajasthan. It was the first feature from British director Asif Kapadia. He couldn’t afford an established Bollywood star and was on the look-out for a talented unknown.
The film won the Alexander Korda Award for Best British Film at the Baftas. It was short listed for the UK’s official entry for the Academy Awards but had to be dropped on the technicality that Hindi was not a language indigenous to Britain.
In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks in New York and Washington, he found himself twice detained at Los Angeles airport because his name was similar to that of a terrorist suspect.
He tried to drop the family name Khan – preferring to be called simply Irrfan in the credits of his films. He also upset Muslim leaders by criticising animal sacrifice in Islam.
In 2011, he was awarded the Padma Shri – India’s fourth-highest civilian honour for his contribution to the arts. A year later, he would play the adult Piscine in Life of Pi – Ang Lee’s film version of the Booker Prize-winning novel of a ship-wrecked boy forced to share a lifeboat with a zebra, an orangutan and a ferocious Bengal tiger.
(With Agency Inputs ).