Irrfan Khan became an international name based on his talents, nothing else

Nowadays it is a trend for most film actors to build muscles and create an image of a macho men. There are very few actors who do not follow this ideology and rely on acting prowess to prove their worth to their audiences. On a recent television show, Tiger Shroff revealed that he spends up to 10 hours in a gym every day. Well, everyone has his or her own USP and that is Tiger Shroff. Or John Abraham for that matter. They do mostly action films that require being a muscleman rather than a person of brains.

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There are too many actors in Bollywood as well as Hollywood who live off their muscular physique. The question is–are these people actors or bodybuilders?  How often did the greatest of all actors, Dilip Kumar, go to the gym? It seems highly doubtful that he ever stepped into one. Once when Shyam Benegal, the famous filmmaker, was asked whom he rated as the best actors in Hindi films, without hesitation he replied: “Dilip Kumar, Amitabh Bachchan and Naseeruddin Shah in that order.” So it was not only the layman film goers but also experts like Benegal who rated Dilip Kumar as the best. Dilip Kumar achieved great heights in the film world without building muscles. He relied solely on his acting ability.

Later there were a few more actors who could grip the audience without having to show off their muscles. The names of Amol Palekar, Farooq Sheikh and Irrfan Khan come to mind. Sadly the latter two are no more. Irrfan Khan passed away exactly two years ago, on April 29, 2020. The film world lost an actor with immense talent who was hailed and recognised by film fans in India, Britain and America.

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Some well known experts had said that he was one of the finest actors in Indian cinema. His career spanned more than three decades and fetched him numerous honours including a National Film Award, Asian Film Award, and six Filmfare Awards. In 2011, he was awarded the Padma Shri for his contributions to Indian cinema. In 2021, he was posthumously awarded the Filmfare Lifetime Achievement award.

One of his first films was Salaam Bombay in the late 1980s and thereafter followed several years of hard struggle. He was neither handsome nor did he have big connections in the film world. But he had very expressive eyes and a different style of dialogue delivery that made him stand apart from the rest. He was never loud and bombastic but instead, subdued and realistic.

It was after starring in the British film The Warrior in 2001, that he caught the eye of the bigwigs of Bollywood and Hollywood. In India, he got important roles in films such as Haasil and Maqbool in 2004. The latter was an adaptation of William Shakespeare’s famous play Macbeth and the cast included some well established names of Hindi films such as Pankaj Kapur, Om Puri, Naseeruddin Shah and Tabu.

Later Irrfan went on to gain critical acclaim for his roles in The Namesake (2006) and Paan Singh Tomar (2011). This film was based on the life of Paan Singh, a soldier in the Indian army who was India’s national champion athlete and represented India in the Asian Games. But after his army career, when he returned to his village, he fell foul with the law due to caste harassment, property disputes and circumstances beyond his control. His life ended tragically in a shootout with the police.

As Irrfan gained experience, he became more successful and he got offers from Hollywood too. The Amazing Spiderman, The Life of Pi, Jurassic World and Inferno are some of the noteworthy English films in which he played memorable roles. Peter Bradshaw, the chief film critic of The Guardian, wrote about Irrfan: “He is a distinguished and charismatic star in Hindi and English-language movies whose hardworking career was an enormously valuable bridge between South Asian and Hollywood cinema.”

Acclaimed Hollywood actor Tom Hanks was a great admirer of Irrfan Khan. The two of them acted in the film Inferno which was released in 2006. Tom Hanks said: “I  always think I’m the coolest guy in the room, and everybody’s hanging on to every word I say and everybody’s a little intimidated to be in my presence. And then Irrfan Khan walks into the room. And he’s the coolest guy in the room.”

Bestselling author Dan Brown who wrote such hot selling books like The Da Vinci Code, Angels and Demons and Inferno, expressed his deep shock and sorrow when he heard that Irrfan had passed away. Sharing a picture of Irrfan on his Facebook page, Dan Brown wrote: “Sending love today to all who knew and admired the incomparable Irrfan Khan. Peace.”

Truly Irrfan Khan was incomparable. In many ways he charted his own course and was the master of his flourishing career till fate robbed him of his life. But before departing from this world, Irrfan proved that a person from a small town called Tonk in Rajasthan, without any Godfathers in Bollywood or Hollywood, could still become one of the recognisable faces in world cinema purely on the strength of his acting ability. His story will no doubt continue to inspire many others who believe that acting is different from bodybuilding and one does not have to develop bulging muscles to become a celebrated actor.

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