Irrfan Khan – the actor who would’ve stunned William Shakespeare
Irrfan Khan – the actor who would’ve stunned William Shakespeare

Irrfan Khan was so good, that he even shone in a Vivek Agnihotri movie. Perhaps nothing else sums up the je ne sais quoi of the man who could enthral audiences across the globe.

True art transcends the barriers of space-time-linguistics and perhaps that explains why Irrfan Khan was the only male Indian actor who managed to crossover to Hollywood without the 24/7 PR circuit jamboree that’s as annoying as vacillating accents.

In 2015, when AIB were at their peak, before crumbling under the weight of their own woke expectations, Irrfan had appeared in a video with the comedy group. In that, he performs something he had never done before – an item number. But that wasn’t the best bit.

Irrfan appears in a segment where he’s berating the group, just coming out from the Roast fiasco. When discussing what he could do with the video, Khan reiterates that he can do anything and everything effortlessly.

For those who remain firmly under a rock, the 'Roast fiasco' refers to 'AIB Knockout - The Roast of Arjun Kapoor and Ranveer Singh' -- a nearly hourlong spectacle that drew criticism as well as support for 'artistic freedom'.

With his agent (played by Navin Polishetty who has become a star in his own right), there are hilarious riffs, where ‘Christy’ Nolan is told he can’t have Irrfan’s dates because Bhatt ‘Saab’ has all of them.

Then Irrfan says a line, which might be part of a skit, but epitomises his talent more than any review in English: “Maine ek movie kiya thaa Maqbool. Usko dekh ke Shakespeare khud aake bola, Irrfan g*** p***** di.” Khan proceeds to participate in a satire on Bollywood item numbers called Every Party Song Ever.

Irrfan Khan was simply that good, and his talent was unmatched among this generation.

Perhaps only Manoj Bajpayee and Nawazuddin Siddiqui, could hold a candle to the man who effortlessly slipped into every character, like a skin.

A graduate of the National School of Drama, Irrfan’s roles were diverse.

He could be an athlete-turned-dacoit.

He could be a foodie who gracefully accepts the wrong lunchbox and turns it into a letter-writing marathon.

He could be a cop who was the only decent thing in the worst movie to get best picture at the Oscars.

He could be a non-Bengali stuck between the inanity of a Bengali father dealing with his daughter.

He could be a probashi (NRI) Bengali acting in a movie based on a book written by a Bengali on what it feels like being Bengali outside Bengal.

He could be a terrorist bringing empathy to the role long before we started labelling everyone ‘anti-national’.

He could run a dinosaur theme park or plot to kill Spider-man, suffer from indigestion, or even be an assassin chasing Emraan Hashmi in a bad Tom Cruise rip-off. And yet, he could make you forget everything else onscreen except him.

He didn’t even need to be part of a film, he even made us forget the annoying production values of a Syska LED ad.

Irrfan was sexy in a way that the Indian male was never seen as sexy. He could make knees go weak with the glint of his eye or the smile from his unshaven, chiselled jaw.

Irrfan didn’t need to dance or spread his arms to make women love him and men want to be him, he brought sensuality to the screen in a subtle way.

Irrfan’s demise was met with an outpouring of shock and grief. As one Twitter user put it: “Ok, Irrfan. We know you’re a brilliant actor. Now stop acting and get up.”

At a time when we seem to be more divided by the religion of our birth, with India being downgraded by US Centre for Religious Freedom (something of an oxymoron if there ever was one), the outpouring of grief for Irrfan Khan reminds us that religion is not a hindrance to our brotherhood. Irrfan was every Indian and so are we.

The sad thing about our profession is that even with news this dark, one has to instantly think of story ideas instead of dealing with the grief of the demise of one’s hero.

But as Irrfan knew very well, the show must go on. And now even God should be a tad careful because there’s no role Irrfan cannot play.

Say hi to Shakespeare, Irrfan.

You will live on forever, because the true artist is immortal, and nothing can erase him or her from the face of the earth. Not even time.

Nirmalya Dutta is the Web Editor of The Free Press Journal.

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