Irrfan Khan’s Angrezi Medium, played on the big screen for only a few days in March before theatres were shut because of the coronavirus pandemic. The film, which is now streaming on Hotstar, would probably have attracted packed crowds, Covid-19 or not, if anyone had any inkling that Angrezi Medium would be Irrfan’s last ever film.
Irrfan died on Wednesday morning in Mumbai after fighting a brave battle against a rare form of cancer.
He’s survived by his wife and two sons, and a legacy of performances that will ensure that he will always be remembered as one of the best actors India ever produced.
Irrfan, who was from a non-film background, began his career with a role in Salaam Bombay! in 1988. It took him decades to make his way into the mainstream.
Irrfan’s filmography boasts of not just a Maqbool—which perhaps brought him to the spotlight and made him a household name—but also duds such as Chocolate and Krazzy 4, before he became the celebrated actor we knew him as.
Irrfan’s untimely death leaves a huge vacuum in the Indian film industry, but he has also left us a long list of great films that warmed our hearts. Here are six of his best performances.
1. Paan Singh Tomar (2012)
Irrfan won a National Award for his performance in this Tigmanshu Dhulia film, where he played the titular role. Based on a real-life story, this movie follows the life of an athlete in Madhya Pradesh, who ends up becoming a dacoit. Watch it to marvel at Irrfan’s ability to make you root for him whatever he does, shades of grey be damned.
Streaming on Netflix
2. The Namesake (2006)
Unlike Paan Singh Tomar, Irrfan’s character wasn’t the focal point of this film. But his memorable performance as Ashoke Ganguli has ensured that it is him we remember most at the end. As Ashoke, an Indian immigrant professor in the US, he plays a doting husband to Tabu’s Ashima, teaching her the ways of life in a faraway country at a time when mobile phones did not exist. Later in the film, Irrfan is also able to seamlessly convey an older Ashoke’s frustrations and confusion when his son (Kal Penn) refuses to show any interest in his roots. Both Irrfan and Tabu did full justice to Jhumpa Lahiri’s depiction of Bengali immigrants in the US in the ’60s, who left their homelands to build new lives while always pining for home, always staying nostalgic. Irrfan’s performance will not only make you empathise with Ashoke, you’ll also want to give him a hug.
3. Piku (2015)
In this film, Irrfan plays Rana Chaudhary, who owns a taxi business and gets stuck between a very Bengali, very odd father-daughter duo. Septuagenarian Bhaskar (Amitabh Bachchan) is obsessed with is bowel movements and his daughter Piku (Deepika Padukone) is a short-tempered architect who doesn’t take ‘no’ for an answer. Irrfan’s portrayal of Chaudhary will leave you in splits as he tries to wrap his head around this family when he is forced to drive them from Delhi to Kolkata.
Streaming on Sony LIV
4. The Lunchbox (2013)
This critically acclaimed film featured yet another subtle, poignant performance from Irrfan. He played a widower, Saajan Fernandes, who starts receiving letters in his lunchbox when the Mumbai dabbawalas mix up his lunch with that of Ila’s (Nimrat Kaur) husband. They begin an unusual friendship through notes. Irrfan’s is great at playing Fernandes, whose monotonous life is shaken up by this welcome interruption — easily conveying emotions Fernandes feels even when he is alone and not talking. This is arguably one of Irrfan’s best ever performances.
Streaming on Netflix
In Maqbool, Vishal Bhardwaj’s Indian adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Irrfan shines as the titular character who murders his boss Abbaji (Pankaj Kapoor) and takes his place in the Mumbai underworld. This is yet another film where Irrfan and Taboo have great onscreen chemistry.
Streaming on Hotstar
6. Hindi Medium (2017)
Irrfan plays Raj Batra, a newly rich businessman from old Delhi, who desperately wants his daughter to study in an English-medium school in Delhi. However,fails to impress the school authorities because he himself can’t speak the language. In this comedy of errors, Irrfan is spot-on as a father from old Delhi, trying to fit in with his new South Delhi neighbours as he goes to extreme lengths for his daughter’s school admission. But even in the most desperate situations, Irrfan makes you empathise with Raj, rather than judge him. The film is a great commentary on India’s obsession with English, and how class and opportunity intermingle.
Streaming on Amazon Prime Video