Irrfan Khan was an Indian actor, known for his work predominantly in Hindi cinema, in addition to British and American films.
In a career spanning over 30 years and featuring in more than 50 domestic films, Khan received numerous awards, including a National Film Award and Filmfare Awards in four categories.
Film critics, contemporaries and other experts consider him to be one of the finest actors in Indian cinema.
In 2011, he was awarded the Padma Shri, India’s fourth highest civilian honour.
Khan was born in Rajasthan on 7 January 1967.
Khan’s mother, Begum Khan and his father, the late Jagirdar Khan, were from the Khajuriya village near the Tonk district and ran a tire business.
Irrfan and his best friend Satish Sharma were good at cricket and later, Irrfan was selected for the CK Nayudu Tournament for emerging players under 23 years as a stepping stone to first-class cricket in India. However, he could not turn up for the tournament owing to lack of funds.
Khan was studying for his MA degree when he earned a scholarship to study at National School of Drama (NSD) in New Delhi in 1984.
Khan moved to Mumbai, where he acted in numerous television serials, including Chanakya, Bharat Ek Khoj, Sara Jahan Hamara, Banegi Apni Baat, Chandrakanta, Shrikant (Doordarshan), AnooGoonj on Doordarshan, Star Bestsellers (Star Plus), and Sparsh.
Earlier, he had acted in a teleplay on Doordarshan named Laal Ghaas Par Neele Ghode where he played Lenin. It was based on a translation by Uday Prakash of a Russian play by Mikhail Shatrov.
He was the main villain in a series called Darr (which aired on Star Plus), where he played the role of a psycho serial killer, opposite Kay Kay Menon.
He also played the role of famous revolutionary Urdu poet and Marxist political activist of India Makhdoom Mohiuddin in Kahkashan, produced by Ali Sardar Jafri.
He acted in some of the episodes of Star Bestsellers (aired on Star-Plus).
He also appeared in a serial called Bhanvar (aired on SET India) for two episodes.
Theatre and television kept him afloat until Mira Nair offered him a cameo in Salaam Bombay! (1988) though his role was edited out in the final film.
He then featured opposite Roopa Ganguly in Basu Chatterjee’s critically acclaimed drama film Kamla Ki Maut (1989).
In the 1990s, he appeared in the critically acclaimed films Ek Doctor Ki Maut and Such a Long Journey (1998) and various other films which went unnoticed.
In 1998, Khan played role of “Rantnakar” the Bandit, aka “Valmiki” who was BANDIT and turned into the well known Monk / Poet who wrote “The Ramayana” in Sanjay Khan’s serial “Jay Hanuman”.
After many unsuccessful films, things changed when London-based director Asif Kapadia gave him the lead in The Warrior, a historical film completed in 11 weeks on location in Himachal Pradesh and Rajasthan. In 2001, The Warrior opened in international film festivals, making Khan a known face.
Between 2003 and 2004, he acted in Ashvin Kumar’s short film, Road to Ladakh. After the film received rave reviews at international festivals, the film was being made into a full-length feature starring Khan.
That same year he played the title role in the critically acclaimed Maqbool, an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth.
His first Bollywood lead role came in 2005 with film Rog. His performance was praised by critics; one wrote, “Irfaan’s eyes speak louder than his words and every time he is in frame, be it talking to his buddy Manish or arguing with Suhel, he shows his capability as an actor”.
Thereafter he appeared in several films either playing the leading role or a supporting role as a villain.
In 2004 he won the Filmfare Best Villain Award for his role in film Haasil. Critics praised his performance in Haasil, saying that “as the ambitious, brash, fearless goon who is mind-blowing. He is outright scary and makes you sit up, wondering what he’ll do next”.
He also played an antagonist in the Telugu film Sainikudu.
In 2007, he appeared in the box office hits Metro, for which he received a Filmfare Best Supporting Actor Award, and The Namesake. His chemistry with Konkana Sen in Metro was one of the highlights of the multi-star movie.
They were closely followed by his appearance in the international films A Mighty Heart and The Darjeeling Limited.
Even after his success in Bollywood, he has continued his television career. He anchored a show Mano Ya Na Mano (airing on Star One). He hosted another programme named Kyaa Kahein which was similar to Mano Ya Na Mano.
In 2008, he was featured as a narrator in an Arts Alliance production, id – Identity of the Soul. The performance toured worldwide, with tens of thousands turning out to see the event as it toured the West Bank.
He also plays the police inspector in the 2008 film Slumdog Millionaire, for which he and the cast of the movie won a Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture.
About him, Danny Boyle said, “he has an instinctive way of finding the ‘moral center’ of any character, so that in Slumdog, we believe the policeman might actually conclude that Jamal is innocent. Boyle compares him to an athlete who can execute the same move perfectly over and over. ‘It’s beautiful to watch.'”
In 2009, he featured in the film Acid Factory. Khan has stated that he wants to do more action films in the future.
He also appeared as an FBI agent in New York and as a Gujarati diamond merchant in New York, I Love You.
His film, Paan Singh Tomar, about real-life athlete turned dacoit, for which he won the National Film Award for Best Actor
In 2010, he worked on the third season of the HBO series In Treatment, enacting the part of Sunil, who is finding it difficult to come to terms with his wife’s death and loneliness after moving to New York.
Khan played Dr. Rajit Ratha in The Amazing Spider-Man in 2012.
Khan played the adult version of Piscine “Pi” Molitor Patel in Ang Lee’s film adaptation of Life of Pi, which became a critical and commercial success worldwide.
In 2013, he starred in The Lunchbox, which won the Grand Rail d’Or at Cannes Film Festival and received a BAFTA nomination, and became his highest-grossing Hindi film up until then.
In 2014, Khan appeared in Gunday, which was a moderate box office success.
He also made guest appearances in the films The Xpose and Haider, playing an important role in the latter.
In 2015, he played the lead role in the film Piku alongside Deepika Padukone and Amitabh Bachchan.
Khan co-starred in the 2015 film Jurassic World.
In the same year, he also appeared in the acclaimed thriller Talvar in which his performance was praised.
He appeared in Jazbaa in October 2015 alongside Aishwarya Rai which was very well received by critics.
He was next seen alongside Tom Hanks in the 2016 adaptation of Dan Brown’s Robert Langdon thriller Inferno.
In 2017, Khan appeared in two films, Hindi Medium and Qarib Qarib Singlle. The former was commercially and critically successful, while the latter was an average grosser.
Khan’s portrayal as Raj Batra in Hindi Medium earned him several accolades, one of which was the Filmfare Award for Best Actor. Hindi Medium became a sleeper hit in India and China, becoming his highest-grossing Hindi release, surpassing The Lunchbox.
He also starred in No Bed of Roses (2017).
As of 2017, his films have grossed US$3.643 billion at the worldwide box office.
In 2018, Khan appeared in Karwan, with Dulquer Salmaan, Mithila Palkar and Kriti Kharbanda. The film released on 1 June 2018.
He also appeared in Blackmail opposite Kirti Kulhari in the same year.
Khan’s final film appearance was in Angrezi Medium, directed by Homi Adajania who directed Cocktail and Finding Fanny alongwith Kareena Kapoor Khan, Radhika Madan and Deepak Dobriyal. The film was released on 13 March 2020.
In 2012, he changed the spelling of his name from “Irfan” to “Irrfan” and has said he likes the sound of the extra “r” in his name
On 23 February 1995, Khan married writer and fellow NSD graduate Sutapa Sikdar. They had two sons, Babil and Ayan
In September 2015, he was appointed as the brand ambassador for “Resurgent Rajasthan”, a campaign by the state government of Rajasthan.
He lent his voice to the light and sound show at the war memorial for the Indian army at Vidhan Sabha Road, Jaipur. This show portrays the valour and courage of the Rajasthani soldiers and their historic and modern triumphs in battle.
In February 2018, Khan was diagnosed with “undisclosed disease”, and it was speculated by many media outlets that he has “brain cancer”. After much speculation, the actor took to his Twitter account and announced that he would “share his story” in “a week – ten days” and asked the media and fans not to “speculate” anything. On 16 March 2018, Khan announced through a Twitter post that he was suffering from a neuroendocrine tumour – a rare form of cancer that can target various parts of the body. He travelled to London for treatment
He died at the age of 53 on 29 April 2020 from a colon infection, four days after his mother’s death in Jaipur.
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