Inexplicable – the only word that could capture the feelings and emotions I was experiencing with tears rolling down my cheeks while I was struggling to sleep. Same-day in the afternoon, the social media started flooding with posts about the demise of Sahabzade Irfan Ali Khan urf Irrfan. At that point, it was normal for me but as the day progressed, the news started dawning on me.
But why? Why I was so moved?
I have never been a Bollywood or movie buff. I hardly watch movies and going to theatres is a rare occasion. Never before this, any celebrity/actor’s passing away felt so personal. Yes, the internet is full of fans pouring their hearts out about the sense of loss they are feeling on a personal level. But doesn’t that happen with every celebrity? No, it doesn’t. This time it’s surely different. Yes, you feel bad when a human departs but isn’t death the final truth? I always thought that I have that understanding in place. Then, why I am feeling so gutted, cheated, and robbed of something simply beautiful?
Darya bhi main, darakht bhi main… Jhelum bhi main, chinar bhi main … dair bhi hoon, haram bhi hoon… Shia bhi hoon, Sunni bhi hoon, main hoon pandit… main tha, main hoon aur main hi rahoonga.
My first noticeable encounter with Irrfan on the big screen happened with Haider. And with just two lines, said so effortlessly, he left a mark on my memory. This dialogue still gives me goosebumps. Those eyes, those endless conversations in that silence and every single line delivered with such finesse and honesty. You could sense that he is brimming with emotions and myriad ones at that. I don’t think any other character stood out the way ‘Roohdaar’ did.
My second meeting was with Saajan Fernandes (The Lunchbox) and third one was with Raj Batra (Hindi Medium). All three completely distinct characters in three different spaces and emotions; but what was common was Irrfan’s ability to connect so deeply that not for one moment you feel that he is acting. You feel that it is reality, he is that character. Even then I would not call myself a fan until I saw the first poster of Qarib Qarib Singlle. That one stole the show for me. He was ageing like fine wine. The script was so beautiful, it changed the idea of falling in love yet again. A character with so many layers played like cakewalk. When Viyogi says to Jaya, “Mann kare to laut kar phone kar lena, kisi coffee shop ka business badha denge,” one could sense that he has fallen in love with her already.
I generally don’t repeat movies but on April 29, 2020 I watched ‘The Lunchbox’ on loop, and every time it was becoming more heart wrenching than before. I just felt like going and hugging Fernandes. And knowing that Irrfan has left the world made it all the more difficult. Next day onward, I started searching all movie-streaming applications to see his work that I earlier chose to pass including Piku, Karwaan, Mumbai Meri Jaan, Tulsi, Deadline, Paan Singh Tomar, Talvar, Inferno, The Warrior, Blackmail, Jazbaa, The Puzzle, Gunday (yes you read it right) and more. In a span of over seven days, I watched countless movies and interviews, but nothing was able to soothe the pain and that is when I decided to pen it down. I never thought that I will ever write a tribute for someone I have never met but I guess life is uncertain (in Irrfan’s words). It speaks volumes about the person behind those characters.
So, did I figure out why it has hit me so hard? Maybe. Perhaps, because my journey with Irrfan was short-lived, his unexplored potential as an actor, and above all his passion and hunger for his craft that can be easily sensed in all his characters and interviews. There was a roaring sea behind his subtlety. And that smile! I can go on but will end with this.
Gulon mei rang bhare, baad-e-naubahar chale,
Chale bhi aao ke, gulshan ka karobar chale.
The movie world and his fans’ lives will never be the same.
Come back soon Roohdaar.
Your forever fan,