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Obituary: Irrfan Khan brought movies closer to movie-watchers with every performance

He brought actors closer to the audience, shedding away the imaginary curtain with every movie he played.

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By Nisma Chauhan

Growing up watching mainstream Bollywood in the 90s, I associated movies to be a larger-than-life experience. A fair-skinned woman, wearing luscious locks like an accessory on expensive-looking clothes, falls in love with a rich boy with a toned body, often breaking her heart before winning it.

The characters they embodied were far from the reality around me. They lived in big houses, danced at expensive locations and did not look anything at all like the person I saw in the mirror.

Being an actor in the Hindi film industry was a dream that not everyone was allowed to dream, let alone achieve it.

But it was 2009 when the curtains covering the screen suddenly seemed less, more reachable, allowing me to get closer to the one thing that was always by my side growing up.

That was the first time I saw Irrfan Khan on-screen in the movie Billu. To be honest, I sat in front of the television screen at home only in anticipation to watch Shah Rukh Khan. But little did I know that the leading man in the movie would provide me an even better experience than King Khan ever did.

Irrfan was relatable. His articulate acting seemed effortless and his poised demeanor made it appear as if the person on-screen was someone you knew. He had no superstar aura – the larger than life experience I had mentioned above – surrounding the characters he played, even though Billu was released years after his critically acclaimed movies like Maqbool and Life In A Metro to name a few.

In fact, by then Irrfan was also an international star as he had appeared in A Mighty Heart and Slumdog Millionaire. But his performances were grounded.

Irrfan as Billu made a place in my heart and with every character he played, I grew fonder of him. Be it Indrajeet Singh in Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster or Ashwin Kumar in Talvar (released internationally as Guilty), Irrfan did justice to every role he played.

When he did not use words to express emotions, he expressed them through his eyes. They spoke volumes even through a silver screen.

He brought actors closer to the audience, shedding away the imaginary curtain with every movie he played. And if it was not the on-screen characters, bringing fans closer to him, Irrfan made appearances for Indian YouTube channels like All India Bakchod (AIB) and The Viral Fever (TVF).

I had not seen a star of his stature dance to the tunes of a bunch of millennials making online content before. But Irrfan did not shy away from it even when it meant calling out the industry he works in. The AIB’s ‘Every Party Song Ever’, featuring Irrfan is a satire on Bollywood’s party songs.

I watched Angrezi Medium almost a month after its release on March 12 this year. I had anxiously waited to watch Irrfan on-screen after learning about his neuroendocrine tumor, he was diagnosed with in 2018.
I knew this movie would give me back the connection I had been missing from Hindi movies for the past two years. But what I did not know was that it would be the last time I would ever feel it.

Irrfan passed away on April 29 in Mumbai. There was so much more I had hoped to see of him.
While Bollywood would never be the same again without him, being an actor in the Hindi film industry is now a dream that Irrfan ensured everyone is allowed to dream.

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