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Irrfan – The People’s Star & An Actor Extraordinaire

Irrfan carved his own niche without being pigeonholed into the mainstream film landscape




By Nikita Saha

A man of a few words, a man who touched a million hearts with his unnerving eyes and a man whose demise wrenched our hearts, leaving us bereft and gutted. An unconventional actor who acquired the charm of a mainstream star without letting go of his rootedness, this was a man who transcended nationalities and geographical boundaries to appeal to a global audience. This man was Irrfan.

A star performer in his own right, Irrfan was someone who, despite all his national and international fame, did not have a single pretentious streak in him. For me personally, watching him act out myriad roles was cathartic on so many levels. He was an actor who did not choose his characters, rather it was the other way around. It was the characters who picked him, fortunate enough to be portrayed by the mighty Irrfan.

Why did his death come as a personal blow to us? Possibly because Irrfan could prove meticulously and diligently that Bollywood isn’t all about lineage. He could prove how raw talent, hard work and dedication have their own unique sheen, one that can’t be doused out by any challenge pitted against it. Moreover, it was his undying love for acting that made cinema a delight for us and left us grieving the loss of this gem as one of our own.

Also read: “Irrfan taught me to become more instinctive director”: When Nikkhil Advani opened up about working with the great actor

Whether it was the demure and eccentric Saajan Fernandes in The Lunchbox or the mischievous Shaukat from Karwaan, Irrfan infused remarkable intensity, mysticism and brilliance into each of his characters. And in a way that left an indelible imprint on people’s hearts. He was one of the rare few from the industry who sought and delivered incredible intellect.

A nuanced actor, Irrfan’s honesty and infectious energy reflected in his craft. Vulnerability, lack of imposed sophistication and sheer mediocrity – all this is us and Irrfan, in a way, represented us all through his roles. He never forgot how it wasn’t easy for him to arrive at this juncture in his life and that is what made the masses love him even more. His humility appealed to one and all. Starting off with a jinxed debut, the cameo in Mira Nair’s Salaam Bombay (1988) getting chopped off during the stages of editing, Irrfan did not let any hurdles deter him and took every setback as a stepping stone towards his ultimate goal of delivering stunning and real performances. The battle didn’t leave him worn out, weary or bitter. Never the one to wallow in his failures, he moved ahead carving a path for others to follow – a path cemented with dedication, relentless hard work & struggle, and shimmering performances.

A winner of numerous national and international accolades, Irrfan left behind an impressive legacy and body of work studded with critical acclaim that wasn’t only limited to Bollywood. Out of the many giants in the industry, he was the one cherry-picked by Hollywood. He sure was insurmountable with a luminous career.

Here are 5 of his iconic performances and my personal favourites which have positioned Irrfan as a colossal powerhouse of talent:

Paan Singh Tomar


This movie was a portrayal of the effortless excellence of Irrfan. In this Tigmanshu Dhulia-directed venture, Irrfan truly made Paan Singh Tomar come alive as an athlete, a dacoit and as a husband. The story revolves around the Indian army soldier who was forced to become a dacoit by challenging circumstances. Upon its release, the critically acclaimed biographical drama became a breakthrough film in Irrfan’s career and won him the National Award for Best Actor for his intense performance.



The movie was primarily a father-daughter story in which Amitabh Bachchan and Deepika Padukone’s natural acting performances were highly appreciated. But Irrfan, despite not being the protagonist, could make his presence felt in the slice-of-life dramedy, leaving his viewers asking for more.

Qarib Qarib Singlle


This is a story of two middle-aged people with contrasting personalities who meet on a dating platform, embark upon a journey together and eventually discover themselves during the process. Irrfan as ‘Yogi’ is a breath of fresh air in this not-so-typical romantic comedy. His goofy character charmed its way into the hearts of the audience.

The Lunchbox



Another one of his splendid performances, The Lunchbox is a romantic drama that captures the threads of urban loneliness in big cities, effervescently depicted by Irrfan. The movie was a roaring success, both in India and overseas. No one could have emoted the pain of solitude as well as Irrfan and his terrific duet with Nawazuddin Siddiqui, another acting stalwart, was absolutely spectacular.

Hindi Medium

This comical satire on the Indian education and schooling system was a highly successful venture. Irrfan dazzles us with his perfect comic timing as well as the emotional depths to which only a performer of his stature and calibre could go to. As usual, he nails it with his class act as he soulfully plays out the role of a man torn between his simple upbringing and the new pretentious wannabe avatar.

Irrfan’s vivid and successful cinematic journey is a testament to his supreme acting prowess, which has surpassed all box-office norms. His work abroad further helped strengthen his prospects back home. An actor par excellence, an exceptional performer, a people’s star and a beautiful human being inside-out, Irrfan’s poise, warmth and perfected personality will always stand out amidst the crowd. His untimely departure will forever remain an unfairness that will be tough to reconcile with.