Irrfan Khan, star of Slumdog Millionaire and Indian films: Obituary

Irrfan Khan was one in every of Indian cinema’s most interesting actors and amongst its most profitable exports to Hollywood.

A veteran of practically 80 movies, he virtually gave up performing in his 30s – after an unrewarding decade in TV soaps.

Khan lacked the seems for a standard Bollywood romantic lead however made his title as a personality actor in Hindi cinema and in Hollywood productions like Lifetime of Pi, Slumdog Millionaire and Jurassic World.

Irrfan KhanIrrfan Khan starred within the Hollywood blockbuster, Jurassic World. He performed the ill-fated, billionaire proprietor of the dinosaur park.

Deeply introspective and philosophical in nature, Irrfan Khan would communicate candidly and sometimes controversially about each his Muslim faith and the movie industries wherein he labored.

“I at all times object to the phrase Bollywood,” he as soon as instructed the Guardian. “That business has its personal method that… has nothing to do with aping Hollywood. It originates in Parsi theatre.

“Hollywood is just too deliberate. India has no planning in any respect. It is extra spontaneous and casual. India may very well be extra formal and Hollywood extra spontaneous.”

In reality, few actors can declare to have mastered each genres in addition to Irrfan Khan.


He was born Sahabzada Irfan Ali Khan on 7 January, 1967 within the Rajasthan village of Tonk.

His mom‘s household had a royal lineage and his father was a rich, self-made businessman who owned a tyre enterprise.

Khan dropped the “Sahabzada” from his title because it pointed to his household‘s privileged previous – he felt this might get in the way in which. He additionally modified his title from “Irfan” to “Irrfan” – not for any noble motive – however just because he most popular the way in which it sounds.

When his father died, he side-stepped expectations he would go into the tyre enterprise. He was decided to develop into an actor, though it was not a future his household and pals might simply foresee.

Irrfan KhanIrrfan Khan, seen right here in Sahib Biwi Aur Gangster, starred in dozens of Indian movies

“No-one might have imagined I’d be an actor, I used to be so shy. So skinny. However the need was so intense.”

In 1984, he utilized for a scholarship to the Nationwide College of Drama in Delhi. He lied about his earlier expertise within the theatre and acquired in.

I believed I’d suffocate if I did not get admission,” he instructed one interviewer.

It was at drama faculty that he additionally met his future spousethe author Sutapa Sikdar.

“He was at all times targeted. I bear in mind when he would come house, he would head straight for the bed room, sit on the ground, and browse books. The remainder of us can be hanging round gossiping,” she recalled.

Taking what work he might get

He was eager to work in movie however the early roles had been in India’s TV cleaning soap operas. With dozens of cable channels – every carrying a number of home each day dramas – the work was simple to return by however artistically unsatisfying.

For a decade he acquired caught in a whole bunch of uninspiring elements “chasing middle-class housewives” on the Zee and Star Plus networks. He thought critically about quitting performing.

As soon as they did not even pay me as a result of they thought my performing was so unhealthy,” he claimed.

His massive display debut was an extra disappointment. Forged as one of many youthful characters in Mira Nair’s Oscar nominated Salaam Bombay!, he was devastated when his character hit the reducing room flooring.

The scriptwriter sympathised however might solely inform him “you win some, you lose some”.

Large display stardom

Irrfan KhanIrrfan Khan within the movie that made his title – The Warrior

His breakthrough got here within the British-Indian movie The Warrior. It was shot within the excessive Himalayas and the roasting deserts of Rajasthan.

It was the primary characteristic from British director Asif Kapadia. He could not afford a longtime Bollywood star and was on the look-out for a proficient unknown. Khan starred because the eponymous warlord who makes an attempt to surrender the sword.

The movie received the Alexander Korda Award for Greatest British Movie on the Baftas. It was brief listed for the UK’s official entry for the Academy Awards however needed to be dropped on the technicality that Hindi was not a language indigenous to Britain.

The vital success of The Warrior launched his movie profession, and for the following twenty years he would make as many as 5 – 6 movies a yr.

He saved in contact with Mira Nair – who had noticed his expertise at drama faculty however minimize him from Salaam Bombay!. They’d go on to make The Namesake in 2006 and New York, I Love You in 2010.

Michael Winterbottom forged him as a Pakistani police captain in A Mighty Coronary heart, and Wes Anderson wrote a small function for him in The Darjeeling Restrictedsimply so he might work with him.

Indian actors (L-R) Irrfan Khan and Dev Patel pose with their awards for Outstanding Cast in a Motion Picture for "Slumdog Millionaire" in the press room at the 15th Screen Actors Guild Awards at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, California, USA 25 January 2009
On the Oscars with fellow Slumdog Millionaire star, Dev Patel

In 2008, he teamed up with Danny Boyle for Slumdog Millionaire. Khan performed the police inspector who beats Dev Patel’s character, Jamal – believing him to be a cheat. Boyle described the efficiency as “lovely to look at“.

By now, Khan had reached the stage the place he may very well be picky concerning the roles he took on.

I attempt to do movies which depart an extended impression, which communicate to you and which preserve coming again to you after you have seen them. I favor motion pictures which have an extended relationship,” he instructed one interviewer.

Relationship with Islam

He would additionally refuse to take elements he felt had too shut a spiritual or cultural connotation – declining roles in Deepa Mehta’s Midnight’s Youngsters and Mira Nair’s Reluctant Fundamentalist.

Within the aftermath of the 9/11 assaults in New York and Washington, he discovered himself twice detained at Los Angeles airport as a result of his title was just like that of a terrorist suspect.

He tried to drop the household title Khan – preferring to be known as merely Irrfan within the credit of his movies. He additionally upset Muslim leaders by criticising animal sacrifice through the Shia non secular competition, Muharram.

Irrfan KhanIrrfan Khan performed scientist Rajit Ratha in Columbia Footage‘ The Superb Spiderman.

“We carry out these rituals with out figuring out the that means behind them,” he mentioned.

He was angrily suggested to focus on his movie profession and chorus from making “random statements about our faith“.

In 2011, he was awarded the Padma Shri – India’s fourth-highest civilian honour for his contribution to the humanities.

A yr later, he would play the grownup Piscine in Lifetime of Pi – Ang Lee’s movie model of the Booker Prize-winning novel of a ship-wrecked boy pressured to share a lifeboat with a zebra, an orangutan and a ferocious Bengal tiger.

And he would take pleasure in enjoying the tremendous scientist Rajit Ratha in The Superb Spiderman and Simon Masrani, the billionaire proprietor of Jurassic World.

He additionally appeared in Abhinay Deo’s Blackmail and Puzzle, the latter of which was shot in New York alongside co-star Kelly Macdonald.


In 2018, he was identified with neuroendocrine tumours – which impacts cells that launch hormones into the bloodstream.

In a tweet quoting Margaret Mitchell, writer of Gone With The Wind, he greeted the information philosophically.

“Life is beneath no obligation to present us what we count on,” he mentioned.

He sought therapy for his situation in London and posted a poem to his followers on Instagram suggesting his faith was enjoying an vital function in coming to phrases with the illness.

“God speaks to every of us as he makes us, then walks with us silently out of the evening.”

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