Irrfan’s acting comes across as effortless since he gets into the skin of his character. He usually essays intense and brooding characters – his eyes emote for him and express so much be it in terms of pain or angst that is troubling these lost souls. He has done humour and sarcasm in bits but he always scores by playing melancholic and ‘doomed’ characters so to say.
The LunchBox, Paan Singh Tomar, The Namesake, Life of Pi are popular movies and enough is known and written about them. But there are some of his initial movies like Haasil and Rog that actually built the foundation that gave us the Irrfan Khan we know today.
So Irrfan has been acting in movies since the 90s and he has really struggled a lot to achieve fame and success. Even his breakthrough movies in 2003 and parallel career in Hollywood didn’t provide him with instant stardom. Instead it is a body of work that he has assembled patiently that has now positioned him to be an actor who is accepted by the masses and the classes.
He has continued to remain selective in his work and quite often he essays support / villain characters as well. He had done well in ensemble shows too wherein he manages to stand out. My ‘Top 5’ movies – sans the more popular and commercial movies – for him would include the following –
It is a film that has now acquired cult status and realistically showcases ‘student’ politics in the university campus. It’s primarily a ‘boy-meets-girl’ romance between the dependable, Jimmy Shergill, and the demure, Hrishitaa Bhatt, peppered with some lovely songs particularly, ‘Aankhen Bhi Hoti Hain Dil Ki Zubaan …’. The student politics involving Ashutosh Rana and Irrfan Khan seems to be a mild diversion till the interval.
Then Irrfan just takes charge of the movie – he was still not a ‘well-known’ face and his ability to steal the show from actors like Jimmy Shergill and Ashutosh Rana makes an interesting study. We get to see the streak of madness and unpredictability that has become a hallmark of most of his characters. Those brooding eyes thrill and engage us to the finish.
Being the villain he is bound to lose out in the traditional commercial cinema structure but he sure makes meat of his role as it were. And Haasil now has a fan following for Irrfan and some of the best ‘1-liners’ he gets to deliver essaying the role of Ranvijay Singh.
Based on Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth’, again he was paired with stalwarts like Naseer, Anupam Kher and Pankaj Kapoor. Tabu was a strong female-lead cast opposite him. Their chemistry was scorching and justified the twist in the tale when ‘Maqbool’ turns and betrays ‘Abbaji’. The layering of the character was perfectly portrayed on the screen by the lead pair – it was Tabu’s role to seduce a ‘reluctant’ Maqbool to stop being a loyal lieutenant and dream about grabbing the power for himself. The little ‘fun’ moments that are to be had are found to be in the ‘courtship’ of Nimmi by Miyan Maqbool with the melodious number, ‘Ru-Ba-Ru’…
Irrfan and Tabu also form the perfect pair to depict the hysteria and mania that overtakes them as they cannot absolve themselves of the sin of having killed ‘Abbaji’ and plotted against many others in the family to retain their elusive hold on the ‘power’ of leading the family. The final denouement is a classic tale of losing it all in the blind lust for satisfying one’s ego and ambition. Vishal Bharadwaj took the ‘Shakespeare’ experiment forward with Omkara (Othello) and Haider (Hamlet)
Neither did the thriller element of the movie quite grab the attention of the viewers nor did the acting chops displayed by Ilene Hamann, Suhel Seth, and Himanshu Malik. The movie scored on lovely cinematography and music but its core plus point was Irrfan Khan playing the role of Inspector Uday Singh Rathod who suffers terribly from Insomnia.
He is supposed to be investigating Ilene’s murder but simply falls in love with her large portraits that adorn her house. She becomes his muse and we see Irrfan in his usual act of using his expressive eyes to convey deep pain and melancholia.
The Killer (2006)
This was a departure from his usual roles and the movie does well for a thriller. Set in scenic Dubai we are again entertained with some lovely songs and the ‘Emraan- Nisha Kothari’ romance is just about ok.
But the movie has an outrageous storyline of a ‘Killer’ hiring a cab and planning to execute a series of murders. That’s no spoiler because the audience is in the loop from the word go and Emraan Hashmi, the taxi driver, realises it soon enough. Irrfan brings the sophisticated mania that is required to pull off this crazy premise. Again he has some nice 1-liners that he gets to throw on Emraan as they roam the streets of Dubai.
The thriller element is not great and the climax is contrived but we get some moments all along – a comic line is the Dubai cop using chaste Urdu and practically translating a word per sentence to explain what he meant to the audience. Again this movie was an Irrfan show for what it was worth.
Life In A … Metro (2007)
It was an ensemble cast and mostly the lives of upper and middle class India slickly set in a Metro. Irrfan was used to play ‘odd-ball’ characters with a rustic twang, so it was quite a make-over to see him operate in the urban environment. He has done well in other Ensemble movies as well such as ‘Dil Kabaddi’ and ‘Yun Hota Toh Kya Hota..’
Here he was paired opposite the talented ‘Konkona’ and essayed the fun character of a socially inept Bengali bloke Monty on the look-out for ‘Ms. Right’, so that he can get settled in life. Their initial encounter is quite fun and the verbal exchange is full of verve. Konkona figures out that he is a jerk though not quite a loser. She chooses to dump him all the same.
Eventually she gets to know him better and learn that he is good-natured. Things go down to the wire as Irrfan is all set to marry someone else before the bell rings and he performs the version of a ‘runaway groom’ to chase Konkona all over again – albeit with success this time round.
Irrfan entertains in nearly all the roles that he essays, we look forward to see him do something different. It is not as magical as a ‘LunchBox’ every time but the odds are always in favour of his act bringing a smile to our face and joy to our hearts. Well three cheers to that.