“I can’t think of a more pathetic situation for an actor than to do a film and not connect to it and I pray to God that I never face that situation.”
I am always searching for something new to learn. Something that draws me in, captures my attention and casts a spell on me. More so, something that ignites a fire inside of me and provoke critical thinking. However, it was never for the next best thing or the latest trends. I would find myself reconnecting with old favorites or books written in the 60s that have made it into my consciousness. On April 29 2020, I woke up to news of the passing of Irrfan Khan, aged 53. As I scrolled down my social media thread, page after page of news media outlets shared the news of his untimely passing and I found myself enveloped with an overwhelming sense of loss and recollecting his more prominent works. Thus began the journey of discovering not only this man’s cinematic journey but more importantly, the man himself and what made him tick. Intellect can be a sexy thing and in this case, the most attractive quality I have come across of late. As I sifted through countless interviews, talks and movies, I found myself asking the question, if I died at 53, what would I do for the remainder of my time on this planet? Time slips away beyond your control and this was the first lesson Irrfan Khan was to teach me, amongst many more still to come.
“The key to a happy life is to accept you are never actually in control.”
I began looking up his repertoire of cinematic gems I had previously experienced – The Namesake, Life of Pi, Slumdog Millionaire. I love re-watching movies over and over again as I always discover something new and each experience is richer than the last. This was no exception. All of these were Hollywood masterworks but what I soon realized was my purpose was not to connect to this body of work. As Irrfan rightly put it, Hollywood movies are a luxury, Bollywood movies is where his heart was and where his passion for telling stories with substance came to life.
“The unexpected makes you grow.”
After immersing myself in research, I was introduced to his work I had yet to experience, for reasons of which I realize now had they been handed to me years back, I would not be ready to fully grasp the teachings they had to offer. The Lunchbox, Puzzle, Mumbai Meri Jaan, Piku, Hindi Medium…I’m still working my way through the vast cinematic repertoire alongside his countless interviews and in the midst of this discovery, I have found his very being completely consuming me. As he always thrived for and in my eyes succeeded in doing so, his performances and words have hypnotized me and I am completely submerged into each storyline he unfolds. The stories stay with me long after the credits rolled and moments of self-introspection continue to creep up.
The emotional connection is something I cannot control but I am so grateful for the chance to connect. To become an immortal teacher is something I don’t believe Irrfan ever dreamt of becoming as he never wanted to be remembered. His legacy was never of any importance to him. Regrettably I cannot oblige and over time the connection has run deeper. The scripts he carefully hand picked and dialogue he extracted from a page and delivered on screen with such earnestness catapults each word into a much deeper meaning. One that casts a spell on me, which he mindfully understood his earlier works in television failed to do. It is a reminder of the lessons I have learned and experiences I continue to learn from. I’ve once said, the experience of my father’s passing has been the biggest blessing, in the biggest disguise. I suppose one day, I will learn to fully live with this notion and be at peace for not having taken a moment during my father’s mortal existence to resolve open-ended wounds.
“I suppose, in the end, the whole of life becomes an act of letting go. But what always hurts the most is not taking a moment to say goodbye.” – Life of Pi
To most, Irrfan was not your typical cinematic male lead. He did not have the dimples nor the boyish good looks but by far, his cinematic talent, his quiet confidence, his intellect and his unparalleled ability to speak his mind with the highest level of grace is the most charming and attractive quality you could ask for. With each body of work, it reminds me of the person I hope to become and to evolve into. Someone who is always seeking, always wondering, always dreaming and harboring a strong desire to connect with others on a deeper level through my craft. As I continue exploring new dimensions of Kaizen, I hope to continue the journey to explore myself, discover myself, explore my society and my surroundings through my work. Afterall, humans are temporary and we are but mere vessels for communication and sharing experiences.
“Life is so transitory.”
Through his storytelling, he has also managed to speak to my inner most emotions, scars that I am still discovering and scars I am slowly healing. I am reminded with each experience, each mistake, each lesson and each hardship, I am learning. Eventually, things will come to you when the timing is right. When you are ready.
“Sometimes even the wrong train takes you to the right station.” The Lunchbox
I lost my uncle Stephen to colon cancer many years ago. It is a loss I have learned to live alongside of and has taught me life is filled with uncertainty. It is only I who can speak to the spiritual and emotional connection I had with my uncle. He was a man of few words and we never really hand long meaningful conversations. This isn’t to say we weren’t connected. The love was reciprocal and the love was unconditional. Here I find myself, almost 13 years later, experiencing the loss of a storyteller to colon infection. Though the comparison may seem distant and albeit somewhat of a fantasy, very few individuals have left such an indelible mark on me, one that has opened a pandora’s box of emotions. To be schooled by Uncle Stephen’s innate ability to not give a fuck what others think to Irrfan’s incredible ability to tell a story, to be easy with uncertainty and let things come and to remind me to connect to one’s story as an artist, are lessons I will never forget. They are invaluable life lessons I hope to carry with me to my grave.
“The day I become conventional, something inside me will die.”
Photography: Irrfan Khan