The demise of two Bollywood giants early this week came at a time when mass deaths fill columns and rows of epidemiologists’ excel sheet no longer shock people. Sharing Johns Hopkins University’s tallies has become as common as forwarding cricket scores on WhatsApp.
Still, the death of Irrfan Khan and Rishi Kapoor evoked a tsunami of grief in India and abroad. Locked inside their homes, fans woke up on Wednesday and Thursday with news they did not expect to hear. Both the stars, with a medical history, perished of non-Coronavirus causes.
When stars die, societies grieve collectively. That is why perhaps, the demise of Khan and Kapoor evoked huge grief even as the world fights this pandemic
The massive outpouring of grief was not confined to the Indian territory as fans around the world mourned Khan and Kapoor. People turned to social media, expressing shock and offering condolences on Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and Instagram.
Global print and TV media houses published long obituaries and ran lengthy programmes. In India, TV channels halted Coronavirus coverage to broadcast programmes on the artists’ rich contribution to the field of art and cinema.
Irrfan Khan was born in a Muslim Pathan family, Khan ignored his father’s business and learnt the craft of acting from his maternal uncle, a theatre artist. A product of drama school, Khan struggled in Mumbai before getting small roles in TV serials and parallel cinema.
He made a name in Bollywood where pedigree, stunning looks and fair skin matter more than the actual craft. Film audience and co-workers loved Khan’s intense acting, brilliant dialogue delivery, screen presence and accepted his regular guy persona.
Hollywood loved him too, giving him major roles in hits like Life of Pi, Slumdog Millionaire, and that of a Karachi policeman who investigated Daniel Pearl’s murder in A Mighty Heart. His co-star Angelina Jolie remembered Khan’s “intensity of his commitment” to acting.
Hours after mourners buried Khan in Mumbai’s Versova graveyard, they learnt of Kapoor’s death. Born in Bollywood’s first family, a clan where grandfather, children, uncles and grandchildren dominated the silver screen for years, Kapoor’s entry into cinema was natural.
His career spanned decades and contribution to cinema was immense. Not surprisingly, the outpouring of grief was enormous. Through his roles — playing a younger version of his illustrious father Raj, teenage lover in the 70s to a bearded Muslim fighting Islamophobia in 2018 — Kapoor entertained several generation of Indians.
When stars die, societies grieve collectively. That is why perhaps, the demise of Khan and Kapoor evoked huge grief even as the world fights this pandemic.