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The birth anniversary of late Indian actor Irrfan Khan, who died in Mumbai after his battle with a rare form of cancer in April 2020, is observed today on January 7. The legendary actor starred in more than 100 films and it’s not an easy task to cherry-pick our favourites. But let’s still take a stab at it. Be warned, we are just skimming the surface of his rich career. As we observe his birthday today, here are a few films that define Khan's rich legacy as an actor:
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The Lunchbox (2013): If you are in the mood for a delectable romance, then watch Irrfan Khan’s ‘The Lunchbox’, also starring Nimrat Kaur. He played Saajan Fernandez, an unassuming widower and accountant on the brink of retirement. The story of Ila who mistakenly sends her home-cooked food in a tiffin box to Saajan and how a bond blossoms between the two forms the crux of the movie. Khan, through his brilliant acting, proved that it’s never too late in love or life. While the open ending is frustrating in this romance, it is a movie spearheaded by Khan that simmers with simple desires and the need for companionship. Khan made it work with his impeccable acting as the slightly boring Saajan who was essentially lonely in a crowded city. It’s also one of the romances that proved that you don’t need to have racy scenes between its lead star to make a romance tick.
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Piku (2015): Director Shoojit Sircar, who broke the news of Khan’s cancer and his death in Mumbai in 2020, gave Khan one of his best films of his career. In ‘Piku’, he was the impish driver company owner who takes the angst-ridden, ageing grandfather played by Amitabh Bachchan and his daughter Piku, played by Deepika Padukone, on a road trip to Kolkata. His playful exchanges with Piku is acting gold. If you are looking for actors whose eyes and expression can speak a thousand dialogues, then Khan is your man. He is one of the few actors who grow on you with each film.
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Hindi Medium (2017) and ‘Angrezi Medium’ (2020): If a hapless Indian parent who would kill for their child needed a face, then check out Khan’s comedies ‘Hindi Medium’ and his recent ‘Angrezi Medium’, which released in March 2020. These series talk about the education system in India and was a powerful commentary on how far parents go in fulfilling the dreams of their children. The scenes in which Khan tries to admit his child to an elite English school in the city spoke to millions of parents who want their kids to go to the best schools in the city. He also took a swipe at parents who consider certain elite schools as a status symbol in society. These films make you laugh at yourselves as parents.
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The Namesake (2006): Director Mira Nair’s English-language feature ‘The Namesake’ threw the spotlight on Ashok and Ashima Ganguli (Khan and Tabu) who were first generation Indian immigrants in the United States. Their experiences as Indian parents in the US was sensitively portrayed and the cultural rifts were compellingly explained. Khan as Ashok made you reach for the tissues and his tenuous bond with his children — who didn’t fully understand him during his lifetime — was beautifully portrayed. Here’s a family drama that resonated with every expatriate around the world and talked about inter-generational conflicts without making it boring.
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Paan Singh Tomar (2012): Irrfan Khan had called his role as athlete-turne-rebel in ‘Paan Singh Tomar’ as his career’s most challenging role. The biopic that released in 2012, directed by Tigmanshu Dhulia, won the Indian National Award and was the toast of all film festivals globally because of Khan’s brilliant portrayal of the lead character. Shot in the ravines of Chambal, Khan trained rigorously with steeplechase coaches. He even broke an ankle during filming, but he broke a leg metaphorically with this film. He looks hardened and fit the part in all its glorious messiness. You simply can’t take your eyes off him.
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Maqbool (2003): Directed by Vishal Bharadwaj, this film was an adaptation of the Shakespeare play, ‘Macbeth’. Khan played the title character who was torn between his loyalty for his crime boss and the love of his life. Laced with deception and desire, watch ‘Maqbool’ to see how Khan plays grey roles. As viewers, we are torn between loving the troubled main lead and his hopeless predicaments. This movie also established Khan as an actor who was subtle but still wielded the power of a sledge hammer.
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