I've known Irrfan Khan from the time he didn't drop the Khan in his name. That happened after all the Khans began to be frisked ferociously at airports. Irrfan just called it quits one fine day. No more Khan.
Not that he likes to be controversial. But look at what his Twitter declaration on his health issue has done. It has triggered off a wave of speculation in the media, exactly what Irrfan asked to be avoided. He should have known. Ask the gossip mongers to stay away from speculation and they will do only that.
Knowing Irrfan, I know he will come out straight and clean with his illness as soon as the diagnosis is complete. I've known him for close to ten years. Never have I known him to play games or make deceptive statements or make unfair demands on me as a journalist. He has also been unwavering in his cordiality. Once, my daughter, who was studying journalism at Columbia University, needed to speak to Irrfan urgently. Not only did he speak with her patiently for an hour or more, when I asked him to, he later asked me if she was pleased with what he had told her.
Irrfan is a man of thoughtful words. He neither flatters nor tolerates flattery. He says it like it is. Many actors get pissed off when their handpicked journalists don't write exactly what they want. Irrfan can take criticism, if it is fair. The one time he got pissed off with me was when I had pulled him up for sucking up to Deepika Padukone at an awards night. I felt he didn't need to do that. He felt I didn't need to show him his place.
Fair enough. Irrfan likes to occupy with pride and dignity the space that he has created for himself. His rise has been meteoric. From an arthouse auteur to a fairly reliable commercial star-actor in films like Qarib Qarib Singlle and specially Hindi Medium, in which Irrfan finally broke the glass ceiling between art and mainstream cinema.
Irrfan was overjoyed at getting the popular best-actor awards for Hindi Medium. "Hindi Medium has been able to crack the magic of marrying content with popularity. I am happy that the bridge has been crossed from 'critic' to 'popular' on my own terms. I didn't have to go the so-called 'massy' route. I must tell you though I won for Hindi Medium, even for the Qarib Qarib Singlle role, I was nominated for the popular category as well. For Hindi Medium, the entire effort went into making an aspirational but fantastic story into a relatable tale whereas in Qarib Qarib Singlle my effort went into making the role which is fantastic and aspirational as relatable as possible. So in a way the two roles had to be approached from opposite directions."
He is at his peak now, and was ready to begin a new film directed by one of his favourite directors - Vishal Bharadwaj - opposite one of his favourite actresses Deepika Padukone. Then it all fell apart, at least for now.
What happens next? Well, Irrfan will fight the illness just as he has fought to prove that every Khan is not meant to wow with matinee idolatry tricks. This Khan is normal and organically inclusive in the hand stitched fabric of everyday life. The setback is a killjoy. Irrfan is at his prime.
Some time ago, he told me, "It's always been important to have box office success. But at the same time I couldn't ignore my need to tell the stories in my way and not compromising on the kind of films I wanted to do and reach a mass audience. So I am happy of the audiences' need now to watch fresher and newer content, hence its becoming easier to reach a wider audience a mass audience through my kind of films. So at this juncture it's all coming together and happening organically."
As he gets ready for a long battle towards wellness, I feel for him. Irrfan, you should be well all the time. You are so bereft of negativity. Why would you fall ill?
(Subhash K Jha is a film critic and movie expert)
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL.)