Many names. Many faces. One man. Irrfan Khan, also known as Sahabzade Irrfan Ali Khan or simply, Irrfan, is one of Hindi cinema’s most underrated actors. It is only when Hollywood took notice of this incredible actor, that Bollywood too sat up and lauded him. Though he’d been around since the late 1980’s, it was well into the noughts, that this man started being taken seriously.
After studying at the prestigious National School of Drama, Irrfan came to Bombay, like a lot of newcomers do, in the hopes of finding fortune in the big bad world of Bollywood. Irrfan’s acting journey began on Television. The uber talented actor was seen in several well-known TV serials of the time- Chanakya, Bharat Ek Khoj, Sara Jahan Hamara, Banegi Apni Baat, Chandrakanta (Doordarshan), AnooGoonj on Doordarshan Star Bestsellers (Star Plus), and Sparsh. The dedicated young actor was appreciated for his varied roles, and gained prominence throughout the 1980’s.
Irrfan Khan began his Bollywood career in 1988, with a miniscule, blink-and-you-miss-it role in Mira Nair’s gorgeous ode to the city, Salaam Bombay. Since then, he acted in several mainstream and arthouse films, through the 1990’s. Drishti, Bada Din, Ek Doctor Ki Maut and Jazeere were noteworthy among them.
Perhaps Irrfan’s first taste of International acclaim, since Salaam Bombay was Indo-British director Asif Kapadia’s The Warrior. This film traveled far and wide, and made Irrfan a known face in the international circuit. In 2003, Irrfan once again went overseas, with Ashvin Kumar’s short, Road to Ladakh.
In Bollywood too, the offers began pouring in. Irrfan starrer in Vishal Bhardwaj’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, aptly named Maqbool. Irrfan garnered much critical acclaim for his role, which led him to bag his very first film as solo hero- Rog, in 2005.
2007 was a great year for the accomplished actor, and the year saw his films, Life in a Metro, A Mighty Heart (starring Hollywood beauty Angelina Jolie), and The Darjeeling Limited (another Hollywood production) do exceedingly well. Again, Irrfan was touted by International critics as being one of the most versatile, accomplished actors. In Bollywood too, audiences woke up to his simmering intensity and quiet passion. Later in 2007, he played the protagonist in Mira Nair’s The Namesake, another foreign production, alongside the gorgeous Tabu.
Subsequently, in 2008, Irrfan bagged the project that would make him a household name. Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire did as much for Irrfan’s career, as it did for its lead stars- Dev Patel, Freida Pinto’s and Bollywood’s very own Anil Kapoor’s. Irrfan Khan won the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture along with the rest of the film’s cast, and this is the film that cemented his position in the West.
A few duds in Bollywood later, Irrfan bounced back with a bang in 2011, with Yeh Saali Zindagi and 7 Khoon Maaf. 2012 was Irrfan’s standout year, with him playing a runaway dacoit in Paan Singh Tomar to much critical and commercial success. He had a special appearance in the Hollywood summer blockbuster The Amazing Life of Spiderman, and was the narrator of Ang Lee’s magical, aesthetically beautiful Life of Pi. Irrfan delivered a hat trick this year too, with Saheb, Biwi Aur Gangster Returns, D-Day, and most fabulously, The Lunchbox.
Here’s wishing the intense, charismatic, chameleon-like actor a very happy birthday indeed!