If social media is anything to go by, everyone has a favourite Irrfan Khan movie and moment — a particular scene, a particular dialogue or its delivery that stuck with the audience.
Although Khan was never a superstar who starred in big-budget blockbuster movies, he had a quiet, noticeable presence cultivated over the course of several years while appearing in a wide array of roles in movies that sometimes tackled subjects way ahead of their times.
Khan's journey as an actor in the Hindi film industry started in 1988 with Mira Nair's 'Salaam Bombay'— a role that he landed while he was still studying at the prestigious National School of Drama (NSD).
During his days of struggle, Khan continued acting in theatre and television serials, including Banegi Apni Baat— in which Khan directed Nawazuddin Siddiqui for an episode— Bharat Ek Khoj and Sparsh, among others.
"I did experience frustration at some point," Khan was quoted as saying about his struggling days by Filmfare, "But I concentrated on getting comfortable with my craft instead. Though I didn’t enjoy doing television much, I used it as a learning ground. Envy and frustration make one feel caged. It’s been a personal battle not to fall into this trap because if you give in to it, the noose only gets tighter," he said.
It took some time for Khan's nuanced, almost-philosophical style of acting to gain a foothold in the Hindi film industry, and there came those films in between which were either ignored or noticed and then panned: movies like Thank You, Rog, Knock Out, The Killer and Right Yaa Wrong, among others.
These films, however, came in between critically-acclaimed, stellar performances like Maqbool, Paan Singh Tomar, The Lunchbox, The Namesake, Haider and Life of Pi— movies in which he was either playing a secondary role that made a mark or a primary role in which he outshined others.
Khan once, during an interview, said that for him, the most admired quality in any man was a sense of humor— something that he had in plenty and something that he did not lose even in times of personal trouble.
In March 2018, he revealed that he had been diagnosed with neuroendocrine tumour, a rare disease for which he sought treatment in London. But even as he was receiving treatment and recovering, Khan was reconnecting with the simple pleasures of life: visiting parks, watching plays, meeting new people and generally just introspecting life.
"It rejuvenated me. Visiting parks was one of my favourite pastimes there. Those long hours made me introspect about life. See, I was under treatment and the medicines take a toll on you physically and mentally. So the best way to deal with it is to clean your mental slate as much as possible," he said in an interview.
Khan was also a family man, and had said it was not easy for him to "drift away emotionally" from his wife, Sutapa. Elsewhere, he had also mentioned how his family was his biggest support system during his battle with cancer."If I love something, I don't calculate where it will take me," Khan had said during one of his interviews. He might not have calculated it, but Khan's talent, his acting prowess, his ability to insert dead-pan humor in his performances and his mulling, philosophical delivery of dialogues took him straight into the hearts of his audiences.