Irrfan Khan Dies Aged 53

Irrfan Khan

by Ben Travis |
Updated on

Indian actor Irrfan Khan has passed away at the age of 53, following his diagnosis with an endocrine tumour in 2018. He was a major star of Indian cinema who also went on to have considerable success in Hollywood movies, a crossover actor who starred in Oscar favourites and box office behemoths alike. While he is widely considered to be a Bollywood star, Khan spoke about his dislike of that phrase. “I always object to the word Bollywood,” he said in a 2013 Guardian interview. “I don’t think it’s fair to have that name. Because that industry has its own technique, its own way of making films that has nothing to do with aping Hollywood. It originates in Parsi theatre.”

Khan’s first role came in 1988’s Salaam Bombay, followed by a series of smaller and supporting roles. His breakout performance came as the lead in Asif Kapadia’s BAFTA-winning Hindi-language drama The Warrior, playing a warrior in feudal India who attempts to leave his violent past behind him and finds himself hunted down for it. From there Khan’s career continued to flourish, with 2003 bringing his award-winning turn as the villainous Ranvijay Singh in Haasil, and seeing him take the lead in Maqbool – a version of Macbeth set in the criminal underworld of Mumbai.

Life Of Pi
Irrfan Khan in Life Of Pit

His first role in an English-language film came in Michael Winterbottom’s 2007 drama A Mighty Heart, and in the same year he appeared in Wes Anderson’s The Darjeeling Limited in a small role written specifically for him by the filmmaker. In 2008, he played the police inspector who interrogates Dev Patel’s gameshow contestant in Danny Boyle’s Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire. His propensity for award-winning English-language movies continued with Ang Lee’s 2012 adaptation of Life Of Pi, in which Khan played the oldest incarnation of leading character Pi, regaling the story of his life to Rafe Spall’s writer. In the same year came his first Hollywood blockbuster, playing scientist Rajit Ratha in The Amazing Spider-Man.

In 2013, Khan starred in The Lunchbox – an Indian romantic drama that became a crossover success with worldwide audiences, both a critical and commercial hit. That financial success continued with a role in Colin Trevorrow’s Jurassic World in 2015, playing Simon Masrani – the billionaire business owner who resurrects John Hammond's dream for a Jurassic theme park and brings it to fruition. Jurassic World remains the sixth highest-grossing film of all time.

Life Of Pi
Irrfan Khan in Life Of Pi

Following a role in Ron Howard’s Inferno in 2016, Khan took on the lead role in 2017’s hit Indian comedy-drama Hindi Medium, playing a father attempting to get his daughter into a prestigious English-language school in Delhi. It became his biggest Hindi-language film. Khan’s final screen role comes in its spiritual sequel Angrezi Medium, released in India earlier this year. His final English-language film role was in Marc Turtletaub’s Puzzle, playing a puzzle champion who teams up with Kelly Macdonald’s bored mother to enter a tournament.

Tributes to Khan have been arriving on social media from Hollywood and the Indian film scene alike. Jurassic World director Colin Trevorrow called him “a thoughtful man who found beauty in the world around him, even in pain.”

The Warrior director Asif Kapadia shared a photo of his former leading man.

Director Ava DuVernay called herself a “grateful fan” of Khan’s work.

Indian megastar actor Amitabh Bachchan called Khan “a gracious colleague” and wrote of his “incredible talent”.

And Indian actor Priyanka Chopra said he “inspired so many of us”.

Our thoughts are with Khan’s family.

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