Actor Irrfan Khan has died at the age of 53. He was one of India’s biggest stars, and found international acclaim for his work.
The star had been battling a rare form of cancer, a neuroendocrine tumour, since 2018. He was admitted to an ICU in Mumbai with a colon infection on Tuesday, and died on Wednesday, a spokesperson confirmed.
“Irrfan was a strong soul, someone who fought till the very end and always inspired everyone who came close to him,” said the spokesperson in a statement. “After having been struck by lightning in 2018 with the news of a rare cancer ... he fought the many battles that came with it. Surrounded by his love, his family for whom he most cared about, he left for heaven, leaving behind a legacy of his own.”
He leaves behind his wife, Sutapa Sikdar, and their two sons, Babil and Ayan. Khan first met Sidkar while studying theatre at the National School of Drama in Delhi, and they married in 1995.
Khan was known for his many roles in Indian and Bollywood films: he was a familiar face on screens in India, starting out in the 1980s in smaller roles in TV serials and movies. But the film that really propelled him to lead-actor status was 2012's Paan Singh Tomar.
His biggest films include The Lunchbox, Hindi Medium, Piku and Haider. His last film, Angrezi Medium, came out earlier this year.
A true crossover star, Khan was one of the most recognised Indian actors to those more familiar with Hollywood movies. He also appeared in Life of Pi, Jurassic World, The Amazing Spider-Man, A Mighty Heart and The Darjeeling Limited.
Tributes are already flooding in for Khan, with filmmaker Shoojit Sircar leading the way. "My dear friend Irfaan. You fought and fought and fought. I will always be proud of you ... we shall meet again," he wrote on Twitter. "Condolences to Sutapa and Babil ... you too fought, Sutapa you gave everything possible in this fight. Peace and Om shanti. Irfaan Khan salute."
American filmmaker Ava DuVernay wrote that she was a "fan" of Khan's: "When he is on screen, you can’t take your eyes off of him. He lives on in his films.”
One of the film roles that most exemplifies his quietly captivating screen presence was 2013 film The Lunchbox:
In 2018, Khan spoke to AP about his ongoing cancer treatment, saying he had learnt a lot from the experience, in his characteristically philosophical way: "You stop your contemplation, you stop your planning, you stop the noise. You see the other aspect of it. It gives you so much. Life offers you so much. That's why I feel like I have no other words but thanks. There are no other words, there's no other demand, there's no other prayer."
Khan was also renowned for his work in Mira Nair’s 2006 film The Namesake, for which he won an Independent Spirit Award. He was due to appear in 2022 American film The Wicked Path, according to his IMDb page, but the film is still in pre-production.
His time in Kerala filming 'Karwaan': one of his last movies
One of the last feature films he starred in was 2018’s South Indian road drama Karwaan. The film’s director, Akarsh Khurana, told The National how happy he was filming in Kerala.
“He loved the state, their culture, the food, the terrain and was very curious about Malayalam cinema," Khurana said. "I think he was in a really happy place while shooting for the film. In fact, his staff came and said that, after Piku, this is the happiest they have seen him on sets.”
Dulquer Salmaan, who also starred in the film, spoke to us about how much solace Khan found in the South Indian landscape: “This road trip and geography was new to him, and he was discovering – so every time we stopped, he would wander off, especially in Mudumalai and Ooty, it was the monsoon season and beautiful."
Salmaan added that Khan, renowned for his down-to-earth nature, would sometimes take boat rides on his own in his free time, and if there were fishermen taking short fishing trips, he would even tag along with them.
As Tom Hanks once famously quipped: "Here's what I hate about Irrfan Khan ... I always think I'm the coolest guy in the room ... and then [he] walks into the room and he's the coolest guy."
We'll leave you with the trailer for Paan Singh Tomar, the 2012 film that is considered one of his greatest roles in Indian cinema: