The Man Who Rejected Stardom: Irrfan Khan Was a Stellar Human Being Off Screen


The Man Who Rejected Stardom: Irrfan Khan Was a Stellar Human Being Off Screen

Illustration: Mitesh Parmar

The year 2020 will go down in history as the world’s most hated year. Each day our headlines and daily news are rife with stories of distress, and today it comes bearing the heartbreaking news of beloved actor Irrfan Khan’s passing.

While the 53-year-old lost his battle to a rare type of neuroendocrine tumour, Khan has only emerged a winner and his legacy speaks for itself. His on-screen characters have left an indelible mark on our lives. The actor had always been different from what Bollywood considered a “mainstream hero”, and his off-screen persona too, was equally charming. Several of his colleagues chose to remember how he had touched their lives.

Homi Adajania, who directed Angrezi Medium, the last film of Khan illustrious career, recalls a conversation with the actor in an Instagram post. He speaks of Khan’s “inexplicable love” for his work, but reveals the actor’s disinterest in stardom. “Well, you never needed to be a star my friend,” Adajania concludes, “because you shone brighter than anything in the universe.”


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We laughed about you dying… in fact we often abused your “uninvited guests” …. but I didn’t think I’d feel so fuckin broken when I heard what I was expecting to hear for a while now. I am eternally grateful for walking a few steps of your journey with you. I am eternally grateful that I could call myself your friend. I am eternally grateful for memories stuffed with so much joy, so much laughter in such little time. You once told me how you had an inexplicable love for your craft, but didn’t want the stardom anymore. Well, you never needed to be a star my friend, because you shone brighter than anything in the universe. 🙏❤️ RIP #irrfan

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Radhika Madan, who last shared screen space with Khan in Angrezi Medium, recalls the legend as “the man who changed the wave of the indian film industry.” In an image from the movie set that likely mirrors her emotions, the actress expresses her gratefulness at being able to cross paths with her inspiration “in this lifetime.”

In a throwback image, actor Sanjay Mishra expresses his wish to meet his Irrfan bhai once again. He speaks of a time when the duo went out on their first drive in Khan’s new Maruti 800 and the latter requested Mishra to sing a song that now rings true: “नफरत की दुनिया छोड़ के प्यार की दुनिया में खुश रहना मेरे यार”.

Actor-director Danish Husain in his personal tribute called Khan a great storyteller who could turn every story into “an audience’s story”.

Taking us back to the days when Khan had just about started weaving his legacy, film critic Ajay Brahmatmaj savours memories from ages ago.

Paralympian Deepa Malik remembers Khan as “a gem of an actor and person”, sharing a snapshot from the moment they had come together to “encourage all towards the cause of organ donation.”

Qarib Qarib Singlle’s leading lady Parvathy Thiruvothu spoke about the time she first met Khan for the movie’s first reading. Khan’s birthday seems to have made this event a memorable one.

Writer Namita Gokhale recalls Khan at the Jaipur Literature Festival from back in 2014 where the actor charmed the attendees when he read out Om Prakash Valmiki’s poem “Thakur Ka Kuan” with characteristic eloquence.

Remembering Khan’s courteous and warm self, media company AIB recalled the opportunity to work with the actor, but never feeling intimidated by a “star tantrum” as one would expect, because “that’s just the sort of guy Irrfan was”.


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There’s nothing we can say about Irrfan the actor that won’t be said more eloquently by those who understand the craft better than us. So we’d like to take a moment to remember Irrfan the person, as we knew him. When Maqbool himself agrees to a work meeting that you never dreamed would happen, intimidation is understandable. More so when you’re a group of twenty-somethings with none of the credibility or swag his usual collaborators have. But from minute one, Irrfan was courteous, receptive, warm, and involved. He took to our Party Song with a gusto that made us wonder if we’d even written something that deserved the sort of dignity he was giving it. But. That’s just the sort of guy Irrfan was. He walked off the set of Jurassic World, where they were probably serving him flavoured cappuccinos on velvet cushions, onto the shoestring budget Party Song shoot. It was the middle of May and the temperature and humidity were soaring. The air conditioner wasn’t working in the club we shot in. We had no special vanity van to give him when we shot the pool scenes. We tensed for a star tantrum. But Irrfan just grinned, stretched out on the floor in the corner of the room, and took a nap. That’s just the sort of guy Irrfan was. When ill health forced him to drop out of a project we were supposed to do together, we understood his situation immediately, and yet, he was the one who had tears in his eyes because he thought he was letting down some kids who were starting out. Because that’s just the sort of guy Irrfan was. He was being treated in London in July 2018, and we happened to be there. Not only did he insist on coming to the show, but also on taking us all to dinner after, where he regaled us with stories in his trademark drawl while also making sure everyone ate until they couldn’t move. Because that’s just the sort of guy Irrfan was. “Yaar cricket khelte hai!” he chirped, and even had a friend in London book us some nets. Sadly, on the day, his health took a turn for the worse and he had to drop out. He still called and said “I’m not cancelling the booking, tum log toh jaa kar khelo yaar!” Because that’s just the sort of guy Irrfan was.

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It’s clear that Khan will live on in the characters he created. And the memories of those whose lives he touched.