Bollywood star Irrfan Khan conquered Hollywood and my heart

Photo of Irrfan Khan courtesy of

This morning the first Tweet I saw on my timeline announced the passing of Bollywood star Irrfan Khan. Khan didn’t just conquer the film industry in his own country, he also conquered it in mine. He conquered my heart too. He also gave attention to indie filmmakers, noting the influence in today’s artistic sector.

I remember him clearly in the film Slumdog Millionaire. I love that film. I loved the novel Q &A the film was loosely based upon. After reading the book, I couldn’t wait to watch the movie. I remember my husband agreeing to watch it with me, at first as a concession. Once it ended, he was, just like me, blown away.

There was no more gifted actor on the planet than Irrfan Khan.

Khan took the part of the police inspector in Slumdog Millionaire, delivering as authentic a performance as any I’ve seen. He also starred in Life of Pi, the film based on a book that took me on an incredible journey. Several actors were cast in the role of the main character Pi, with Khan playing Pi in the adult years of his life.

Irrfan Khan could’ve done what so many celebrities do. He could’ve moved to the US and pretty much named his price in the ‘Hollywood’ market. He chose not to. He told Hindustan Times Brunch, he never left India. “My people are here and so are my stories.”

Khan also embraced the indie spirit. In the same interview, he said, “Today, small and unconventional films are redefining cinema in India. And I am happy to be part of this brave, new world. Hollywood is just a bonus.”

Sparking even more admiration, Khan was very outspoken about faith and freedom.

The Hindustan Times, a leading newspaper in India, said Khan was admitted to a hospital this week with an infection. Khan was very open about his illness, sharing information to keep his fans informed. The newspaper said the actor had suffered from a neuroendocrine tumor.

Tributes to the actor roared like wildfire through Twitter—he should be trending in the United States as well, but no one really knows how the Twitter gods determine a trend. One of the most beautiful and unusual tributes to Khan came from artist Sudarsan Pattnaik. Pattnaik is a “sand artist,” and he did a remarkable composition at Puri Beach in Odisha. You can see the sand sculpture, and all you hear in the background is the majestic sound of the waves peacefully rolling forward. It is a beautiful tribute and you can see it on Pattnaik’s page on Twitter.

For me, Irrfan Khan was a personal hero. He gave voice, through the roles he chose to take on, to many who have no voice. He never forgot his roots, and he chose authenticity over the plasticity of the US celebrity circuit. I send thoughts and sympathy to his wife and his sons and other loved ones, and I am grateful, that for awhile, we were blessed by Khan’s talents as he journeyed on this earth. He leaves behind an incredible artistic legacy.

Credits: Many thanks to Bollywood Hungama for the wonderful photo of Irrfan Khan.

(Kay B. Day/April 29, 2020)

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