National Award winning actor Irrfan Khan dies at the age of 54

Irrfan khan

One of India’s most celebrated actors, Irrfan Khan known for his expressive eyes, died after succumbing to a long battle with cancer. He was 54. 

A gaping void has been left in the Indian film industry as one of India’s most loved actors has bid adieu to the living realm. On April 29, Irrfan Khan passed away at the age of 54. He was admitted at Mumbai’s Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital on Tuesday where the actor was under observation for colon infection.

As much as I try to grasp and register this information in my head, it just seems impossible. Just the other night, as my family and I were watching Angrezi Medium, I was appreciating the impact of his work on the film industry at large, and also on the joy he brought to the lives of his fans. And today, we are struck with the harsh reality, that he is no more, and we will not get to see the incredible work, that was still left in him.

Irrfan had been facing health issues ever since he came out to the public in March 2018 announcing him being diagnosed with a Neuroendocrine tumour. His health conditions started worsening early this year as the actor tweeted in February stating that he won’t be able to promote his latest film, Angrezi Medium, owing to his health issues, accompanied with a heart-warming voice message.

Addressing the status of the actor, one of his representatives shared the news with a statement:

‘I trust, I have surrendered’, these were the some of the many words that Irrfan expressed in a heartfelt note he wrote in 2018 opening up about his fight with cancer. And a man of few words and an actor of silent expressions with his deep eyes and his memorable actions on screen. It’s saddening that this day, we have to bring forward the news of him passing away. Irrfan was a strong soul, someone who fought till the very end and always inspired everyone who came close to him. After having been struck by lightning in 2018 with the news of rare cancer, he took life soon after as it came and he fought the many battles that came with it. Surrounded by his love, his family for whom he most cared about, he left for heavenly abode, leaving behind truly a legacy of his own. We all pray and hope that he is at peace. And to resonate and part with his words he had said, ‘As if I was tasting life for the first time, the magical side of it’.

Irrfan Khan in Salaam Bombay
Irrfan Khan in Salaam Bombay. Source:

In his 3 decade long stint in the film industry, starting with the Academy Award-nominated debut film Salaam Bombay! (1988), Irrfan has brought some fantastic and unique characters to the big screen. Playing the role of an innocent hearted athletic soldier turned ruthless rebel in Paan Singh Tomar (2011), a small-town barber in Billu (2009), a charming and witty taxi driver in Piku (2015), a chirpy and awkward romantic in Qarib Qarib Singlle (2017) or a cold-blooded villain in Haasil (2003), Irrfan’s peculiar narration and bulging expressive eyes could emote each character’s persona.

What is unique about Irrfan’s work, is his innate ability to let the performer dissolve, so that the viewer can focus on the performance. In a ‘star’ driven industry, where an actors success is measured by their typical on-screen behaviour, irrespective of the character needs, Irrfan’s work continued to be layered with subtle nuances and powered by his craft of humanising the written character. And by staying true to his craft, he earned the love of millions and gave them a taste of ‘acting’ that is free from dramatic and garish expressions. Some of his seminal works include Mira Nair’s The Namesake (2006), Vishal Bharadwaj’s Maqbool (2004), Riteish Batra’s The Lunchbox (2013) and Saket Chaudhary’s Hindi Medium (2017) – all of these films received both critical and commercial acclaim.

While his gravitas and silver screen presence enchanted Indians, Irrfan also played pivotal roles in various international films, including Slumdog Millionaire, The Amazing Spider-Man, Jurassic World, Inferno and his one of the most notable parts in Life of Pi. He was the only actor from India who has worked in two Academy Award-winning movies.

Even with the suffix of Khan, Irrfan was not from an influential acting dynasty. He was born in a Muslim family in Jaipur who paved his way to earning a scholarship at the National School of Drama. In the initial years as he struggled to make it as an actor, Irrfan worked as an air conditioning repairman.

But slowly and gradually, his honesty and passion earned him accolades, and in 2011 he was decorated with the honour of Padma Shri.

Saddened by his demise, here are some tweets posted by his peers:

While all film lovers are mourning, we leave you with this powerful message his character delivered in Life of Pi :

I suppose, in the end, the whole of life becomes an act of letting go. But what always hurts the most is not having a moment to say goodbye”.


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