Irrfan Khan and I share the same birthday. That is our bond number one. Irrfan is an unusual man. He has demonstrated this trait once again by sharing news about his illness on a public platform. He has been diagnosed with a comparatively rare condition (a neuroendocrine tumour) that is potentially life threatening. Irrfan did not flinch or shy away from explaining its implications to those who speculated about his hospitalisation in Mumbai. That’s him—upfront, unlike the rest of the herd. I had sensed as much at our very first meeting in 2001. I had chanced upon a movie, The Warrior—his first international venture—and was struck by his screen presence. He was not all that well known then, and very few people had heard of this man from a feudal, Nawab family in Jaipur, with his hooded eyes and superbly articulated, baritone voice. He was magnificent in his litheness and restraint. I was impressed enough to write a tribute. And, he was moved enough to reach out and offer to meet me. I promptly invited him home. We sat at my dining table (which is my ‘office’!) and chatted for an hour or so. He was remarkably clear about his views and objectives. I enjoyed his self-deprecatory humour, and his wry comments about not being ‘handsome’ enough for Bollywood. And, look where he reached! Well beyond Bollywood! Who can forget his performance in The Namesake, The Life of Pi or Maqbool? Or, his romancing Deepika Padukone in Piku? And, much before that, his tour de force role in The Lunchbox? Irrfan remains one of our most sophisticated and consummate actors. His new movie (Blackmail) is ready for release. And, we all want him to be there for the big launch. Even as he undergoes treatment in a London hospital, Irrfan the philosopher is busy posting poems by one of my personal favourites—Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke. Irrfan’s wife Sutapa Sikdar keeps his fans informed about his condition. This is really the way it should be for celebrities. If there are health issues, those should be transparently shared. Far better to receive such news straight from the horse’s mouth than via the unreliable grapevine.
When I ran into Irrfan after several years, it was at a biz summit in Raipur, where both of us were speakers. I had just finished my session and was leaving the auditorium, when I spotted Irrfan being escorted backstage by a bunch of fans. We saw each other and stopped for a quick exchange. I told him I was coming back to attend his session, which, of course, I did. There were several obvious changes in the Irrfan who had met me wearing a simple, white, khadi, kurta pyjama, and this suave international celebrity, dressed in customised-couture, with a polished demeanour and perfectly gelled hair. This person was a man of the world, someone comfortable in a Tom Ford tux on a red carpet at the Oscars, schmoozing with top global stars as an equal. And, why not? Irrfan has more than earned his place in the sun as an international, who probably has many Hollywood top dogs on speed-dial. He was in the driver’s seat during his session. His answers were candid and clever, his choice of words impressive. Of course, success changes people. Irrfan had definitely changed, as do most celebs once the world opens up for them. I listened to his responses to some pretty sharp questions from the audience. He did not miss a beat as he joked about the functional bathtub he has positioned in the centre of his drawing room. Irrfan was on a roll, on top of his game. And, I applauded his chutzpah. We exchanged warm, knowing smiles. I felt proud of his swag, as he exited stylishly, leaving a trail of bespoke fragrance behind.
We await your triumphant return to movies and Mumbai, Irrfan Khan. I know you will be channelling your inner warrior and fighting the good fight valiantly. Till then, we pray for your swift recovery.