When in March of 2018, nearly two years ago, actor Irrfan Khan announced to the world that he had been diagnosed with cancer, a gloom descended on his fans and well wishers. Over the years, not only did he emerge as an actor of great eminence, he metamorphosed into a much loved star as well. The actor who started out in films like Salaam Bombay (1988), became a popular character-actor ‘star’ in his later avatar.
In a world that would cruelly differentiate a star and an entertainer from an actor, Irrfan has come to be seen as blend of the two into a seamless whole. Starting with films like Salaam Bombay, Ek Doctor Ki Maut and TV serials like Bharat Ek Khoj, Chanakya, Chandrakanta and Banegi Apni Baat, it was with The Warrior (2001) that Irrfan first got ‘noticed’ as they say, in film parlance. He followed it up with Maqbool (2003) and then in 2004’s Aan: Men at Work, it was as if commercial masala movie makers started to see a certain potential for mass audience in Irrfan. It was also the time to go international as movie makers began to take a liking to him. In 2005, he had significant roles in commercial films like Chocolate and Rog. However, his breakout moments, both national and internationally came in 2007, when Anurag Basu cast him opposite Konkona Sen as a small-town 30-something man, looking out for a suitable match on a matrimonial web site in Life in a ... Metro! and Angelina Jolie starrer The Mighty Heart and Mira Nair’s The Namesake. These films were all successes -- Irrfan had arrived.
Since then, Irrfan has met with success with passing years -- Slumdog Millionaire (2008), New York (2009), Paan Singh Tomar (2012), The Amazing Spider-Man (2012), Life of Pi (2012), The Lunchbox (2013), Haider (2014), Piku, Jurassic World, Talvar, The Jungle Book (2016), Hindi Medium and Qarib Qarib Singlle (2017).
Then in March 2018, came the shocker -- Irrfan has been diagnosed with a rare form of cancer -- neuro endocrine tumour, a form of cancer that affects one’s endocrine system and nervous system. The actor reportedly left for the UK for treatment and has been a long battle against the dreaded disease for the actor.
The process has made his reflective and philosophical. In the few interviews that have come out since, Irrfan has often sounded pensive, calm and introspective about life. Here are few other instances when Irrfan has spoken about life, its deeper and hidden meanings and how the disease has changed him as a person.
Before the launch of the trailer of the film in February, when Irrfan again took ill and could not promote the film, as he had expected, the makers released an audio-video in which he spoke to his fans presenting the film and deliberating about his health. He had said how when life gives us ‘lemons’ it is not easy to make a ‘shikanji’ (lemonade). He had said: “I am with you and not with you. This film, Angrezi Medium, is very special to me. I truly wanted to promote this film as passionately as we made it, but there are some ‘unwanted guests’ in my body and they’re keeping me busy. I’ll keep you informed on that front. There’s a saying, ‘when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade.’ It feels good to hear, but when life really hands you lemons, making lemonade is really difficult.”
“One doesn’t have any other choice but to remain positive. Whether you are able to make lemonade in such situations is entirely up to you. We’ve made this film with the same sort of positivity. I hope this film is able to make you laugh and cry in equal measure. Enjoy the trailer, and be kind to each other, and enjoy the film. And yes, wait for me.”
Speaking to Hindustan Times, he mentioned how after falling sick, he realised the true meaning of what ‘running out of time’ meant. He said, “I had become excessively busy (before falling ill), so much so that I almost missed (watching) my sons (Babil and Ayan) become young adults from little boys. I was running out of time all the time. Ironically now, I have kind of an idea what ‘running out of time’ actually means. So, I am just counting my blessings and thanking everyone who has prayed for me.”
In an interview to Mid Day, Irrfan spoke about how this disease had made him more sensitive to life around him and how he now noticed the smallest of gestures. “When your life experience changes so drastically, the actor is bound to change, too. Actors get their stimuli from their personal life. I will be indebted to this film’s crew all my life. I wasn’t sure if I would be able to shoot in such extreme weather, but Anil Mehta [cinematographer] made it easier. Perhaps, I have become more sensitive because I noticed even the smallest of gestures of those around.”
Through these two years of his fight against the illness, his wife Sutapa Sikdar has been his pillar to strength. Reflecting on his will to survive, he had said that if he survived this disease, he would want to live for her. In an interview to Mumbai Mirror, he had said, “It’s been a roller-coaster ride, a memorable one. Happy moments were underlined because of the inherent uncertainty. We cried a little and laughed a lot. We became one huge body. You screen out noises …You are selective about what you want to filter in. I have gone through tremendous anxiety but have somehow managed to control it, then, let go. You are playing hopscotch all the time.”
Speaking about his kids and wife, he had added, “And the best part is that I have had all the time literally to see them evolve. A crucial time for a teenager, like the younger one. The older one isn’t a teenager anymore. What to say about Sutapa (wife)? She is there 24/7. She has evolved in care-giving and if I get to live, I want to live for her. She is the reason for me to keep at it still.”
Angrezi Medium, a sequel to 2017’s hit Hindi Medium, release this week. The film also stars Radhika Madan, Kareena Kapoor, Deepak Dobriyal, Pankaj Tripathi and Dimple Kapadia in prominent roles.