Photograph: Kind courtesy Irrfan/Instagram
I cannot believe you are gone.
Knowing you the way I do, you know better than most of us, what a cruel blow destiny can deal in our lives just when everything seemed to be going as planned.
In 2017, you were supremely on top of the game with Hindi Medium becoming both a critical and commercial success.
I remember how pleased you were with the turn of events and how much it meant for you to be in a film that was not just praised by critics but also loved by the masses.
I remember how disappointed you were when Thank You, your collaboration with Anees Bazmee, failed.
The film failed. You didn’t.
You never do.
Have we ever seen a substandard performance from you? Not possible.
When your health began to fail, you were puzzled.
Why would Destiny play such a cruel game?
When your worst fears came true, you left for London for your treatment.
But your films were released in your absence.
The most notable of these was the American Indie oddity Puzzle where I am proud to say you were the first Indian actor to play a romantic lead in an American film.
This Marc Turtletaub-directed romance featured you as a jigsaw puzzle aficionado who has an affair with a married mother-of-two played by Kelly Macdonald.
What stood out was the fact that you played a colour-blind culture-unspecific role. Nowhere was it mentioned that your character was a brown-skinned Asian.
You had broken another glass ceiling, and done us proud again.
Puzzle came at a time when movies were the last thing on your mind.
As you healed, you needed your privacy more than ever.
I felt intrusive even to ask about your health.
I didn’t want you to think I was being a prying journalist.
Ever since you came back after healing, I have kept my distance.
The one text that you sent me said you are in no position to talk.
I miss our conversations. So matter of fact, so free of artifice.
Then, suddenly, you reconnected with me at the time when Angrezi Medium released.
I requested an interview, and you said speaking was not possible and could I e-mail my questions.
You answered every question with characteristic candour.
It felt like old times.
I was confident we would soon be speaking again.
Your kindness always struck me as unique in a business where self-interest always comes first.
I remember once in 2015, my daughter, who was studying at Columbia University, needed to talk to you for a research project.
You went out of your way to coordinate the timing and spoke at length with her. Then you called to ask if she got the information she required.
Aisa kaun karta hai?
I remember speaking to you on your 47th birthday about how young and healthy you looked.
You had laughed and replied, ‘I do look after myself, but not in an obsessive way. I work out. But in my own way. I follow the regime that my body demands and not what the physical trainer thinks my body requires.’
‘Besides that, I think I am getting to do the work that I want. Inner contentment always reflects on your face and body.’
Sadly, you signed only one film after your return.
The lucky producer was Dinesh Vijan who managed to get you to do Angrezi Medium, the sequel to Hindi Medium.
Now, there won’t be a third film.
The last time I spoke to you was two years ago, in January 2018. You were very excited about the future.
‘The most interesting thing was I was honoured at the Dubai International Film Festival along with Cate Blanchett who is my favourite actor. So it couldn’t get any better for me,’ you had said enthusiastically.
‘I am happy about the audiences’s need now to watch fresher and newer content. Hence, it’s becoming easier to reach a wider audience through my kind of films. So at this juncture, it’s all coming together and happening organically.’
Kisiki nazar lag gayi, Irrfan?
I will miss talking to you.
Until we talk again, I will connect with you through your performances.
You don’t play characters. You own them.
Until we meet again,
Subhash K Jha