Irrfan: Like all great actors, he did not need a great movie to be great in

Posted on April 29, 2020


Paan Singh Tomar. The Lunchbox. Life In a Metro. Irrfan’s special talent was to find something extraordinary in the ordinary.

Struck down in his prime! These are terrible words to hear about an artist. Even when someone far along in years passes on, there’s a sense of nostalgia, but when a Philip Seymour Hoffman dies, or when Irrfan dies… There’s such a sense of loss, of waste, of what-could-have-been, that all we can do to not lose it is hold on to a clutch of movie memories.

The Namesake, I think, was the first film that used Irrfan in all his Irrfan-ness. Up there on screen, he’s always seemed a little spaced out, a little bewildered, with a deer-caught-in-the-headlights stare suggesting that his brain has issued a directive that the rest of his body is still struggling to process. It’s as though he’s just arrived from an alien planet and was attempting to get used to the manners and mores of a brand new world — and Mira Nair used this distanced quality to excellent effect. Irrfan plays an Indian who settles in America, and there are times you think he doesn’t need to “act” one bit to portray the general unease so inherent in a first-generation immigrant: he just needs to be. He just needs to stand there, with the topmost button of his shirt undone, revealing the U-neck of the banian underneath — as he does in a scene where his son brings home an American girlfriend.

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