I look at this picture and I think this is how Byrneholics know and will remember Irrfan Khan. Not only as Sunil, the mysteriously gentle patient of Gabriel Byrne’s Paul Weston in In Treatment, of course. But still. It was an indelible performance. And now the man who brought Sunil to smoldering life is gone.

Gabriel Responds

His statement published in The Hollywood Reporter

Gabriel Byrne, who appeared in the HBO series In Treatment with Khan, said in a statement: “This is very, very sad news. Irrfan Khan was one of our greatest actors. I really loved the experience of working with him and would forget my lines because I got so caught up in what he was saying. If you want to show someone what is the ineffable power of acting, show them a clip of Irrfan. It was truly a privilege to work so intimately with him.”

Excerpt from Irrfan’s Obituary at The Guardian

Khan’s breakthrough role came from an unlikely source: the feature debut of then-unknown British director Asif Kapadia, whose low budget samurai-esque tale, The Warrior, was shot in India. Released in 2002, The Warrior was selected for the prestigious San Sebastián film festival and won the Bafta award for best British film. Khan subsequently broke into mainstream Indian films, often playing cops or villains – including the title role of Maqbool, an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth set in the Mumbai underworld. More orthodox Bollywood productions followed, such as Rog and the slice-of-life musical Life in a … Metro.

Khan also maintained a parallel career in British-American cinema: he played the chief of police in Michael Winterbottom’s A Mighty Heart, and another police officer in Slumdog Millionaire, which won eight Oscars. In later roles, he became a reliable standby character actor in big-budget Hollywood films, playing a doctor in The Amazing Spider-Man in 2012 and businessmen in Jurassic World (2015) and Inferno (2016). In 2012, he also played the adult version of the lead character in another Oscar-winner: Life of Pi, directed by Ang Lee. Director Wes Anderson said he specifically wrote a small role for Khan in his film The Darjeeling Limited just so they could work together.

Meanwhile, Khan found box-office success with the Indian-produced art film The Lunchbox, in which he played an accountant who strikes up a letter-writing romance with unhappy housewife Nimrat Kaur. Khan also continued his high Bollywood profile with significant roles in the Amitabh Bachchan comedy Piku and Hindi Medium, as a rich businessman trying to get his daughter into a good school.

Read the complete Irrfan Khan Obituary at The Guardian

Irrfan Khan as Sunil in In Treatment

In Treatment, Season Three

It seems that Irrfan Khan’s work in In Treatment flew under the radar of most reviewers and journalists, but we will always remember him for his contribution to Season Three. Sunil was such a departure for the series:

A native of Calcutta and recent widower, Sunil has begrudgingly moved in with his son’s family in Brooklyn. Unhappiness with his new life takes hold and festers within Sunil, exacerbated by his son’s American wife, whom he suspects of having an affair. As Paul encourages him to voice his frustrations, Sunil reveals a dark, secretive past – a past that awakens potentially violent impulses.

Irrfan’s demo reel above begins with almost 5 minutes of a tense scene from In Treatment, with Gabriel sitting opposite him, as his character, Sunil, exposes his disturbing preoccupations and asks for help. It is brilliant work.

Back in January, I had noted that there was an Irrfan Khan biography due to be published soon. There is some discussion of his experience working on In Treatment included in the book and I quoted this excerpt:

Irrfan gives a devastating performance in the show, first presented as a disheveled-looking, depressed man who is also rather quiet. Although, as time progresses, he gets more comfortable with the therapist, Dr Paul Weston (Gabriel Byrne).

Irrfan has gone on record to say this was the toughest role he has played. Speaking to The New York Times, he said, ‘An emotional input into the part was needed, and from the beginning I was feeling, “I’ll fall short. Where will I draw on these things from my life? I don’t have any experience in them.” And they were intense.’

Also, the show had long takes, nearly 14 minutes each, and so, for the first time since Irrfan had graduated from NSD, he had to memorize long passages of the script. It reminded him of the time he was studying for his exams. It became such a challenge for him that one night he called Naseeruddin Shah in India for his advice.

The advice from Naseeruddin Shah, noted Indian film and stage actor and director in the Hindi language film industry, was simple, as it turned out.

Don’t sleep. Memorize the lines. Keep working on them until you have them completely memorized. Nothing else matters.

And it worked.

Peter Bradshaw at The Guardian

Peter Bradshaw: Irrfan Khan: a seductive actor capable of exquisite gentleness

Peter has suggestions for the best way to remember Irrfan:

I first became aware of Khan and his marvellous screen presence in Asif Kapadia’s terrific 2001 film The Warrior, in which he has a powerful lead role as the warrior Lafcadia, the erstwhile servant and hitman to a murderous warlord who renounces the way of violence, retreats to the hills and must then confront another warrior who has been sent to kill him. It is an amazingly atmospheric movie (which Kapadia brought off with enormous skill before his own shift into documentaries) and Khan’s cool samurai hauteur was vital in making it work . . .

These were only part of a string of credits, but the movie that allowed him to steal everyone’s hearts was the romantic drama The Lunchbox. He played the middle-aged office worker who finds that the wrong lunchbox has been delivered to his desk, with a note inside. This leads him into a heartrendingly chaste, romantic exchange of letters with an unhappy married woman, stuck at home in her housewife job, as he is stuck in his salaryman role. Khan found his finest hour in this story, with an exquisitely gentle, subtle performance. Rewatching The Lunchbox and The Warrior would be great ways to remember him.

More: A Life in Pictures and Memorable Roles

A Life in Pictures from The Guardian

It’s hard to say goodbye to the people who mean so much to us, isn’t it? Creative artists who throw themselves into their work, shaping and crafting stories for us–thrilling and captivating, sometimes frightening and yes, devastating, stories that help us understand the world around us, often illuminating unknown destinations of that world and even the unexplored parts of our own hearts and souls.

One of the reasons I write here is because Gabriel Byrne is one of those people. In his universe are many who are also story-tellers, stars who orbit him for awhile, then shoot off back to their own realms, to make other stories and follow their own dreams.

Irrfan Khan was such a star. And now he has gone home. star heart

One Comment

  1. Adieu Irrfan. Thank you for your wonderful presence. Such a quiet, yet charismatic actor. The Lunchbox was a gem of a film. In Treatment was storytelling at its purest. Two great understated actors – with so much going on behind their mournful eyes.

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