As I watched Murder at Teesri Manzil 302, a posthumous release starring Irrfan, it made me wonder on how much we missed since his unfortunate demise because even in as banal a film as that, he was good. Actually very good. On his birthday a few days ago, edits and reels about him flooded social media indicating the love that the man still gets two years since he passed. The question of a favourite movie of his is a difficult question to answer because for me, Irrfan always rose above the written word, and somehow made even the most poorly written part (think of films like Hisss, Acid Factory, Thank You) better just by his sheer talent. So, below are a few of my favourite Irrfan performances in films I genuinely love.
The first time I discovered Irrfan's magic was as a 15-year old watching New York. Even though I went into the film for John Abraham and Kabir Khan's reunion, I came back captivated by what Irrfan had just shown me. As a brown man in white man's FBI, Irrfan was brilliant as Agent Roshan whose biggest pet peeve was that his name was not even pronounced correctly by his own boss. Even though he protects the law, he knows the shortcomings of his agency and wants to protect the people who looked different. He is sharp, brutally honest, funny (there is a hilarious sequence on his exasperation after a heated argument with Neil Mukesh's character where he breaks the earphones) yet empathetic and profoundly philosophical.
Rana Choudhary is the outsider in Piku's (Deepika Padukone) universe and the axis on which the story moves forward. Irrfan's Rana is the fulcrum on which the story is balanced. With his trademark wry smile, deadpan humour and wide eyed expressions, Irrfan conveys so much through very little. He has lovely scenes at the ghat, when he is driving back to Delhi all alone, his funny riff offs with Bhashkor (Amitabh Bachchan) and the sweet chemistry and growing attraction towards Piku which he all pulls off brilliantly. Not once does he overpower and eat away at the other performers which makes his act an even better one. He is the voice of reason, the sounding board for both Piku and Bhashkor to reflect upon their feelings. It is his finest act in my book.
Roohdaar in Haider
If there was a scene that had a fanbase and is dissected, debated and watched over and over again, it has to be Irrfan's entry as Roohdaar in Haider. In the Chennai theatre that I watched it in, there was cheering, whistling and a sense of elation when he entered first out of focus and limping towards camera with black snow covered sunglasses to an electrically tense background score. Such was his magnetism that all I remember from the film (barring Tabu's act and the bloody climax) is Irrfan and how he disrupted the monotony, bringing an energy that didn't feel fretful. As the name suggests, he is not a person but only an embodiment of our soul or spirit that lives inside us. Or as he says, "dariya bhi main, darakht bhi main. Jhelum bhi main, Chenab bhi main. Dair bhi hoon, haram bhi hoon, Shia bhi hoon, Sunni bhi hun. Main tha, main hoon aur main hi rahunga". And to think he was barely on screen for 10 minutes of the total runtime.
Ashwin Kumar in Talvar
Talvar was based on the infamous Aarushi murder case. As investigative officer Ashwin Kumar, Irrfan was right in the driver's seat. The role demanded his acting chops to pull off a slightly arrogant yet charming character, which he does with ease. He is in his element throughout not, without any missteps. Even when there are snide remarks thrown at him about his personal life, he only responds with a smile. Such was the performance that even in as serious a film as this, he along with Pillai Sir (Prakash Belawadi) injected a dose of humour without making it offensive or crude. For instance in the climax, a character repeatedly uses pure Hindi terms to explain commonly known English terms such as pornography, missionary position etc. In the entire sequence, both him and Pillai Sir find a way to humourise the illogical reasoning that the opposite team presents. Irrfan is so good at switching back and forth that he does not allow the enormity of the situation to slip one bit, and yet makes it light and entertaining.