The Indian-born actor Irfan Khan, who has gained tremendous success in both Bollywood and the West, has died at the age of 53. He has been admitted to Mumbai’s Kokilaben hospital’s intensive care unit with a colon infection on Tuesday.
He announced in March 2018 that he had been diagnosed with a neuroendocrine tumor, but he recovered well enough after intensive treatment to shoot Angrezi Medium, the film that would turn out to be his last, and whose launch this March was shortened due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Irfan Khan, renowned to English-speaking audiences as the Slumdog Millionaire police inspector, was also a leading Bollywood actor in hits like Haider and Hindi Media.
Khan was born in 1966 in Jaipur, the son of a tyre seller, Saahabzaade Irfan Ali Khan, and moved to the drama school after he failed as a cricketer. He continued to make progress in the film industry, despite being cast as a letter writer in the 1988 Salaam Bombay of Mira Nair in a small role! – He only managed to find daily work in low-grade TV soap operas, to his disappointment. “I have come to this industry to share stories and do cinema and I have been stuck on TV,” he uncovered in 2013.
The successful role of Khan came from an unexpected source: the film debut of the then unknown British director Asif Kapadia, whose low-budget, samurai-esque tale The Warrior was shot in India. The Warrior was chosen for the prestigious San Sebastian film festival released in 2002, and received the Bafta award for best British film.
Afterwards, Khan broke into popular Indian films, mostly playing cops or villains – like Maqboolds title role, an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth set in the Mumbai underworld. More traditional Bollywood films, including Rog and the slice-of-life musical Life in a … Metro, followed.
In Anglo-American cinema, Khan also held a simultaneous career: he played police chief in Michael Winterbottom’s A Mighty Heart, and another policeman in the sensationally successful Slumdog Millionaire, which went on to win eight Oscars. Playing a doctor in The Incredible Spider-Man in 2012 and businessmen in Jurassic World (2015) and Inferno (2016), he became a reliable backup character actor in big-budget Hollywood films. He also portrayed the adult version of the lead character in another Oscar-winner in 2012: the Life of Pi directed by Ang Lee.
Meanwhile, Khan has found box office success with the Indian-produced art film The Lunchbox, in which he portrayed an accountant with dissatisfied housewife Nimrat Kaur who strikes a letter-writing romance. As a wealthy businessman striving to get his daughter into a good school, Khan also maintained his high Bollywood image with significant roles in the Amitabh Bachchan comedy Piku and Hindu Media.
Irfan Khan is survived by his wife Sutapa Sikdar, and sons Babil and Ayan.
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