Remembering Irrfan Khan on his birth anniversary: lessons on entrepreneurship

By Debolina Biswas|7th Jan 2021
On his 54th birth anniversary, YS Weekender takes a look at Irrfan Khan’s life and entrepreneurial lessons to learn from his journey in the film industry.
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Bollywood actor Irrfan Khan would have turned 54 today. 


Known for his stellar performances in The Lunchbox, Paan Singh Tomar, The Namesake, Haidar, Piku, and Life in a...Metro, among others, Irrfan breathed his last on April 29, last year, after a long fight with cancer.


For all the nonpareil roles and characters that he has left behind, the Padma Shri awardee was worried about not being able to “create a spell” during his initial years in Bollywood, Irrfan had said during a session at INKTalks in 2015


Irrfan’s passing away was mourned by the Indian film industry and the world, alike. On his birthday, after more than eight months of his demise, YS Weekender takes a look back at Irrfan’s life and a lesson or two that people (entrepreneur or not) can learn from him. 

Irrfan Khan lead

Irrfan Khan | Image source: Twitter

Patience and persistence 

Born as Sahabzade Irrfan Ali Khan, Irrfan’s journey was like no other actor in Bollywood. He started his acting career in 1987 at the age of 20-years. For the first couple of years, Irrfan acted in television serials like Banegi Apni Baat, Sara Jahan Hamara, and Star Bestsellers, among others. 


Most of his initial work went unnoticed and he was even edited out of the final versions of films (as in Salaam Bombay!). When the Hindi film industry failed to recognise his talent, London-based director Asif Kapadia cast Irrfan in the lead role of The Warrior.

The iconic film was shot over 11 weeks and gained international recognition to Irrfan in 2001 — a breakthrough moment in 2001, at the age of 34 years.

His journey is a true instance of hard work, patience, and persistence that led to success, much like in entrepreneurship. 

Irrfan Khan

Irrfan Khan in a still from Salaam Bombay! (his debut film)

Mastering one’s art 

After The Warrior, there was no turning back. Soon, Irrfan was cast in short-film Road to Ladakh.


The film received rave reviews overseas and at international film festivals, and was eventually made into a full-length feature film, starring Irrfan. 

The same year marked Irrfan’s entry to mainstream Bollywood in the form of the lead role in Maqbool. An adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, the film received critical acclaim and Irrfan's role was widely praised and recognised.

In the years that followed, the actor kept getting better with every role, winning multiple accolades.


He won awards for several movies like Haasil (Filmfare Awards for Best Performance in Negative Role), Life in a...Metro (Filmfare Awards for Best Supporting Role), Paan Singh Tomar (National Film Awards for Best Actor; Filmfare Awards for Best Actor - Critics), and The Lunchbox (Asian Film Awards). 


Irrfan constant drive and how he polished his craft are skills most entrepreneurs need to focus upon to become a better version of themselves. 

Irrfan Khan, The Lunchbox

Irrfan Khan in The Lunchbox

Dream big 

Not only did Irrfan win over hearts in India, but his talent was also recognised worldwide.


The actor was first recognised internationally for his role in Mira Nair’s The Namesake, for which he went on to be nominated for the Independent Spirit Awards in 2007. 


In 2008, Irrfan was cast in Slumdog Millionaire, which won him the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance. He was then cast opposite Natalie Portman in Mira Nair’s New York, I Love You, and in Marvel Comics The Amazing Spider-Man in 2012. 

Irrfan’s most celebrated movies continue to be Life of Pi and Grand Rail d’Or (Cannes Film Festival) winner The Lunchbox.

From being an outlier to becoming an internationally acclaimed actor, Irrfan has taught us that no dream is impossible, no dream is too big.


Edited by Saheli Sen Gupta

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