Posted shortly after the iconic actor’s death on April 29, 2020.
These past few days have made me relive my own personal loss – the loss of my father 18 months ago – an incomparable loss, one that has been delicately interwoven with each day since.
New Delhi. The winter of 2007. I watch The Namesake with my parents in a small movie theatre. There is a scene in which Ashok Ganguly, played by Irrfan Khan, wanders into his teenaged son Gogol’s room. He asks how his life is going, what books he’s reading. The son is casual, distracted by his high-wired life, his plans, his phone. The father wisely retreats. Years later, when Ashok is dead, an older Gogol sits alone in a room, his father a vivid image in front of him. Ashok Ganguly asks his son about his life, what books he’s reading. Gogol starts to talk animatedly, but this time, his father has already retreated, ghost-like, into the curtains.
The scene made me cry when I first watched it, but today it haunts me, because Ashok Ganguly could be my father, who, like Gogol, I affectionately took for granted, as you do when you think someone will be around forever. Over this past year and a half, and indeed in this past week, I have replayed this scene from The Namesake many times in my mind. I have talked with my father, even though I know he will retreat with a smile, like a ghost, like Ashok Ganguly.
I cannot imagine having any father but my own, just like I cannot imagine anyone but Irrfan Khan portraying wise, quiet Ashok Ganguly on screen with such subtle sensitivity and mastery.
Mumbai. The winter of 2008. I am at a screening of a film in which I have served as script consultant, a comedy called Dil Kabaddi starring, among others : Irrfan Khan. We chat for a short while. Despite his status of rising international star and powerhouse talent, the man is humility and grace personified. He smiles and asks what’s up. I blurt out how I am going through a phase of feeling ‘stuck’. I am in a dense, slow kind of burnout, desperate for a reboot into a different kind of writing life, a more nurturing, more meaningful kind of writing life, and while talking, I put myself down a lot.
Irrfan Khan gently says : “Yes, you should explore, you must find where your true self-expression lies. But also be proud of everything you have done and are doing right now. Stand by everything that has come out of you. Every part of your journey has the stamp of you. Every creative work has its own value and poetry and energy and outcome.”
He pauses. His next words are the words of that rare being – an artist not merely by skill and profession, but by vocation and heart. He tells me not to self-doubt. Not to categorize. That there is no good or bad work, only good or bad intention. He says : “Love everything you do. Something that you think has no value can change someone else’s worldview. Approach each and every work like it is art and discover its unique truth. This brings joy.”
I feel deeply privileged to receive this timeless advice, and moved, all these years later, by how much it has constantly pushed me to grow as a writer and as a person.
Art connects, and truthful artists – just like the feelings they evoke, just like the memories they nudge, just like the bonds we have to our fathers – live forever.
With respect and gratitude. May your soul be forever at peace, Irrfan Khan Sir.