29 April 2020 is probably going to go down as the darkest day in Hindi cinema. Irrfan Khan’s lifeline was cut way too short at the age of 53. And no other celebrity’s death has hit me this hard.
A man that was loved by many, managed to unite everyone even during these divisive times. That speaks volume of his character.
Irrfan Khan was one of those actors who challenged himself throughout his career. Known for his unconventional acting methods, the man continuously redefined himself. From Bharat, Ek Khoj to Angrezi Medium, his filmography is filled with rich characters.
But there’s a special reason I’m writing about Irrfan Khan today
In 1995, Irrfan Khan starred in Ashish Balram Nagpal’s Adhura as a gay man. The movie never saw the light of the day as the censors rejected it for its homosexual content. The film, till date, remains unreleased and the footage is lost to the world.
1995! A year when the LGBTQIA+ community was living in shadows, Irrfan was taking up roles that could have potentially harmed his career.
As he made his name through the mainstream cinema, Irrfan began taking huge strides in the film industry. 13 years later, he was approached to play a gay character again. Without any reproach, he accepted.
In 2008, Mira Nair directed an AIDS awareness short film titled Migration. Zoya Akhtar and Vishal Bhardwaj co-wrote the screenplay while Irrfan Khan, Shiney Ahuja, Arjun Mathur, Raima Sen and Sameera Reddy led the story.
The short film depicts Irrfan as a closeted homosexual, married to Sameera Reddy. Safe to say, the two don’t have an entirely happy and satisfying married life because Irrfan is shown having an affair with Arjun Mathur.
I won’t spoil it for you but the social message of the movie was that you can never be too sure about who your partner is sleeping with. Therefore, you must always use protection.
Great message for a short film made back then, but I had one small issue with Migration. After I was done watching it, I felt the film implied that because Irrfan was sleeping with Arjun Mathur, every character contracted AIDS.
Don’t get it?
Well, it is believed that homosexuals have a higher chance of contracting AIDS. That’s the number one reason why gay men can’t donate blood.
It’s 2020 and people still believe that men who have sex with other men give rise to AIDS.
Moving away from convention
I found Irrfan Khan’s portrayal of a gay man in Migration glaringly revivifying. In one of the interviews, Irrfan mentioned that he had to prepare for this role because it was an “untried” territory for him.
While he didn’t mention what went down behind the camera, he did end up playing quite a realistic gay man rather than playing a caricature. It was unlike most gay characters portrayed in Bollywood films back then, who are clearly inserted for a few gags. (haha they are gay so funny).
Also, it was 2008. It was important for people to see a gay character who was depicted realistically.
Thirteen years after the ban on Adhura, Irrfan returned to play yet another gay character in Migration. To put into perspective, Irrfan chose to play a gay man after he had established himself as a mainstream actor. This time around, he had a lot to lose.
The perils of being homosexual on-screen
Ten years later, Arjun Mathur, who played Irrfan’s love interest in Migration, also returned to play a homosexual character in Made in Heaven. Mathur was both bold and respectful in his portrayal and I truly applaud him for that.
But even in 2019, his role stole more spotlight than the entire show. So, I cannot even fathom the risk Irrfan was taking back in the day.
Endless love and respect for this man, seriously!
For this reason, we will continue celebrating Irrfan Khan as a beloved actor and a stellar human being.
Angrezi Medium may have been his last, but he paved the way for future actors.
Safe to say, Irrfan Khan walked in Migration and Adhura so actors like Arjun Mathur could not only run but soar. You’ll be missed, Irrfan. Thank you for the memories!