The Star Who Made Us Fall In Love With Our Lunch Box, Passes Away

Irrfan Khan, 53, who immortalized many wonderful stories on screen succumbs to illness.

Sayoni Bhaduri

“Irrfan is Irrfan,” sums up actor Nimrat Kaur in a choked voice over a telephone call. Irrfan Khan’s co-star in the award-winning and cult film The Lunchbox, Kaur, like many others who are grieving the loss of this thespian actor, is having a hard time coming to terms with the fact that Khan is no more. A man of few words, Khan rightfully claimed the spotlight with his nuanced acting, soulful baritone and the power to connect with his audiences. 

The actor passed away on Wednesday, April 29, 2020 at Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital, Mumbai. Khan was admitted to the hospital due to a colon infection. The Angrezi Medium actor was diagnosed with neuroendocrine tumour in 2018, and spent a considerable amount of the year in London undergoing treatment, battling this rare disease with great willpower. 

An actor extraordinaire, Khan, who always wanted to entertain people, but with some substance, has truly left a void in the world of Indian and international cinema. He was a force to be reckoned with, with his power packed performances in productions such as Oscar-winning Life of Pi and Slumdog Millionaire, and commercial-hit Jurassic World. In the Indian film industry, Khan carved a niche by taking on roles that other actors often shied away from, always uncaring of box-office success. He once famously said, “I can’t think of a more pathetic situation for an actor than to do a film and not connect to it. And I pray to God that I never face that situation.” And he never had to.

Actor Irrfan Khan’s 30-year-long film career began with Mira Nair’s Salaam Bombay! Khan went on to become one of the most recognised Indian actor internationally. His success in crossover films—The Namesake, Inferno and The Amazing Spider-Man—paved the way for many young Indian actors to prove their mettle in Hollywood. 

Speaking about how Khan transitioned from reel to real with his deeply introspective and impactful relationship with the camera, Kaur explains, “He was the face of Indian cinema. All Indian films can be kept on one side, Irrfan’s films will be on the other.” 

Characters were like form-fitting jackets for Khan, whether it was Kumar in the television series Banegi Apni Baat or Rana Chaudhry in Piku. His most endearing role for many so far has been of Saajan Fernandes in The Lunchbox. Nimrat Kaur who played his co-star in the film says, “I can’t believe we are talking about him in the past tense. Irrfan’s death is a personal loss to anyone who has been associated with him, whether it was watching his film, or as someone who had a cup of coffee with him.” With the kind of outpour of love coming in from Bollywood and cinema lovers, Khan who once said, “The day I become conventional, something inside me will die”, has indeed gone away early. From his silent expressions to his comic timings and his gritty demeanour, Khan brought alive his characters as Monty, Saajan Fernandes, Maqbool, Bilu and more.

Shoojit Sircar, director of Piku took to Twitter to express his grief:

Khan’s family issued a statement on his passing: “‘I trust, I have surrendered’; These were the some of the many words that Irrfan expressed in a heartfelt note he wrote in 2018 opening up about his fight with cancer. And a man of few words and an actor of silent expressions with his deep eyes and his memorable actions on screen. It’s saddening that this day, we have to bring forward the news of him passing away. Irrfan was a strong soul, someone who fought till the very end and always inspired everyone who came close to him. After having been struck by lightning in 2018 with the news of a rare cancer, he took life soon after as it came and he fought the many battles that came with it. Surrounded by his love, his family for whom he most cared about, he left for heaven abode, leaving behind truly a legacy of his own. We all pray and hope that he is at peace. And to resonate and part with his words he had said, ‘As if I was tasting life for the first time, the magical side of it.’” Irrfan Khan is survived by his wife, Sutapa Sikdar, and their sons Ayan and Babil. Khan and his family lost his mother Saeda Begum on Saturday, April 25, 2020.

For all of us who need to cope with this loss, here’s a lineup of Irrfan Khan’s movies and his iconic characters and performances that are etched in our memories:

1. Saajan Fernandes in

The Lunchbox

"Sometimes the wrong train takes u to the right destination."
A sullen widower, Khan, who depends on Mumbai’s dabbawala service for his afternoon meals from a tiffin service, ends up getting a lunchbox from a housewife and brings to life an unconventional love story. 

2. Ashoke Ganguli in

The Namesake

“Remember that you and I made the journey and went together to a place where there was nowhere left to go.”
A book by the Russian author Nikolai Gogol saves young Ashoke Ganguli’s life in a train crash, a moment that he carries with him till the end. A striking chemistry and a quiet romance between Khan and Tabu and his struggle to live the American Dream for himself and his son is what makes this film a must-watch. 

3. Champak Bansal in

Angrezi Medium

“Aadmi ka sapna toot jaata hai na, toh aadmi khatam ho jaata hai.”
Khan’s impeccable comic timing balanced with complex emotions of a father who is willing to do anything to provide for his daughter’s higher education is the highlight of the film. 

4. Rana Chaudhry in Piku

"Death aur shit...yeh do cheezen kisi ko, kahin bhi, kabhi bhi aa sakti hai."
A young nondescript yet charming entrepreneur, Rana Chaudhry is stuck between a father and daughter, but succeeds to bring the two closer. Khan plays Chaudhry and makes the character the perfect foil for the father-daughter relationship to blossom and evolve.

5. Paan Singh Tomar in

Paan Singh Tomar

“Beehad mein toh ‘Baaghi’ hote hain, ‘Dakait’ milte hain parliament mein!”
An Indian soldier who was also an athlete turned into a rebel in Chambal trying to provide for his family and community. Khan’s evocative performance as a man trying to make ends meet and survive in a land filled with political strife has you feeling sorry and, at the same time, cheering him on.

6. Maqbool in


Based on Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Maqbool is the story of a henchman to a crime lord. Khan’s performance in this critically-acclaimed film will even have the Bard give him a standing ovation.

7. Roohdaar in


“Aap jism hai, main rooh. Aap faani hai, main lafaani.”
Roohdaar in the film, is equivalent to the ghost in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, who warns the young protagonist about his uncle’s betrayal.

Featured image: Courtesy


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