Irrfan Khan’s legacy is still being understood: Riz Ahmed Riz Ahmed (Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images)
Oscar-nominated actor Riz Ahmed lists The Warrior (2001), Maqbool (2003), and The Lunchbox (2013), as the films that made him a fan of screen icon Irrfan Khan whose legacy he believes is still being understood.
The Sound of Metal (2019) star has time and again professed admiration for Irrfan, one of India’s finest and most versatile actors who died after a battle with a rare form of cancer in April 2020.
In January, Ahmed paid rich tributes to the late actor in his acceptance speech when he won the best actor honour for Sound of Metal at the Gotham Awards 2021.
In a Zoom interview with PTI from Los Angeles, Ahmed spoke fondly about Irrfan’s legacy as an actor and how he played a crucial role in bridging the gap between the Indian film industry and the West.
“I think Irrfan’s legacy is still being understood. I don’t really think there had been an actor like him until he came along. By that, I mean someone who seamlessly managed to bridge Bollywood and Hollywood, independent films and commercial films, in two languages and across the two biggest film industries in the world,” the 39-year-old British-Pakistani actor said.
“I don’t think that there’s been any like that before him or since, and that’s something quite profound when you really think about the impact of that culturally. He has made the world a slightly smaller place. He made it a more joined-up place,” he added.
Riz Ahmed, who has built a rich body of work in cinema with his films and shows like The Reluctant Fundamentalist (2012), Nightcrawler (2014), Rogue One (2016), Venom (2018), and The Sister Brothers (2018), said Irrfan’s magic existed in “his grace, his dignity and his power as an actor”.
He believes Khan was one of those gifted artistes who could slip into any character and at the same time, offer a glimpse of their own self. “Just those eyes… I remember seeing him for the first time in The Warrior. I remember seeing him in The Lunchbox. I remember seeing him in Maqbool. I remember seeing him in Life of Pi (2012). And each time, the way that he could just be so unapologetically himself and still transform. That’s the realm of actors like Philip Seymour Hoffman who can transform while still revealing themselves,” Ahmed said.
The actor said he considers Irrfan a “guiding light” for a generation of people. “I think he’s really a guiding light for a whole generation of people around the world. I think we were lucky to have been alive in a time when he was creating.”
Ahmed said he has been ardently following Indian cinema and its many screen icons since his childhood. “Whether you go back to Dilip Kumar or to the current date when you have Nawazuddin (Siddiqui). I think there’s like Aamir Khan in the middle. I think there is obviously such an amazing kind of rich history of incredible screen icons. That is so exciting. I have grown up watching and always take an interest in their work,” Ahmed said.
He stressed that he is looking forward to more Indian talent that will “bridge those two worlds and those two industries”. “I think we’re going to see more of that going forward. Certainly, this is the kind of thing I’d like to make more in my company Left Handed Films,” the actor added.
Ahmed currently stars in filmmaker Michael Pearce’s sci-fi drama Encounter, directed by Michael Pearce. The film, which also features Octavia Spencer, Lucian-River Chauhan, and Aditya Geddada, will start streaming on Prime Video from December 10.