Irrfan Khan, Bollywood Star at Home in Hollywood, Dies at 53

NEW DELHI — Irrfan Khan, the celebrated Indian actor who became a crossover star in Hollywood, died on Wednesday in Mumbai. He was 53.

His death was confirmed by a spokesman. Mr. Khan had cancer and was admitted to a hospital in Mumbai for a colon infection last week, the spokesman said.

Mr. Khan started his career playing small roles on Indian television in the 1980s. He later found critical and commercial success with roles in Hollywood movies like “The Namesake,” Mira Nair’s 2006 drama based on a Jhumpa Lahiri novel about Indian immigrants in America, and two films that won multiple Oscars: Danny Boyle’s “Slumdog Millionaire” (2008), which won the best picture award, and Ang Lee’s “Life of Pi” (2012).

He also appeared in blockbusters like “Jurassic World” (2015) and the screen adaptation of Dan Brown’s “Inferno” (2016).

Mr. Khan, who was at home in both commercial and art-house projects, stood out in Bollywood for his versatility and his nuanced performances. He first gained the notice of international audiences in the BAFTA-winning film “The Warrior” (2001), in which he had the lead role of a renegade warrior in feudal India.

In India, he was best known for his performances in “Maqbool,” “Haasil,” “Paan Singh Tomar,” “Piku,” “The Lunchbox” and “Hindi Medium.”

His portrayal of a man investigating a double homicide in the 2015 Hindi movie “Talvar” prompted Rachel Saltz of The New York Times to write: “Mr. Khan is this movie’s best weapon. Playing a familiar character type, the world-weary detective, he gives a performance, full of small, sly details, that doesn’t seem familiar at all.”

Prime Minister Narendra Modi wrote on Twitter that Mr. Khan’s death “is a loss to the world of cinema and theater,” adding, “He will be remembered for his versatile performances across different mediums.”

Irrfan Khan was born Sahabzade Irfan Ali Khan on Jan. 7, 1967, one of four children of Saeeda Begum and Yaseen Khan, a middle-class couple in the northern state of Rajasthan. He described his childhood as a happy one of kite flying, cricket playing and hunting trips with his father.

His father died when Mr. Khan was 18. He said his mother had hoped that he would carry on with the family tire business in Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan, and stay close to home. But Mr. Khan had other plans.

He won a coveted spot in the theater program of the prestigious National School of Drama in New Delhi and never looked back.

In March 2018, he was told that he had a rare neuroendocrine tumor and spent several months in London undergoing treatment. He disclosed the news of his illness in a statement on Twitter shortly after his diagnosis.

Mr. Khan appeared to have recovered from the cancer and in 2019 started shooting his last film, “Angrezi Medium,” a sequel to his 2017 hit “Hindi Medium.” It was released last month, shortly before the coronavirus lockdown started in India, but Mr. Khan was not part of the promotion for the film.

He is survived by his wife, Sutapa Sikdar, and their two sons.

In a message released with the trailer for “Angrezi Medium,” Mr. Khan said: “I truly wanted to promote this film as passionately as we made it, but there are some ‘unwanted guests’ in my body and they’re keeping me busy. I’ll keep you informed on that front.”


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