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Irrfan Khan's Fashion In His Movies Mirrored The Sensibilities Of Common Men With Uncommon Stories


There's a scene in Mira Nair's, Salaam Bombay! (1988) where you wouldn't notice Irrfan Khan as a star but as an actor. In the movie, he played the role of a young teenage boy helping a poor and scrawny street kid in sending a letter to his family. Wearing an unassuming collared checkered shirt, Irrfan judges this 7-8-year-old boy with his intense expression. Irrfan is mildly irritated and asks the boy his home address. Later, when the boy leaves, Irrfan remarks, 'Pata nahi kaha kaha se aa jate hain (Don't know where they all come from)." Having watched the film recently, the dialogue had an impact not because it was delivered by Irrfan Khan but because the dialogue was so relevant, common, and depicted the reality. On the second thought, this exact genuineness and earthiness is what Irrfan Khan showed us on-screen.

For the film, Salaam Bombay! Mira Nair noticed him at NSD (National School of Drama) but because of weight issues, she couldn't offer him a big role in the movie. However, she was impressed by his intensity and focus. Since then, Irrfan Khan has struggled and oscillated between small roles and cameos, before he got to work in Vishal Bhardwaj's Maqbool. The movie was based on Macbeth by Shakespeare and Irrfan Khan shared screen space with Pankaj Kapur, Om Puri, Tabu, and Naseeruddin Shah- the industry's best. He played the lead role of a character named Maqbool (an aspiring underworld don) in the movie. Often in his black-toned kurta-pyjama and sometimes in his jacket and trousers, with this movie, Irrfan Khan had set the tone of what common, unembellished India looks like.

Irrfan Khan's movies brought out rooted characters and his clothes in those movies often mirrored that. For instance, his Namesake (also directed by Mira Nair and where he earned a significant role) talked about the struggle of first-generation immigrants. Irrfan played the role of a father and husband in the movie and in his crisp shirt and pants, a pair of spectacles, and a brown satchel bag hung on his shoulder, he made us notice his nuanced performance. Namesake had put Irrfan Khan on an international platform and subsequently, he has been a part of Hollywood films too like Inferno. Life of Pi and Slumdog Millionaire were his other significant International films among other overseas films. However, coming back to the Indian cinema, what surprised us the most was how effortlessly he transitioned in his de-glam roles and offered us versatility.

In 7 Khoon Maaf with Priyanka Chopra Jonas in the lead, Irrfan played one of her seven husbands. This time, his fashion was quite eye-catching and in tune with the Kashmiri sensibilities. He was a poet and professor in the movie with a dark side balanced by the soft exterior. His fashion in the movie marked by pheran, jacket and kurtas combination, warm shawls, and quintessential black caps worn by poets, made his character even more intriguing and a departure from the usual faces that we see. In Haider as well, he donned muted-toned thick shawl and pheran, but this time, his black-hued shades and round elevated cap added depth to his character. He was a member of a separatist group in Haider.

He looked convincing as a poet and separatist party member but he looked equally powerful in his role in Qissa. He played the role of a man of Sikh faith in the movie and his turban, kurta pyjama, and plain shawl transformed his character. Irrfan Khan has been one of the rare actors, who could easily switch back and forth between art-house cinema and commercial cinema. But he also played the characters, which were between the two extreme forms of cinema. For example, his role as an owner of a taxi driver business in Piku was so impressive. His character in the movie was light and had dry humour. Irrfan's wardrobe in the movie consisted of a simple shirt, jacket, and trousers/jeans and this time too, he played a simple man but with urban sensibilities. Similarly, in Qarib Qarib Singlle, he is the quirky man, who meets a widowed woman through a dating app. His character is again light and more colourful. With his colour-blocked jackets and trousers, often in the shades of mustards, pinks, and browns to his elaborate patterned shirts, Irrfan in the movie is a treat. And who can forget his white shirt-kurta and mustard-striped, green, and red dhoti with an orange scarf in Rishikesh scene from the movie? His therapeutic sandals are funny and with this outfit of his, Irfaan communicated a lot about his character.

His comic roles extended to Hindi Medium, where he even goes on to try high-end branded clothes after being insisted by his wife in the movie. He sported overwhelming layers of branded clothes and explained to us how most of the middle-class people see the rich class people. Angrezi Medium was his last movie and in the movie too, he kept the legacy of a common Indian man alive with his earthy-hued kurtas, striped pastel shades, and patterned clothes.

Irrfan Khan's film legacy has been rich and he has inspired so many artists and actors across the nation with his acting prowess. His fashion in the movies has represented the common Indian man. He touched us with so many characters. RIP, Irrfan Khan!