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Wednesday, September 22, 2021

In Rashid Irani, Mumbai loses an ardent cinema lover, film critic, poet and much more

It came as a rude shock to the city’s film and culture circles when 74-year-old Irani’s body was recovered from the bathroom of his Dhobi Talao home on Monday afternoon.

Written by Alaka Sahani , Sagar Rajput | Mumbai |
Updated: August 3, 2021 10:42:58 am
Rashid Irani passed away, Rashid irani, Indian expressIrani was found unconscious inside his bathroom. Police rushed him to JJ hospital where he was declared dead before admission.(Twitter/@mumbaipressclub)

IN many charming ways, Rashid Irani — a much-respected film critic, a book lover and working partner of a quaint Irani café — represented the old world and spirit of Mumbai.

It came as a rude shock to the city’s film and culture circles when 74-year-old Irani’s body was recovered from the bathroom of his Dhobi Talao home on Monday afternoon.

Irani, who suffered from Covid last year and had multiple health issues, lived alone in a house that’s famously packed with nearly 5,000 books but had very few household items. When he didn’t show up at his regular haunts in Mumbai for two or three days, his close friend and photographer Rafeeq Ellias informed the police and they broke his door at 5.30 pm on Monday.

The Azad Maidan police station has registered a case of accidental death. Senior police inspector Bhushan Belnekar said: “They found him (Irani) unconscious inside his bathroom. We rushed him to JJ hospital where he was declared dead before admission.”

Irani, who for the last five decades followed cinema dedicatedly, shared a long association with the Mumbai Film Festival as a member of its Selection Committee.

Smriti Kiran, artistic director, Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival, said: “It is hard to imagine MAMI without Rashid. He is, in fact, such an integral part of the cinematic history of the city. But he hated technology as much as he loved the movies. Just five days back we were all ecstatic that he got on his life’s first Zoom call. We called it a ‘technological breakthrough’.” Kiran described Irani as a “quiet, consistent, unassuming tastemaker”.

Kiran described Irani as a “quiet, consistent, unassuming tastemaker”.

Writer-director Barnali Ray Shukla, who was part of the MAMI selection committee during 2010-12 along with him, remembered Irani being “fond of the humanitarian filmmakers from Japan”.

Ray Shukla also mentioned his love for Iranian and South American filmmakers. “He disliked any kind of gimmicks and didn’t take time to move on to assured filmmaking that’s not in a rush to prove its style. The cinematic exposition was important for him and verbose films put him off. What he valued was the empathy and the art in the way a film director would engage in evoking rather than provoking,” she says.

The Press Club Mumbai called Irani, whose reviews have appeared in several national dailies, “one of the pillars” of their “film society”. Senior film and theatre critic Deepa Gahlot, Deepa Gahlot, said Irani’s writing reflected his “honesty and knowledge of cinema that he came by from reading and watching copiously”.

Irani was a regular at several Indian festivals, including the ones held in Goa, Kerala, and Kolkata. Years ago, Gahlot remembers running into him often at the screenings of Alliance Française’s film club, which he frequented. He was an active participant in the film society movement in Mumbai in the 70s under the initiative of Basu Chatterjee.

Before he turned into an avid watcher of movies, mainly international cinema, Irani was a trained accountant who worked in a shipping company. Other than cinema, Irani’s biggest love was books. He collected books, magazines, journals. Kiran says, “Irani had mountains of books and papers at his home that he didn’t want to be moved.” In the pre-pandemic days, he would often be spotted at Kitab Khana, Fort.

Ray Shukla says, “All the staff members at Kitab Khana knew Rashid and the titles he bought, not only for himself but as gifts.” Irani, a partner of Irani restaurant Brabourne on Mumbai’s Princess Street, also had a special love for poetry.

Almost always seen dressed in a bush shirt, a pair of loose trousers, and chappals, Rashid often carried with him a bottle of water, newspaper, and umbrella. “He would keep leaving the umbrella in various places, mostly cabs, and say: ‘Hopefully, someone needy will get it’,” Ray Shukla fondly recalled.

“In the pre-pandemic days, we would end up meeting once a month for Press Club’s film screenings. Prior to the screening, we would definitely have an hour for adrak chai without sugar. We would talk mostly about films,” remembers the writer-director.

The lockdown last year had restricted Irani’s social interactions. He said in an interview last year that he missed human contact.

Irani’s funeral will be held on Tuesday at Dungerwady Tower of Silence, Kemp’s Corner, at 11 am.

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