It was 12.30 Wednesday afternoon when actor Deepak Dobriyal woke up with a smile, having dreamt about his favourite actor only to find out that the cinematic giant was no more. Irrfan passed away on Wednesday morning after a two-year-long battle with cancer. As his Angrezi Medium co-star read the text message, the lines between his dream and reality blurred.
“I saw that I went to meet him in the hospital and we spoke and shared a few laughs. And he told me, ‘Don’t ever leave this, Deepak. Never stop making people laugh.’ And I replied to him, ‘Bhai, don’t worry. I will make sure you recover in two months.’ That’s when I woke up. And the next moment, I read the text about his demise… So, it was surreal for me. I wondered whether this news was the reality or the dream that I saw just moments before.”
Deepak and Irrfan first co-starred in Vishal Bhardwaj’s Maqbool (2003) but it was only 14 years later, in Hindi Medium, that the actors shared considerable screen space that forged a creative partnership and a solid friendship between them.
“He is like a brother to me. He loved me so much. Ahead of the release of Hindi Medium, there was a Holi party where he affectionately introduced me to everyone, calling me ‘his jaan’. Then he offered me Blackmail and Angrezi Medium. I was told that Irrfan needed me in every film. That was his conviction, his love or you call it respect between two artistes.”
No one on the set of Angrezi Medium could imagine they would be the last set of people that Irrfan would work with. Irrfan’s commitment, Deepak says, was such that no one would have known about his illness had it not been publicly known before the film’s shoot began.
“Dino (Dinesh Vijan, Angrezi Medium producer) and Homi (Adajani, director) had reserved 12.30 to 3 in the afternoon as Irrfan’s resting time on the set every day. But this man would finish his shot, have lunch, take a 15 minute break and stand back for the next shot. That was his level of commitment. He didn’t want any loss of time or money for the people he was working with.”
Irrfan’s death has pushed his co-star and friend into a state of restlessness, which will not leave him for a long time. Deepak says he took days to recover from his father’s demise a couple of years ago but the pain of losing a guru, it seems, has made a permanent home inside him.
“I feel lost. I can’t seem to regain normalcy. He took me somewhere else with his performances, expressions and the connection we shared. I am privileged to have been a part of his life. Of course your parents bring you into this world and raise you, but when you meet a person on your path, who is the best in the field, and whose footsteps you have followed till now, when he disappears, where do you go? I don’t know where to go from here.”
As he speaks about the spiritual bond that he came to develop with the late star, Deepak recollects how both of them would often share laughs discussing their days of long struggle in Hindi cinema.
“He was shortlisted to play the role of a policeman, who had to arrest a revolutionary. He told me how that actor, who was a star then, was dressed so well, had shiny hair, a departure from how a freedom fighter would look. The actor asked the production who was going to arrest him and when he saw a lanky Irrfan in baggy khakee clothes he said, ‘Common guys, this guy will arrest me? Show some respect!’ While Irrfan wondered what kind of a revolutionary put make up on his face and had beautiful hair! This is one of the innumerable things we used to talk and laugh about.”
Sharing laughter was a constant for the two friends. That’s also what Deepak calls his biggest achievement till date. “That I always entertained Irrfan. I never made him sad. That will always be my greatest achievement.”
Fans will remember him for his many on-screen avatars, those who knew him will stay with the memories of who he was to them, and so will Deepak in his own private way. But how does he want the world to remember him?
“Hain aur bhī duniya mein suḳhan-var bahut achchhe, kahte hain ki ‘ghalib’ kā hai andaz-e-bayan aur. Replace Ghalib by Irrfan. That’s how I would want people to remember him. He had broken all barriers… He showed us there was an alternate way to look at things, that we could stick to our methods. He taught us that if we knew how to overcome our weakness, we should not bother if people are laughing at us.”
Also read | Irrfan Khan passes away | Amitabh Bachchan, Kamal Haasan and others mourn the demise of Irrfan Khan | Indian film industry pays heartfelt tributes to Irrfan Khan | Everything Irrfan said about his battle with cancer | Hollywood celebrities pay tribute to Irrfan | Everything you should know about Irrfan’s life and career | Angrezi Medium director Homi Adajania pays tribute to Irrfan | Rohitashv Gour remembers NSD senior and friend Irrfan Khan | Irrfan’s NSD friends remember the actor | A pictorial tribute to Irrfan Khan
Deepak made a point to answer every journalist’s call, even though he paused more than he could speak, just so that the passing away of his dear Irrfan bhai sunk in. But the heart refuses to listen. “I didn’t believe it last night and I don’t believe it even now. I only believe the dream I saw.”
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