Decoding Irrfan Khan's most iconic looks and how they contributed to his characters, from The Lunchbox to Maqbool
Aside from being a thespian in a global film industry, late actor Irrfan Khan’s career thrived on character roles, which demanded that he slip into the skins of his cinematic alter-egos, beautifully bringing out their stories. In a filmography that spanned a little over three decades, Khan breathed life into a plethora of humans that required a deft hand at the craft, both with regard to his acting chops as well as his sartorial choices.
Never to be limited by a run-of-the-mill drudgery of your typical boy-next-door roles, Khan’s films gave him the opportunity to portray several unique personas – from Roohdaar in Vishal Bhardwaj’s Haider to Saajan Fernandez in the Ritesh Batra directorial The Lunchbox. Khan’s adept nature of embodying these quirky, often misunderstood and mostly unconventional characters, built an oeuvre that enthralled the world.
So, here’s taking a leaf out of Irrfan’s few films where his on-screen looks completely transformed to build real persons on celluloid.
Batra’s The Lunchbox smeared the cinematic canvas with the glories of a calm, Platonic love that even threatened to topple the oozing charm of innumerable passionate romantics portrayed by Shah Rukh Khan. Irrfan played Saajan Fernandez, a reticent Bandra resident, who lived life like it was a long string of math problems – mechanically going about them one after the other.
Fernandez was mostly seen in faded, pale shirts, buttoned right up to the neck (a staple cape adorned by Indian government employees) coupled with dark trousers and his signature boxed leather side-bag. The unimpressive light blue, and muted chocolate shirts had only a single embellishment – his spectacle case shining in proud gold, neatly tucked in his breast pocket. The complete look aided Khan in his depiction of the marvels that lay hidden beneath the mundanity of Saajan with a natural gravitas and understated humour it required.
Fernandez’s greying strands of hair was meticulously middle-parted and brought in place with frequent combing – an idiosyncrasy very typical of disgruntled employees of the state. Thin-rimmed glasses adorned Khan’s face to complete the character’s look. Every aspect about Saajan was mediocre – his clothes were never ill-fitted but neither did it accentuate Khan’s athletic frame. They hung just about right to elevate the drudgery that was his life.
Mira Nair beautifully captured the life story of Jhumpa Lahiri’s fictional world of Ashoke and Ashima Ganguli. Playing a Bengali couple thrust in the middle of an express, ever-changing, first world atmosphere, Irrfan and Tabu drew up a quiet, sensitive, slow love story.
Ashoke’s helplessness with his newly-wed bride in an unknown world, came through with his lanky frame, oversized t-shirts, and bulky jackets. Geeky glasses and a wavy flock of hair made Irrfan look like the quintessential Bengali man, overwhelmed by his first travel to the “foreign land.”
Throughout Ashoke’s young days, Khan’s long trench coats (to beat the harsh colds) and sumptuous mufflers sat awkwardly on the character’s frame, in order to depict the unfamiliarity with such hefty coverings. Always the simple man, Ashoke’s sartorial choices rarely had any fashion faux pas, as it seldom followed any trend. Authentic and retro, Khan’s look in The Namesake was reminiscent of the initial phases of NRI-dom, wrought with insecurities of being the ‘other.’
As the character grew older, Khan’s image in the film transformed to depict a more weathered-in shirt-trousers look that denoted the comfort with the days spent in the West.
Vishal Bhardwaj’s version of Macbeth was a storehouse of Bollywood’s avant-garde talent. Irrfan held his own as the titular character, and steered clear of any stereotypical portrayal of a Muslim underworld don. While Pankaj Kapur (who played the warlord in the film) went in for traditional symbols like hefty beards and kohl-rimmed eyes, Irrfan’s character only had two tiny earrings and a talisman to do the trick.
Through the course of the film, Maqbool’s character underwent a gradual shift from a colourful to a monotone palette in terms of dressage, in tandem with the gradual moral lapse in character. While in the beginning, Irrfan sports royal blue and black embroidered short kurtas, the latter half sees him mostly in whites and greys.
Life In A…Metro
Khan's Monty in Anurag Basu’s anthological film was quirky, crazy, and endearing. Honest to a fault and living on the edge, Monty was dreamily unaware of judgements of the people surrounding him. Khan portrayed the role with elan and succeeded in bringing out the contrast between his character as opposed to Konkona Sen Sharma’s goody-two-shoes, proper city girl Shruti.
Monty on celluloid was as bold as his arc on paper – bright pink and blue striped shirts with Rajesh Khanna-esque flappy collars, bright blue shirts adorned with contrasting ties and khaki green jackets were sported with utmost confidence. Monty was as unapologetic about his garish outfits as he was about mentoring Shruti on her self-esteem issues. Despite the unflattering clothes, Monty was a blob of heart, throbbing passionately for his loved ones.
Vishal Bhardwaj drew up a deep narrative through Irrfan’s Roohdaar in his adaptation of Shakespeare's Hamlet. Graced with a Pathani topi (cap), and Kashmiri Jubba overalls, the character stitched an epitome of mystique, almost like the voice of Haider’s (Shahid Kapoor) conscience. Khan spiced the role up with a visible limp, adding an element of deformity, almost as a symbolic representation of the protagonist’s penchant for the abnormal.
Roohdaar’s spirit loomed large over poignant performances by Tabu, KK Menon, and Shahid. But the man was created not only with low, husky tones and wayward, suspicious glances, but also through his black shades and monotone ensembles. As Roohdaar whispered about the deceits into Haider’s ears, audiences were taken by the man’s dangerous charm, all the while second-guessing his real motives.
Shoojit Sircar’s masterpiece was an example of realistic, nuanced set of characters strung in together within a wonderful story. Irrfan’s Rana Chaudhary was an embittered-yet-pure soul, going about his frustrating life, often haggled by an adamant mother-sister duo. His life took an unexpected turn when a road trip materialised into a budding romance with his employer Piku (Deepika Padukone). Straight-forward and logical, Rana sported simple casuals that ranged from checked shirts and brown khaki pants.
A smart duffle bag by his side, Rana’s exasperation with a cantankerous Bhashkor (Amitabh Bachchan) would often hide sneakily behind a pair of black shades. Not very fashion conscious, Khan’s character in the film had an aide in the form of his stoles, flung around the neck almost as an after-thought, yet so crucial in ascertaining his nonchalance.
Qarib Qarib Singlle
Probably one of Irrfan’s most bold performances (in terms of the choice of his clothes), Tanuja Chandra’s rom-com brought together Khan and Malayalam actress Parvathy Thiruvothu. Playing the role of Yogendra Kumar Devendra Nath Prajapati aka Yogi, Khan greeted his viewers with bright embroidered jackets in wine red and parrot green, and gamcha-printed lungis paired with shirts. Adorned by a handful of quirky wristbands and a black bowler hat, Khan’s Yogi was a jovial drifter, the perfect yan to Jaya Shashidharan’s (Parvathy) yin.
This bohemian look bolstered the film’s main plot, which was based on a road trip across the country with rendezvous with Yogi’s former flames.
Though the film failed to create a dent at the box office, Qarib Qarib Singlle brought forth Irrfan’s pizzazz as a confident fashionista.
Anup Singh’s 2013 Indian-German drama saw Irrfan as Umber Singh, a Sikh man obsessed with his desire for a male child. Qissa, set in the tumultuous times of the Partition, showcased the fears and insecurities of Umber, whose fixation turned him delusional enough to declare his daughter as a son in society. His proud yet warped demeanour was aptly portrayed through a prominent pagdi (the Sikh headgear) and generous amounts of facial hair (as is common for men of the religion). Dull Pathani kurtas along with a trademark loosely tied lungi (or ill-fitted pants) did the job well, though Khan completed his look with a rugged shawl.
Umber wore mostly earthy tones, symbolic of his grounded rigidity. The look was keenly kept uncoordinated to bring about a sense of nonchalance, almost as if it was curated without any particular thought (as would be the case considering the times and circumstances).
Asif Kapadia’s 2001 film was arguably Irrfan’s breakthrough moment, turning the focus to his complete transformation into a Rajasthani warrior.
Khan played the powerful role of Lafcadia, the erstwhile servant and hitman to a brutal warlord. Dressed in heavily veiled headgears that had long trails covering his face, Khan donned a metallic sheath, safely covering his upper body (a trademark armour worn by soldiers) with a leather belt carefully housing his sword. A simple khaki half kurta and a pair of faded cream Afghani pants were all that his character wore through most of the film. The actor even sported long tendrils of hair, often equated with a warrior’s pride.
Saket Chaudhury’s comedy was as hilarious as it was bizarre and Khan’s Raj Batra was as outlandish as a wannabe socialite in Delhi could get. Batra donned silk embroidered cravats with three-piece suits and leather jackets oozing the coolth of premium global brands. But with the shift in narrative, the stylish suede pants gave in to faded cotton kameez and kurtas, loosely hanging on Khan’s lean frame.
Hindi Medium was to be a commentary on the warped educational system in the country, and Khan more than managed to bring that out through his outfits.
(All images from Twitter)
Updated Date: May 06, 2020 11:49:54 IST
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