Tag Archives: Life of Pi

Irrfan, Because He Liked the Sound of the Extra R

Sahabzade Irfan Ali Khan was studying for his MA degree when he won a scholarship to study at the National School of Drama (NSD) in New Delhi in 1984. The young man from Tonk, Rajasthan had a single R in his name. He was Irfan.

In 2012, he changed the spelling of his name and became Irrfan Khan. Khan had recently received the Padma Shri, India’s fourth-highest civilian honor for his contribution to the field of arts. He had garnered the National Film Award for Best Actor in the 60th National Film Awards 2012.

He said he liked the sound of the extra “r” in his name.

His first offer out of drama school seemed a plump one. He was a final year student at NSD in 1988 when Mira Nair chose him for a role in Salaam Bombay. We never saw him in Salaam Bombay because his role was edited out in the final film.

Slowly Irrfan unfurled across our screens, an unlikely hero. He did not seem to have sex appeal. He spoke casually on screen, as if he was seated beside you and was not a celluloid dream weaver, whispering comments into your ear as a fellow audience member. As he caught one’s attention more and more, the audience hungered to go to the movies with him.

About him, Danny Boyle said, “he has an instinctive way of finding the “moral center” of any character, so that in Slumdog, we believe the policeman might actually conclude that Jamal is innocent. Boyle compares him to an athlete who can execute the same move perfectly over and over. “It’s beautiful to watch.”

His stride into Hollywood did not make a splash like Priyanka Chopra’s. He casually sauntered across the continents and when we saw him in Life of Pi we were not surprised at all.

“Why do Hollywood filmmakers always pick Irrfan Khan for their movies? Why don’t they pick SRK, Salman Khan, or Amir Khan even, being the biggest of Bollywood?” asked Dipesh Doshi an avid moviegoer.

He just remains terribly interesting.

His appeal as a fellow audience member may explain the respect with which the media has honored his request to give him privacy while he sorts out his medical issue. He commands their respect sure but the real deal is that they love him as a brother.

His wife reassured his fellow travelers on the celluloid journey.

“My best friend and my partner is a ‘warrior’ he is fighting every obstacle with tremendous grace and beauty. I apologize for not answering calls msgs, but I want all of you to know I am truly humbled indebted forever for the wishes prayers and concern from all over the world. I am grateful to God and my partner for making me a warrior too. I am at present focused on the strategies of the battlefield which I have to conquer.


It wasn’t and isn’t and is not going to be easy but the hope ignited by the magnitude of family, friends, and fans of Irrfan has made me only optimistic and almost sure of the victory.


I know curiosity germinates from concern but let’s turn our curiosity from what it is to what it should be. Let’s change the leaf.


Let’s not waste our precious energies to only know what it is and just pray to make it what it should be.


My humble request to all of you is to concentrate on the song of life, to dance of life to victory.


My family will soon join in this dance of life.


Thank you all from the bottom of our heart.


Sutapa irrfan babil ayaan.”

The return of Irrfan with the two RRs was awaited. You never came back. We waited. The last farewell in Angrezi Medium still hurts. Irfan Khan passed away on April 29, 2020, after being admitted to the ICU for a colon infection.

Ritu Marwah is a 2020 California reporting and engagement fellow at USC Annenberg’s Center for Health Journalism.

This article was originally published on March 12, 2018.

Top 5 Desi Netflix Movies to Watch

Top 5 Desi Netflix Movies to Watch

Since its founding in 1997, Bay Area’s Netflix has come a long way.  From pioneering the DVD-by-mail model, the fast-growing company expanded into streaming on demand.  With a global presence, the firm now has 94 million global subscribers, which include 49 million subscriptions in the U.S.  The only places Netflix is not available is mainland China, North Korea, Syria and Crimea. While the pie-in-the sky goal of finger-tip entertainment on demand—virtually being able to watch any movie at any time— is still on the horizon, Netflix, along with competitors Amazon, Hulu and other streaming services, are rushing towards that future.  Even though Netflix’s online content at times appears alarmingly heavy with Netflix-produced entries, the company is a force to reckon with.  In Netflix’s expanding offerings from India, here are some noteworthy movies worth catching up to. Full disclosure: During Netflix’s infancy, I freelanced to write online movie reviews.

Umrika (2015, 96 mins., Hindi with English sub-titles)

Umrika, Sundance Film Festival
A rare Indian entry to premier at the Sundance Film Festival, Prashant Nair’s critically acclaimed dark comedy Umrika is an astute and surprisingly insightful virtual mirror of how some non-Americans, in this case impressionable villagers in a remote Indian hamlet, view America.   Nair’s movie takes cues from a series of letters—veritable postcards—written by a villager who has gone to America to his family back home. It’s when the letters stop mysteriously that things get a little haywire.  Featuring Suraj Sharma (Life of Pi), as the youth who sets out in search of his America-bound older brother (Prateek Babbar), there is also a great best-friend role, played by Tony Revolori (The Grand Budapest Hotel).  Set in the 1980s, the concise story-telling taps everything from Indira Gandhi’s funeral and the Challenger explosion to the Indian villagers’ hilariously spot-on takes on American cultural touchstones such as Halloween and Thanksgiving.

Parched (2015, 118 mins., Hindi with English sub-titles)Parched Movie
Directed by Leena Yadav and produced by Ajay Devgan, Parched is a jolting, non-squeamish and beautifully bittersweet calibration of the lives of four women in a rustic, ethnically vibrant and often harsh Rajasthan setting. Oppressed, victimized and mostly written off as no-good bystanders against the stone wall of male hegemony in their neo-feudal universe, the women struggle—often by a mere thread—to keep their humanity intact. The brilliant and bawdy script—an amalgam of western Hindi and Gujarati—empowers budding, even behind-closed-doors, exploration of both their sexuality and contemplation of the possible demise of their victimhood.   Lead by Tannishtha Chatterjee, who spearheads as Lajjo, a young struggling widow, Radhika Apte as Lajjo’s friend with an abusive husband, Surveen Chawla as their friend who wears her firebrand village whore rep like a lapel pin and Lehar Khan as the teen-age bride of Lajjo’s teen-age son, Parched quenches on so many levels.

Sairat (2016, 174 mins., Marathi with English sub-titles) Noted Marathi filmmaker Nagraj Manjule’s Sairat (loosely meaning “wild”) became a runaway hit and the all-time highest grossing Marathi language movie.  Nearly three hours long yet never boring, it starts out harmlessly by serving up a college romance between Prashant/Parshya (Akash Thosar), he from the fish-monger family, and Archana/Archi (Rinku Rajguru), she from the upper-crust landed gentry. Unable to bridge the gaping socio-economic divide between their backgrounds, Parshya and Archi elope, incurring the wrath of Archi’s politically-connected father (Suresh Vishwakarma).  Told mostly as a romance and action adventure of their lives on the run, this could easily be a run of the mill re-dressing of the Raj Kapoor hit Bobby (1973). By going just one step further, however, Tinku Rajguru), she from the upper-crust landed gentry. Unable to bridge the gaping socio-economic divide between their backgrounds, Parshya and Archi elope, incurring the wrath of Archi’s politically-connected father (Suresh Vishwakarma).  Told mostly as a romance and action adventure of their lives on the run, this could easily be a run of the mill re-dressing of the Raj Kapoor hit Bobby (1973). By going just one step further, however, Sairat becomes a solemn reflection of sweeping themes from contemporary rural Indian sociology that includes the clash between Old India and New India. Karan Johar has already acquired rights for the Hindi remake.

1,000 Rupee Note: Ek Hazarchi Note (2014, 89 mins., Marathi with English sub-titles)

1,000 Rupee Note (Ek Hazarchi Note)
In Shrihari Sathe’s 1,000 Rupee Note nothing much appears to be happening and yet there is so much going on. An elderly single woman, whose name is Parvati (Usha Naik) who goes by Budhi (“old”) in her Maharastra village, lives by herself, is impoverished and makes ends meet by scrubbing floors. Budhi’s daily joy is making a steaming cup of chai, which she invites her benevolent neighbor Sudama (Sandeep Pathak) to share. At a political rally, Budhi unwittingly ends up in a line where the politician is handing out money to the attendees—an outright bribe just outside the reach of rolling cameras—and walks away with several 1,000 rupee notes. Perplexed and also excited by the unexpected windfall, and with her kindly neighbor Sudama in tow, Budhi goes on a shopping spree. Sathe’s staging of village street scenes often bring to mind Shyam Benegal’s agrarian dramas from the 1970s. For Budhi, the life lesson that follows is a poignant morality tale outlined simply and with lasting impression.

Amal (2007, 103 mins., Hindi and English with English sub-titles)
Amal, MovieIndian-Canadian filmmaker Richie Mehta’s well-received film debut was a superb reflection on the heart and soul of Amal (Rupinder Nagra), a Delhi rickshaw driver, who unknowingly becomes the focus of a city wide figurative man-hunt. Both the good guys—Naseedurin Shah’s cranky reclusive billionaire with a fortune to bequeath —and bad guys—thieves and murderers—are after Amal when fate leads to his being named the beneficiary of the reclusive billionaire’s vast fortune. Similar in feel to Peter Sellers in Being There, Amal triumphs as a monument to those humans whose humanity screams silently simply because they always speak the truth.  With Seema Biswas in support, Mehta’s movie has retained its ability to draw the viewer into the one-track life of the rickshaw driver.  The poorest of men can indeed live the richest of lives.


Globe trekker, aesthete, photographer, ski bum, film buff, and commentator, Aniruddh Chawda writes from Milwaukee.