A series of forgettable roles in pedestrian TV serials and films followed, until Irrfan finally got the role that did justice to his huge talent—in Vishal Bharadwaj’s Maqbool. As the smouldering Indian Macbeth, caught between his loyalty to the boss and his longing for the boss’s moll, Irrfan had the audiences riveted. Then came a very different kind of role in Mira Nair’s The Namesake—as the gentle, introverted Bengali professor Ashoke, trying to make a life in an alien land. It won him rave reviews internationally. In both films, he impressed by his ability to inhabit the character, depicting the many layers and nuances with just a few words, facial expressions.
It’s an ability that extends to his comic roles as well, as he demonstrated in the light satire on TV culture, 7 1/2 Phere. Bollywood has found it difficult to keep pace with his chameleon-like personality or to accommodate his unconventional professional ambitions. Irrfan may never be a big mainstream star, but he is already an alternate idol, the one who will help young filmmakers narrate new stories in newer forms.