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An important figure in Indian film and television since the early 1990s, actor Irrfan Khan brought complexity and depth to lead and supporting roles in Bollywood films like "The Warrior" (2001), "Rog" (2005) and "Billu" (2007) before making the leap to Western entertainment with memorable supporting roles in "A Mighty Heart" (2007), "Slumdog Millionaire" (2008) and the HBO series "In Treatment" (2008-2010). For over a decade, Khan toiled as a character actor on television series and in independent features, essaying men whose intense emotions often contrasted sharply with their reserved outer shells; after his breakthrough as a feudal mercenary who suffers a crisis of conscience in the award-winning "Warrior," he moved into more significant parts, eventually making the leap to leading man with the noir-influenced "Rog" (2005). His unconventional looks and heartfelt performances, which won critical notices around the globe, made an impact on the leading men of the day, who began to move away from the traditional Bollywood fluff and focus on grittier work to reap the same rewards. Khan's consistently solid performances also earned the attention of the West, and his turns as flinty men of authority and...
An important figure in Indian film and television since the early 1990s, actor Irrfan Khan brought complexity and depth to lead and supporting roles in Bollywood films like "The Warrior" (2001), "Rog" (2005) and "Billu" (2007) before making the leap to Western entertainment with memorable supporting roles in "A Mighty Heart" (2007), "Slumdog Millionaire" (2008) and the HBO series "In Treatment" (2008-2010). For over a decade, Khan toiled as a character actor on television series and in independent features, essaying men whose intense emotions often contrasted sharply with their reserved outer shells; after his breakthrough as a feudal mercenary who suffers a crisis of conscience in the award-winning "Warrior," he moved into more significant parts, eventually making the leap to leading man with the noir-influenced "Rog" (2005). His unconventional looks and heartfelt performances, which won critical notices around the globe, made an impact on the leading men of the day, who began to move away from the traditional Bollywood fluff and focus on grittier work to reap the same rewards. Khan's consistently solid performances also earned the attention of the West, and his turns as flinty men of authority and gravitas in "Heart," the Oscar-winning "Slumdog," and "In Treatment" made him one of his native country's most accomplished cultural exports.
Born Sahabzade Irrfan Ali Khan in the city of Jaipur on Nov. 30, 1962, Irrfan Khan was the oldest son of a wealthy, conservative Muslim family led by his father, Jagirdar Khan, who owed a tire dealership, and his mother, Sayeeda Begum. He developed a fascination for the socially conscious Indian films of the 1960s and 1970s, but realized that a career in acting would clash with his family's wishes. While pursuing an MFA at a college in Jaipur in 1984, he discovered that a slot had opened at the National School of Drama in New Dehli. The pressure to support his family had intensified due to the death of his father that year, but Khan also knew that he would never forgive himself for passing on the opportunity. He left college with the intent of learning the craft of acting. However, the experience proved to be less than enlightening. Acting in India was rooted in ancient theatrical traditions that could develop a student's ability to perform in classical texts, but had little information on how to tackle modern roles and media like film and television. Khan decided to create his own curriculum by studying performances of Western actors like Robert De Niro and Marlon Brando. In his final year at the National School, he was cast as a letter writer in Mira Nair's "Salaam Bombay!" (1988), though his role was trimmed to cameo length by the time it was released to theaters.
After graduation, his main means of support came from theater and television, where he played a wide variety of roles - from vengeful office workers and low-rent thugs to Makdoom Mohiuddin, the famed poet and political activist, on an episode of the anthology series "Kahkashan" (DD National, 1991-92). There were also roles in features like the award-winning "Ek Doctor Ki Maut" ("Death of a Doctor") (1990) and "Such a Long Journey" (1998), which featured Roshan Seth and Om Puri - two Indian actors who would precede Khan in gaining a Western foothold in films - but few of these were seen by a wide audience. His big break came nearly two decades after his debut in "The Warrior" (2001), a British-French-German historical action-drama filmed in India, with Khan as Lafcadia, a former mercenary for a sadistic feudal lord who renounces his violent ways. The film, directed by British-Indian filmmaker Asif Kapadia, received near-universal acclaim, including the Alexander Korda Award for Best British Film from the British Academy Film Awards, though it was shut out from Oscar recognition as Best Foreign Language because its main language, Hindi, was not widely recognized as native to England.
The success of "The Warrior" led to more major supporting role in Indian features for Khan. Initially, he was cast primarily as villains, like his trigger-happy gang member in the action-drama "Haasil" (2003), which earned him the Filmfare Award for Best Performance in a Negative Role. A gallery of unsavory types soon followed, from the rich drug addict married to a mysterious young woman in "Chehraa" (2005) to a vengeful mob hitman who employed a cab driver to assist him in his murder spree in "The Killer" (2006), a Bollywood remake of "Collateral" (2004). But as Khan's profile grew with each subsequent feature, so did the diversity of his characters. Audiences recognized a deep well of emotional resonance in his performances, even in the most scurrilous of characters, causing producers to select him for roles that reflected that quality. In "Maqbool" (2004), he was Shakespeare's "Macbeth" transformed into an ambitious underworld lieutenant in Bombay, while "Rog" (2005) marked his debut as a leading man in an Indian take on the classic noir "Laura" (1944). Khan's soulful, deep-set eyes and quiet reserve made him a natural for doomed romantic leads, such as his heartsick lover who discovered that the plane affording him escape from a troubled relationship is bound for the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001 in "Yun Hota Toh Kya Hota" (2006). He also excelled at playing men of authority whose status barely concealed their deep wellspring of emotion, as seen in Mira Nair's "The Namesake" (2006), where he played an immigrant struggling to connect with his American-born son (Kal Penn), and "A Mighty Heart" (2007), which cast him as a tough but sympathetic Pakistani detective on the trail of the terrorists who kidnapped journalist Daniel Pearl (Dan Futterman). That same year, he was featured in a brief but potent cameo as the father of a drowned boy in Wes Anderson's "The Darjeeling Limited" (2007).
These and other turns not only established Khan as a major star in India, but also sent powerful ripples through the Bollywood acting community. Prior to his arrival, male leads were frequently cast in largely lightweight projects that displayed their physical charms and dancing skills, but little by way of acting talent. After Khan began receiving solid notices from the international critical community, many Indian actors began to seek out more substantive projects; matinee idols like Bobby Deol and Sharukh Khan even cast him in their films, like 2009's "Billu," with Khan as a humble barber whose life is upended by the arrival of a movie star (Sharukh Khan) whom he knew as a boy. Khan's international breakthrough came in 2008 with "Slumdog Millionaire," Danny Boyle's much-loved fantasy-drama about a young man (Dev Patel) who rises from crippling poverty to win the top prize on the Indian version of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" (ABC/syndicated, 1999- ). Audiences and critics alike responded to Khan's thoughtful police inspector, who put aside cultural bias to accept Patel's victory and allow him to not only claim his winnings but also reunite with his long lost love (Frieda Pinto). The global acclaim that surrounded "Slumdog" - which included eight Academy Awards, seven BAFTAs, and a Screen Actors Guild Award shared among the cast for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble - helped to boost Khan into the all-too-rare position of an Indian actor who was also recognized in the West.
Khan soon found himself in demand in both his native country and the United States, appearing in five or more projects in both countries per year. His Bollywood output continued to reflect his diverse talents, with turns as an obsessive-compulsive doctor in the comedy "Krazzy 4" (2008) and a morally conflicted husband who separated from his wife in "Dil Kabaddi" (2008), a comedy based on Woody Allen's "Husbands and Wives" (1992), joining his work in dramas, crime pictures and thrillers. His versatility carried over to his work in the West, where he displayed his romantic qualities as a diamond merchant in love with Natalie Portman in "New York, I Love You" (2009), among other films. His most notable U.S. project was the third season of HBO's "In Treatment," in which he played a grief-stricken widower who found himself unable to cope with life in the home of his son (Samrat Chakrabati) and his English wife (Sonya Walger), so sought out Gabriel Byrne's therapist for what was initially assumed as solace, but was eventually revealed as part of his plan to be extradited back to India. Khan's performance received the strongest reviews of the drama's final season. In 2011, Khan was announced as part of the cast of "The Amazing Spider-Man" (2012), director Marc Webb's reboot of the popular superhero movie franchise. Khan was cast as Nels Van Adder, one of the supporting villains in the feature, though comic book aficionados knew the character best as the alter ego of the Proto-Goblin, a monstrous creature created from the same serum that transformed Norman Osborn into the iconic Green Goblin. Khan's casting seemed to indicate that his character might figure more prominently in future chapters of the new franchise.
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