Irrfan Khan was able to show the magic of his acting not just through his eyes but his voice as well. He did not just act, he would become the character he was playing.

When reading a book or watching a play or a film there is always the knowledge that this is not “real”. Yet booksellers and theatres would have closed down if the stories that came out their products were not, temporarily at least, believable.

Govind Menon, the son of very dear family friends, Geeta and Narayanan, is a filmmaker who had studied the craft of movie-making in the US. He came to India to launch the curvaceous Mallika Sherawat in his maiden venture here called Khwahish. His being a voracious reader as well as a fabulous cook, it was easy to get along well with Govind. In the last years of the 2000s he announced that he was making a “creature feature” with Mallika playing the lead role of a snake in the Jennifer Lynch film Hissss. As a friend, I had gone to pick them up from the airport.  I was joking with Lynch to give me a role as a fat python that would just curl up in a corner and spit venom at all and sundry.
The unavailability of Rohini Hattangadi thanks to a flash strike landed me the role as Irrfaan Khan’s mother-in-law and as the mother of the most down-to-earth star, Divya Dutta. This was my very first venture into filmdom. To share the space with Irrfan was a dream come true. He was not handsome in a conventional way. But the man exuded charisma!
With the experienced genius Madhu Ambat wielding the camera, I was in great cinematic company.  When I met Irrfan for the first time, he was warm and welcoming. At no point was he condescending.  He never made me feel the novice that I was. He was extremely interested in the beautiful places of my home state Kerala. He loved the sea and was staying in Kovalam, one of the most picturesque places to stay in Kerala.
The unit was truly an eclectic one with Americans, Keralites, Tamils, Telugus and of course Bollywood in the mix. Off camera, Irrfan could make himself nondescript if he wanted to. But on screen he became a husband who was a lover as well, a police officer who was a cool professional and a staunch sceptic of the fertility-giving powers of the snake goddess (Mallika). And who was indulgent towards his nutty mother-in-law (me), as well as being a distant superior to someone who he mentors silently when he discovers that his junior was indeed his late friend’s son.
As this was a sync-sound movie where the audio recording is done in tandem with the screen shots, Irrfan was able to show the magic of his acting in his voice as well. With practice, it is easy to disseminate nuances of meaning with the eyes. After all, the eyes are what people observe first in a person. But Irrfaan did not just act. He became the character he was playing.  Whether it was the angle of his eyelids, the way he held out his hand in a casual caress to Divya (who played his wife in the movie), or the amused exasperation at his mother-in-law’s (my) insistence that it would be the snake goddess who sees Divya through a pregnancy (after many abortions), or the slowly  dawning  and grudging faith in the supernatural, Irrfan created and completed the mood with his whole self.
The irreplaceable Irrfan embodied a total actor. There was a running gamut of jokes of getting into close physical contact with the delectable Mallika. At one moment, we would all be giggling helplessly.  In the next minute, on the set, he would be the stoic man whose wife has lost yet another child she was carrying.
As Govind called me “Akka’, so did the whole unit! When Irrfan’s sons came for a brief visit, they and I were fed prawns by Jennifer Lynch as we paddled waist deep in the Arabian Sea. I extracted a promise from him that “one day” we will make another film together. That is the image I hold of the man. Rest in the great studio of the beyond, Sir. I am privileged to have been your Akka.