Slumdog Millionaire actor Irrfan Khan, who starred in a groundbreaking queer Bollywood film about AIDS, has died

Irrfan Khan

Irrfan Khan has died at the age of 53 after a two-year battle with a rare form of cancer.

Khan was best known for a career spanning both Hollywood and Bollywood, with a versatile range of appearances in films such as Life of Pi and Slumdog Millionaire, as well as Jurassic World and Inferno.

In 2008, he broke barriers in Indian cinema by playing a gay role in Migration, a short film about AIDS by Mira Nair.

According to reports at the time, the filmmaker had struggled to find an established actor who would be willing to take on the role — but Khan requested the part.

Actor Irrfan Khan has died at the age of 53

Actor Irrfan Khan has died at the age of 53 (Photo by Ray Tamarra/GC Images)

As The Hindustan Times recalls, he explained: “She offered me the part of the sweet, simple and straight farmer that Shiney Ahuja finally did. I saw no challenge in that. Give me roles that aren’t fake.”

He added: “It’s always more challenging to do something untried.”

At the time, Nair said: “Playing a gay character is still quite a challenge for Indian actors. Even my buddy Randeep Hooda, who did his first film Monsoon Wedding with me, refused the role. But, Irrfan took on the role headlong.

“He has an extremely challenging part in The Migration. His fearlessness as an actor reflects in his selection of roles. The Migration is not a sweeping-under-the-carpet kind of love story. It shows an intense love between two men. And Irrfan didn’t hesitate to take up the challenge.”

Irrfan Khan’s death ‘a loss to the world of cinema and theatre.’

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi was among those to pay tributes.

He wrote: “Irrfan Khan’s demise is a loss to the world of cinema and theatre. He will be remembered for his versatile performances across different mediums. My thoughts are with his family, friends and admirers. May his soul rest in peace.”

Figures from across Bollywood also paid tribute.

Priyanka Chopra wrote on Twitter: “The charisma you brought to everything you did was pure magic. Your talent forged the way for so many in so many avenues.. You inspired so many of us. #IrrfanKhan you will truly be missed. Condolences to the family.”

Sonam Kapoor added: “Rest in peace @irrfank you have no idea what your kindness meant to me at a time I was at my least confident. My condolences to your family and loved ones.”

Riz Ahmed wrote: “Rest in peace one of the greatest actors of our time, Irrfan Khan. I never met him but he was an inspiration and a hero to me and millions of others. His work was consistently transcendent, he was a guiding light for so many of us.”