Irrfan Khan – The Poster Boy for the ‘Millennial’ Generation

With his latest viral campaign starring himself in generic Internet memes titled ‘AIB : DANK IRRFAN’, Irrfan Khan is once again in the limelight for his take on contemporary Indian society. Hilarious, engaging and innovative, he has reduced his sardonic envisage for thousands of people to use as a social media tool.

Nearly 2 years ago, Irrfan also participated in one of AIB other viral features ‘Every Party Song’. Along with hilariously mocking every Honey Singh wannabe (and Honey Singh himself), he drew attention to the formulated ‘art’ of this new film necessity.

From the tired repetition of direction, musical score and graphics to the unnecessary, often lurid objectification of women, Irrfan’s jests weren’t just striking, but eye-opening for many who had ignored the innate sexism and lack of individuality in Hindi cinema today.

You can imagine that an actor like Irrfan Khan would be upset (though he makes light of it) by the absence of originality in Hindi films, or at the least, their musical counterparts. For someone who has almost unwittingly and unintentionally created an identity of being different, unique and intriguing, the painful simplification of Hindi cinema to ‘marketing gimmicks for the lowest common denominator’ must be loathsome to watch.

For Irrfan doesn’t dislike Bollywood, for all his jokes and irreverent attitude to it. Despite being substantially and consistently successful in International Cinema, he rarely crows about it from the rooftops. Contrast this with the other actors of Indian cinema, such as Anil Kapoor or the well oiled publicity machines of Deepika Padukone or Priyanka Chopra who notify us every time their clients are 40 miles near a Hollywood film set. Irrfan doesn’t seem to care much for that game, quietly signing his movies and executing them with his customary proficiency.

His irks with Bollywood are both justified and revealing of the person himself. When calling on Bollywood’s blatant sexualisation of film, he’s challenging the status quo and the apathetic acceptance that business will continue tomorrow as it did yesterday. There’s no need to get worked up about it. Let sleeping dogs lie, as it were.

This inability to accept that the world is as it is and cannot be changed has become a significant attribute of Millennial culture. Rather than join the ranks of the uncaring, they rail against the acceptance to war, crime and hatred that previous generations have reluctantly come to rationalise.Rather than sit back, shrug shoulders and emptily preach injustice under the guise of ‘Tradition’, the millennial trend is to rattle the status quo with a fierce determination to not eventually accept it as their predecessors did.‘This is how it is’ isn’t a phrase they accept and in his own ways, neither does Irrfan.

For it’s not just Bollywood that’s felt Irrfan’s questioning focus. Irrfan has been one of the few public personalities in India that has questioned the senior figures in his religious community. Irrfan has incurred their wrath by questioning Islamic rituals such as Muharram, interpretations of the Quran and has requested his community members to not let the actions of a few tarnish an entire religion.

His belief in the freedom to hold unorthodox religious beliefs have been clearly expressed with a tweet once stating that he’s glad to live in a country where religious leaders do not rule.

The poignant reference that Irrfan made, however unintentionally, is that he could not hold these views in many Muslim countries. Over 20 Muslim majority nations view questioning of the Shariah, the Quran or the accepted interpretation of it as ‘Apostasy’, punishable by law. Leading authors such as Ayaan Hirsi Ali, with her books, ‘Infidel’ and ‘Heretic’ have been condemned to death by religious clerics globally and leads a life with high security and surreal threat.

The lack of ability to criticise has hampered the development of law in nearly all Muslim majority countries. Progress births from criticism and at the moment where one could observe a law and declare that it doesn’t hold water hereon. What worked for yesterday may not work for tomorrow, but the choice to debate such is quelled under the Islamic law of Apostasy. 

While Irrfan may not be a reformist, his novel perspective of taking on such topics is quite the revelation. For years, actors have mouthed meaningless sound bites when questioned on the association between religion and terrorism, filled with hollow phrases and generic cliches. Questioning has been evident of his career, both on screen and off. A brilliant performance in Paan Singh Tomar brought the disreputable and shambolic support that ex-athletes for our country receive into prominence. What’s the difference between this athlete-turned-dacoit who represented India at the Olympics and the cricketer that is feted, adorned and financially rewarded immensely, he asked. Rather than shrug and say ‘That’s because Cricket makes so much money’, he asks that that the government and the people should do more for those who represent our nation in every sport. It is a feeling that has reaped results in other sports, including the Indian contingent for the Paralympics, receiving increased coverage and fiscal attention in recent years.

Constantly perceptive, with both self-deprecating wit, humour and a penchant for frankly speaking his mind rather than shy behind jargon and practiced soundbites, Irrfan has set a standard that future artists would do well to emulate, rather than sounding like just a recent reboot of an old character.

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