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Bollywood and Hollywood Actor Irrfan Khan Dies After A Long Illness

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The Indian actor Irrfan Khan was known for his work in both arthouse films and blockbusters like "Slumdog Millionaire" and "Jurassic World." Khan has died at the age of 54 from a colon infection. NPR's Bob Mondello has this remembrance.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: He tended to be a measured, intelligent, often calculating presence in the films for which he's best known. He spoke quietly but usually to devastating effect, whether playing the adult Pi in "Life Of Pi" remembering how he survived for weeks on a tiny boat with an uncaged tiger...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "LIFE OF PI")

IRRFAN KHAN: (As Pi Patel) He just stared ahead into the jungle and disappeared forever from my life.

MONDELLO: ...Or playing the less lucky billionaire who owns Jurassic World and marvels at what his scientists have wrought.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "JURASSIC WORLD")

BRYCE DALLAS HOWARD: (As Claire Dearing) Think it'll scare the kids?

KHAN: (As Simon Masrani) The kids? This will give the parents nightmares.

MONDELLO: Khan's breakthrough from Bollywood into western films was Britain's "The Warrior," in which he played the reluctant title character trying to overcome his violent past. He was soon playing as many as five roles a year, everything from the police inspector who wired Dev Patel for the big contest in "Slumdog Millionaire" to the casually murderous facilitator in Dan Brown's "Inferno."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "INFERNO")

KHAN: (As Harry Sims) Terribly sorry - let's do this quickly. The less blood, the better.

MONDELLO: When Khan was first starting out in Indian soap operas, he wasn't regarded as sexy enough for romantic leads, and he nearly quit acting in his 30s. But he aged gracefully into romance, never more gracefully than in 2013's "The Lunchbox" as an office drone in Mumbai who begins a warm correspondence with a neglected wife when the lunch she sends her husband ends up on his desk by mistake. Soon, he's confiding about things like the vertical burial plot he had to buy...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE LUNCHBOX")

KHAN: (As Saajan Fernandes) I spend my whole life standing in trains and buses. Now, I'll have to stand even when I'm dead.

MONDELLO: ...And offering her gentle advice.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE LUNCHBOX")

KHAN: (As Saajan Fernandes) Why don't you have another child? Sometimes, having a child can help a marriage.

MONDELLO: It would have been hard for her not to fall a little bit in love with him - hard for audiences, too.

I'm Bob Mondello.

(SOUNDBITE OF ÓLAFUR ARNALDS' "EKKI HUGSA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career — hired to write for every small paper that ever folded in Washington, just as it was about to collapse — saw that jinx broken in 1984 when he came to NPR.