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Indian media reported that Khan died on Wednesday in the entertainment capital of Mumbai after being admitted to the hospital for a colon infection earlier this week. Khan was diagnosed with a high-grade neuroendocrine cancer in March 2018 and spent time in London being treated for the rare form of cancer before returning to work last year.
In a career that spanned over 30 years, Khan was a prolific film and television actor famous for his range as well as the humanity and intensity he brought to his roles. Born in Rajasthan, Khan was inspired to become an actor by his heroes Dilip Kumar and Marlon Brando and began his career starring in TV dramas before his film debut in Mira Nair’s critically acclaimed and Academy Award-nominated Salaam Bombay! in 1988.
He went on to develop a specialty for playing villains and earned critical praise for portraying a student gang leader in Tigmanshu Dhulia’s cult film Haasil and further positive notices for his turn in Vishal Bhardwaj’s crime drama Maqbool, a modern Mumbai underworld-set adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth.
Khan would work with Bhardwaj again on 7 Khoon Maaf, which bowed at the Berlin Film Festival in 2011, the Hamlet adaptation Haider (2014) and the thriller Talvar, which screened at the Toronto Film Festival in 2015.
Though often cast as the villain in Bollywood, Khan demonstrated his versatility with well-regarded performances in comedies like 2015’s Piku and Saket Chaudhary’s phenomenally successful Hindi Medium in 2017, which was Khan’s best-performing film at India’s box office. Another recent standout success was Ritesh Batra’s romantic drama The Lunchbox.
In 2001, Khan looked outside India and worked with British director Asif Kapadia on his debut film, The Warrior, although the movie was set in feudal Rajasthan. The existential drama went on to win a BAFTA for best British film and introduced Khan to Western audiences. He followed with roles in Michael Winterbottom’s A Mighty Heart and Wes Anderson’s The Darjeeling Limited.
Over the last decade, Khan had seamlessly transitioned to Hollywood fare, starring in everything from big-budget tentpoles, such as Jurassic World, Inferno and The Amazing Spider-Man, to awards-worthy dramas, such as Nair’s The Namesake, Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire and Ang Lee’s Life of Pi in which he played the adult Piscine Molitor Patel.
With the sheer breadth of his later work, Khan arguably became the most widely known Indian actor working in the West.
Khan was last seen on the big screen in Angrezi Medium, a sequel to Hindi Medium, which was also the last film to open in Indian cinemas before the country was locked down due to the novel coronavirus.
Khan is survived by his wife, Sutapa Devendra Sikdar, and sons Babil and Ayan.
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