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The tragedy of character actors in Bollywood

Sunday, 2 September 2012 - 12:00pm IST Updated: Saturday, 1 September 2012 - 11:03pm IST | Agency: dna

For an artist, the biggest tragedy lies not in death, but in being forgotten.

For an artist, the biggest tragedy lies not in death, but in being forgotten.

Face it. We don’t treat all artists the same. Just look at the news. While the passing of a Dev Anand or a Shammi Kapoor or a Rajesh Khanna or a Dara Singh gets the full glare of the media spotlight (as no doubt they should), the supporting actors remain as neglected in death as they were in life.

Supporting actors like the late Mohan Makijany aka Mac Mohan. Rarely has an almost single-line role defined a man’s entire body of work so totally as it had for Mac Mohan, the irony of which was beautifully captured in one of his last movies Luck By Chance.

While delivering a graduation speech at a small-time film academy, he (playing himself) finds that all that the students seem interested in is making him repeat THAT line from Sholay — ”Poorey pachaas hazaar”. Mac Mohan was Samba, the sounding board for Gabbar Singh’s immortal dialogues. But he was also the villain’s henchman in countless other movies, sometimes using a crowbar to roll a murderous rock down the hill towards the bountiful lasses dancing in Satte Pe Satta, and sometimes hanging around, out-of-focus, watching the bad man’s back as he went about his business.

Just like another villain’s side-kick, Goga Kapoor (real name: Ravinder Kapoor), once renowned for his booming voice and arresting frame. A name sadly forgotten by today’s generation, I shall remember him as Kamsa in BR Chopra’s Mahabharata, the auctioneer of beautiful jungle beauties in the sleeper-hit Jungle Beauty (a sequence I recall with some fondness during IPL auctions), the kind-hearted don of Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa, and last, but not least, Kancha Cheena’s demented associate from the original Agneepath (the only Agneepath that exists in my world). The man who sets Master Dinanath up, the Dinkar Rao that finds reference in the immortal Amitabh dialogue “Hawaa tez chalta hai Dinkar Rao, topi samhalo ud jayega”.

On the topic of Agneepath and other Bollywood side-characters who have gone over to the great beyond, how can I not mention the bald-headed baddie dispatched by Vijay with a gun and a container of sindoor. Yes, I am talking about Bob Christo who made a career out of playing the archetypal “white man” with greedy designs on our women, our music (Disco Dancer), our heritage (Mr India) and our identity (“Main Hindooostan ko tabahiyaa kar doonga”) — as much a lightning rod for post-colonial India’s mistrust of the firang, as he was a symbol of pre-liberalisation India’s fear of foreign capital (he was, most of the time, the foreign smuggler).

If Bob Christo was the extrovert, then Rami Reddy was the reticent villain, preferring silence to bluster. But that made him no less terrifying. Whether as the dark Kala Shetty from cult classic Gunda, the Takla from the equally amazing Loha, the unstoppable Spot Anna in Pratibandh or as the self-declared ‘King without a kingdom’, Colonel Chikara, in Waqt Hamara Hai, Rami Reddy and his deadpan dialogue delivery will forever be remembered by those of us who truly care for Bollywood.

And finally, just a few days ago, AK Hangal, the grand old man of Hindi cinema, joined the list of those we lost, as unsung and as forgotten as the rest. One would have hoped that the man who was common to Deewar, Sholay and Lagaan, three of Hindi cinema’s most iconic blockbusters — not to speak of the ahead-of-its-time classic — Shaukeen, a thespian defined by old-world kindness and docility, would get a more grand send-off, beyond the obligatory “RIP” tweets from the superstars (both real and wannabe). But alas, in a Bollywood obsessed with marquee glamour boys and girls, no one has time for the supporting cast, the cogs in the wheel without whom no magic would ever get made.

Goodbye old friends. And thanks for the memories.

Arnab Ray is the author of The Mine and May I Hebb Your Attention Pliss


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