It has been a sad year for the Hindi film industry. And I am not just referring to the release of Biblical curses like “Golmaal 3”, “Anjana Anjaani” and “Tees Mar Khan.”
It has been sad because four doyens of old-world 80s/90s single-screen Bollywood passed away in the past few months and as someone who grew up watching their movies, it would be remiss of me not to raise my virtual cap to them.
A true Bollyaddict might not know what Mcdonald’s is but he sure knows who Mac Mohan [picture courtesy here] is. Rarely has a 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” where while delivering a graduation speech at a small-time film academy, he (playing himself) finds that all that the students seem interested in is in making him repeat THAT line from Sholay——“Poorey pachaas hazaar”. Mention the name Mac Mohan to a general audience and you will get some standard responses “That man who looks the same for the last forty years” ,” Oh that eternal villain’s sidekick ” and sometimes “Raveena Tandon’s uncle.”
For me though, Mac Mohan is different, more a symbol than a person who played bit “blink and you miss it” roles typically as a secondary baddie. In an age of wannabe Bollywood, where villains are no longer considered sellable, where true legends like Shakti Kapoor and Ranjeet are ignored in favor of two-bit punks, the villain’s henchman has become totally extinct. While old world villains like Pran, Amrish and Gulshan Grover are still remembered from time to time in dedications at tiresome award functions or as space-fillers in Sunday editions of newspapers, the worker-bees who aided them in their evil plans—– filling their planes with jet fuel so that they could escape, kidnapping the heroine’s mother and bringing her to the lair, folding the hero’s sister’s sari after it had been undraped from her, scoping out nubile nymphets for the lusty thakur, remembering the exact bounty announced on the dacoit boss, wearing white suits and standing discreetly in the background of the smuggler don—-have been consigned to the dead-pool of forgetfulness, their contribution to the craft of villany seldom acknowledged. And now with the death of their most recognizable icon, Mac Mohan, one can say an age has truly passed, the age of the villain’s tech-support, whose true uniqueness lay in his being nondescript.
Goga Kapoor was never as prolific as Mac Mohan. But that does not make him any the less significant. Remembered mostly as Kansa Mama in Mahabharat or as the kind don in “Kabhi Haan Kabhi Na”, and not so remembered for a performance in “Sanjay”as, to quote IMDB, a “gay professor”, for me Goga Kapoor’s defining performance will always be as the auctioneer of “jungle beauties” in the sleeper cult hit “Jungle Beauty”. It is a marvelous sequence (I have linked to it before) [Doston, yeh jungle ki naageenein woh bulbule hain jinki saanson main phoolon ki mahek, badan mein haowoon ke taazgi, aur chaal main jharnon ki rawaangi hai…aap log husn aur jawaani ke jahuri boliye is naagein ki kya keemat lagate hain?”] which to me was a prescient depiction of IPL and 2G spectrum auctions, with Goga Kapoor’s lustful descriptions of the lingerie-clad items for sale beautifully capturing the greed and avarice of modern capitalist society in a way few can.
Among the four, Bob Christo’s death received the most coverage in the media. [My favorite dedication here] And deservedly so for Bob was truly an interesting man having a chequered past, being among other things a mercenary and Sanjay Khan’s bodyguard. In Hindi movies he was the archetypical “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) who at the end would get his just deserts, which usually consisted of having blows delivered square on the top of his bald head (whether he was hated more for his firangness or baldness I could never figure out). Whether he was a lightning rod for post-colonial India’s mistrust of the firang man or whether he provided some level of moral comfort, namely that the true enemy of the country was an outsider (in his most movies, he was the foreign client who came at the very end to take delivery or give a “suitcase), or whether he served as an embodiment of pre-liberalization India’s fear of foreign capital (he was most of the time the “smuggler” in other words the man who did not pay import duties), I cannot say for sure. What I can assert though is that I used to root for him always, knowing fully well what will happen to him in the end, with a Bob Christo sighting in a movie making me as happy as hearing the ice-cream man’s “Flurrriessssss” call at two on a hot Kolkata summer afternoon.
Rami Reddy’s performance in Pratibandh was truly disturbing (only character comparable in terms of pure evil was Anna of “Parinda”) with none of the redeeming cartoonish buffonery that so characterize villains in those times. Besides his formidable Mr T-like physical presence, it was that deadpan seriousness that defined Rami Reddy as a villain. A big star down South, his Hindi footprint is comparatively small. But even then, he is a legend, being immortalized by virtue of being part of two of the greatest movies ever made in modern India—Loha and Gunda. Famous among true aficionados as the dangerous Takla from Loha and the terrifying Kala Shetty from Gunda, I would still consider his performance as Colonel Chikara in “Waqt Humara Hai” as the most memorable.
Declaring himself as “a king without a kingdom” he came to India in order to find a land he could rule. His plan was simple—-to bump of Netaji Ramgopal Verma (yes that was the name, a very Tarantino-type in-reference) and take control of the Indian military by using a “Krypton Bomb”. As he declared to the camera “Krypton aur Bomb bananae ka formula dono research center main hai” and so in order to get at that, he launched a spectacular assault on the research center. So scary was he that in an action sequence in the said research center, he stands in front of a scientist and that man (PhDs are never those with a strong heart) actually jumps up, bends his head to the side, closes his eyes and falls dead before Colonel Chikara can even fire. I will be honest. Colonel Chikara would have succeeded in his efforts of making India his kingdom had he not made one wrong decision—-he crossed paths with Akshay Kumar and Suniel Shetty and as any movie director today knows, getting mixed up with Akshay Kumar means absolute ruin. Add Suniel Shetty to that and not even God can do anything. Though to his credit, Colonel Chikara did come close. Real close.
I would like to conclude by linking to a very favorite song of mine [Video], a dedication to all these so-called “small time” villains. Pictured on Bob Christo (movie: Farz ki Jung), it is one of the very few times that one of these lesser known lights has been given the screen-time they deserve, without a hero in sight to beat them up and provided with pliant pretty women, one of whom strips following Hindi movie’s version of Zeno’s dichotomy paradox where the vamp’s process of unclothing is never complete.
Before the song starts, Amrish Puri (another great no more with us) says poignantly—–
Thank you, thank you Mr. Burger. Yeh to tumhari greatness hai. You are great. I am great. And we will have great fun.
Thank you Mr. Christo, Mr. Mac Mohan, Mr. Reddy and Mr. Kapoor. You have been great. And together we have had great fun over the years.
Rest in peace.