I spent the better part of last evening watching a programme on Top 99 Hindi Film Characters. The ranking can be endlessly debated (I think that is the point of these exercises!) but list and the short intros (mimicked in the voice of stars) were spot on.
The Top 10 (in ascending order of merit) are 10. Santoshi Maa 9. Dhanno 8. Munna Bhai 7. Mogambo 6. Ravi Verma (Shashi Kapoor in Deewaar) 5. Vijay (of Zanjeer) 4. Basanti 3. Jai-Veeru 2. Thakur Baldeo Singh 1. Gabbar Singh.
Sholay cornered the top 4 spots - and the rest of its cast found their places in the full list.
Watching the show, I was trying to figure out a list of characters which have outgrown their main (title) characters in the movies. This underlines the unpredictability of Hindi cinema, where top stars get together to make a movie in which the protagonist is so important that the film is named after him - and then comes a Lone Ranger, which steals not only the thunder of the hero but all the memories associated with the film as well!
So, here goes a subjective list of 5 films - where the most famous character was NOT the title character...
Loin - Kalicharan
Long before Maggi spiced up its sauces with whacky lines, Ajit became a deadly smuggler as Lion a.k.a Loin. The Punjabisation of Lion became a catch-phrase of the MTV generation as copywriters, VJs, screenwriters and magazine editors jumped on to the bandwagon of Ajit jokes.
In the movie, a bombastic Shatrughan Sinha was relegated to the sidelines as Ajit threw his lines with aplomb in Subhas Ghai's earliest hit. It had a pretty interesting plot (not unlike Don!) - with Loin killing off a police officer (Shatru I) on his trail and the officer's superior replacing him with a look-alike criminal (Shatru II).
Spoiler Alert: On his death-bed, Shatru I leaves behind a note for his boss which gets mis-read as No. 17. Only at the climax, when there is a rotating disc with LION written on it is seen, does the dumb-ass boss realise that NO17 is nothing but LION written upside down. But he can be forgiven... after all, he was looking for Loin!
On behalf of the marketing fraternity, which benefited from Loin's lines (invented and real), Amul paid an affectionate tribute to Ajit when he passed away.
Babumoshai - Anand
Raj Kapoor's term of endearment for buddy Hrishikesh Mukherjee was immortalised by the latter in a film dedicated to Raj Kapoor and the city of Bombay. Apparently, the characters of the two protagonists were modelled after their real-life parallels as well.
What was supposed to be an out-and-out Rajesh Khanna film turned out to be the first step to stardom for Amitabh Bachchan as his understated yet intense potrayal of the Bengali doctor. (He chewed up Rajesh Khanna in yet another film - Namak Haram - before the erstwhile superstar refused to act in any further movies with the upstart!)
Amitabh was more than a little unhappy with the script as he believed that the dying characters always got all the sympathy but nevertheless his character came out real like no other. Anand's lilting call of 'Babumoshai' added to the role - and the title became something of an epithet for Bongs (till of course, Sourav Ganguly became the 'Dada' to the nation)!
Bhiku Mhatre - Satya
The poker-faced Chakravarthy did nothing to deserve the title role of Satya - the rootless, moral-less guy who rises to the top of the Bombay underworld. Manoj Bajpai, after a string of obscure bit parts in Ramgopal Verma films, hit pay dirt with the unkempt, unapologetic Bhiku Mhatre. His violence, his love, his grunting grin, his hysteric sobs, his domestic squabbles, his crazy gang went promptly into cinematic lore as Ramu pulled off what he does best - gang flicks.
This one role was enough to get him into starring (Shool) as well as negative (Aks) roles but he was never able to repeat the manic energy he pulled off with the "Mumbai ka King kaun?" line.
Even now, the character rules mindspace with a Wikipedia entry, nickames on Yahoo, Orkut & MSN, 9300 results on Google and Isha Koppikar's next role (in yet another RGV gang flick) where she wants to be a 'female Bhiku Mhatre'.
Mogambo - Mr India
What was a Clark Gable-Ava Gardner starrer became the name of the second-most famous villain in the history of Hindi cinema. One of the last few films of Salim-Javed as duo, Anil Kapoor has the dubious distinction of being a hero where both the villain AND the heroine completely overshadowed him.
An interesting story of the making comes when Shekhar Kapur asked Javed Akhtar to explain the character of Mogambo to him and Akhtar replied with "Mogambo khush hua". The explanation being that it was the line of a megalomaniac who used verbal approval to reward his gang. To convince a very incredulous Shekhar, Javed Akhtar told him, "Ab se jab taash mein teen ikke aayenge, log kahengey Mogambo Khush Hua. Jab India cricket mein sixer maarega, tab log kahengey Mogambo khush hua. Iss film ke baad log khushi ke mauke ka talaash isliye karenge ki woh bol sake Mogambo khush hua..."
Mogambo became the newest icon as his signature line - performed by Amrish Puri with almost an orgasmic relish in the film - rivalled the best lines of Gabbar, with as much repeat value. It stayed with Amrish Puri till the very end as Amul mourned his death with a take-off on the line.
Did I say 5 characters? Oh well - I was thinking of the characters of Sholay! It just struck me that Sholay is not a title role for anybody... but nevertheless, it was a film where every single character has lived beyond generations.
And it is not only the pivotal characters. Gabbar Singh. Thakur. Jai. Veeru. Basanti. Kaalia.
Even a completely peripheral villager's name - Kashinath - seems to have lived on, simply due to the number of times the entire country has seen the film!
You hardly ever get a film where a character (Saambha) who speaks just three words ("Poore pachaas hazaar") becomes immortal!
So, how many people from the film can you name? As they asked in the film, "Kitne aadmi the?"