In the idealistic days of college, when we used to watch Battleship Potemkin and The Bicycle Thieves in standing-room-only auditoria, we always wanted to do something to uplift the level of cinematic knowledge of the country. We - as in - yours truly and a gentleman whose roll number was just one before mine and has distinguished himself to the readers of this blog by his comments, which are at least as frequent as the posts!
So, Nilendu and I figured that the French New Wave, the avant garde makers from FTII and the Italian maestros were getting enough publicity from everybody (Satyajit Ray downwards). So, we needed to promote artistes from a much-neglected yet as influential ouevre - namely, Bollywood B-grade cinema.
With this lofty aim, we started the Tej Sapru Fan Club.
If this had been a speech, I know my next three sentences would have got drowned under the din of "WHO THE F*** IS TEJ SAPRU???" But since this isn't, I will now explain who he is, why we intended to be his fans and what was the broader aim of this club.
Okay, first things first, Tej Sapru is son of the character actor - Sapru. Oh damn, now you want to know who Sapru is? All right, all right... I will start again!
Well, in Hindi cinema, there are the stars. And there are the character artistes. We only remember the stars - and completely forget the rest. But these character artistes (having acted in hundreds of films) are sometimes as recognisable as the stars themselves. However, the tragedy is that nobody knows their real names - except for a few like Iftekhar, A K Hangal and Jagdish Raaj.
(Interesting aside: While Iftekhar and Jagdish Raaj made their millions from playing police officers in countless films, the biggest film they starred in – Deewaar – had both of them playing smugglers!)
For us, Tej Sapru was the symbol of all the nameless millions who worked day and night raping heroines, judging trials and getting beaten up - all for entertaining us! So, the mission of the Club was to identify these wonderful people (in general and Tej Sapru in specific!) and popularise them to the public by associating them with their most recognisable film role!
For example, we envisaged the following conversation:
X: My favourite actor is Robert De Niro. Whose work do you like?
DC: Tej Sapru.
X: (Pregnant pause) Umm... which picture did he last appear in?
DC: Last I don't know. But he was the crooked show manager in Tezaab who wants to marry Madhuri Dixit.
X: Ah... him!
So, you see Tej Sapru is not as vague as it sounded initially! In fact, he has an impressive body of work as Amrish Puri's son in Tridev, one of the rapists in Zakhmi Aurat and Pathans in several movies because of his fair complexion and light eyes!
Other artistes of such stature include:
Yunus Parvez - Rahim Chacha of Deewaar.
Though, Nilendu is inclined to believe that his most impactful role is that of the nose-hair-pulling clerk in Golmaal! He has also been seen as a poetry publisher in Saajan and Raveena Tandon's boss in Mohra. Incidentally, Mohra is the only film that we can remember where he died!
Sharat Saxena - Raunaq Singh a.k.a Ronnie of Ghulam.
He spent all of 1980's being the inaugural side-kick of the villain (who is the first goon to be beaten up, when the hero makes an appearance) to slowly work his way towards the climax. The crowning glory of his career being the bloody fist-fight he had with Aamir Khan in Vikram Bhatt's first hit.
Goga Kapoor - Juhi Chawla's dad in Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak.
He probably holds the world record of appearing in the maximum number of movies with his real name as his screen name! The rest of times he has been featured with very un-confusing names like Shaitan Singh (Toofan), Durjan Singh and Zaalim Singh.
Huma Khan - the doodh-waali of Maine Pyar Kiya.
Before she attained some amount of respectability as a staple side-piece (usually comic) in the Barjatya wedding videos, Huma was the undisputed queen of that genre of Hindi films, which specialised in lady dacoits and Tarzan romances. Though, considering that she was Shakti Kapoor's love interest in Hum Saath Saath Hain, how much more respectability she got out of Rajshri is debatable!
Satyen Kappu - Ramlal (the Thakur's servant) of Sholay.
He was the orginal do-gooder of Hindi cinema before Alok Nath came and usurped that position. A noted theatre actor (associated with IPTA), he had to supplement his earnings by playing munim-naukar-chacha to far lesser actors. It is rumoured that he was the one whose recommendation of Amjad Khan to Ramesh Sippy led to one more junior actor going past him!
Unfortunately, Bombay is the only place in the country where such artistes are recognized – and that too, in a perverse way... through the identification of their residences. But even within that, there is a rigid caste system as lesser actors have to anchor themselves on to bigger stars!
Sample this conversation between my aunt and her chauffeur, for example:
My Aunt (MA): Mahesh, yeh Kabab Mahal restaurant kahan hain?
Mahesh (Ma): Madam, Shefali Chhaya ke ghar ke paas! (:-o How does one go about finding out where Shefali Chhaya lives?)
MA: Matlab, Bipasha Basu jahan PG rehti thi? (Wow – this combines history with geography!)
Ma: Nahin madam, Sanjay Dutt ke purane flat ke baju wala galli! (Speechless!)
MA: Achha – Dilip Kumar ke ghar se aagey!
Ma: Haan madam!
Brilliant... more such people are required to take forward the ideals of TSFC!