Friday, April 26, 2013

Filmy Fridays: I, Mac

My weekly column for Yahoo! Movies, first published here.

April 24 was the birthday of Mac Mohan – one of the most recognised faces in Bollywood. With his distinctive white-streaked hair and beard, he was the quintessential villain’s henchman – never shying away from ordering a hit or helpfully passing on his boss’ message.
Today’s column looks at the life, times and trivia of ‘Mac’.

Mac Mohan was his screen name, arrived at by cleverly juxtaposing the first syllables of his name and surname – Mohan Makhijani.
He came to Bombay to become a cricketer but ended up in the movie industry instead. He had several filmi connections as he was Sunil Dutt’s classmate in Lucknow and Raveena Tandon’s maternal uncle. In fact, the actress was very fond of ‘Mohan mama’ and thought him to be a hero in real life. There was a controversy around the National Awards of 2001 when Raveena won the Best Actress prize for Daman while Mac Mohan was a member of the jury (and later accused of nepotism).

He made his film debut way back in 1964 with a part in Chetan Anand’s war drama – Haqeeqat – set in the backdrop of the Sino-Indian war.
He was also seen soon afterwards in Joy Mukherjee starrer, Aao Pyar Karein, where he danced to a song displaying female moves as part of a prank with his friends.
The song can be seen here and acknowledgments are due to Jai Arjun Singh who discovered Mac and Sanjeev Kumar as the ‘hero’s friends’ in the song.

His most iconic role was – of course, obviously, definitely, TOTALLY – in Sholay.
He gained legendary fame and his name in Sholay – Sambha – became a household word, thanks to a superb conversation with Gabbar Singh that led to his speaking just three words in the entire film. The device of Gabbar getting a sidekick to praise was explained by Javed Akhtar as an obvious one since megalomaniacs like others singing their praise. To this end, Sambha said “Pooray pachaas hazaar”, the reward on Gabbar’s head and made history.
Incidentally, the shooting of Sholay had him speaking in several scenes but all of them got edited out. In fact, Mac Mohan was very disappointed he saw the rushes and requested director Ramesh Sippy to edit even that one scene out.
As it turned out, he started getting recognised on streets as Sambha and was mobbed by audiences when he went to see the film in the theatre! 
Silly Aside: Rekha played an outrageously dressed vamp in Madam X. The fourteen people who saw that abomination of a film would remember (or not) that Mac Mohan played her chief henchman and his name was Sambha!

Mac Mohan made his career out of playing the villain’s henchman in countless (actually, 218) Hindi films.
In Karz, he was Sir Juda’s (Premnath) interpreter since the main villain did not speak and communicated only by clinking fingers on glasses.
In Satte Pe Satta, he played a henchman who tried to roll a boulder on an heiress but failed due to the efforts of the brothers.
In Don, he was part of the smugglers’ gang wearing natty clothes and playing cards. 
He did the occasional ‘good’ role as well. For example in The Burning Train, he was the leader of labourers trying to make an incline to stop the hurtling train. In fact, he was shown as the passionate leader who egged his team to complete this critical task taking instructions from Vinod Mehra (through a megaphone). In fact, the final instruction – which precipitated the climax – identified him by name – “Mac, Super Express ko incline pe daal do”.  

His name was so popular that in an exceptionally large number of films, his characters were also called Mac. This was in line with the tradition created by iconic villains like Ranjeet and Prem Chopra, whose characters were often named after their real names.
In 31 out of his 218 movies, Mac was Mac! For the mathematically inclined, that is a whopping 14% of the total output. For the trivially inclined, he was Mac in three successive movies in 1993 and called Mac Kelkar in the forgettable Jawab Hum Denge.

One of his very interesting roles came in Kaala Patthar, where he played Rana the card shark.
He was perennially ripping off fellow miners in the colony in card games, which he seemed incapable of losing. He met his match when Shatrughan Sinha challenged him to a game of teen patti and ended up with two kings. When Mac took out his three jacks (one of which was produced from under his sleeve), Shatru tore up his third card and announced – “teesre badshah hum hain...
This character had a very interesting twist in the climax when a group of miners were stuck in the submerged mine and used a draw of cards to decide who would get to escape using the lift first.

One of Mac’s last roles was in Zoya Akhtar’s Luck By Chance, set in the world of strugglers in the film industry.
He played himself, as the chief guest at the graduation ceremony of an acting class (run by Saurabh Shukla). Before giving out the certificates, he was requested to speak. A gushing student asked him not for a few words but for those three words that made him iconic. Mac good-naturedly obliged by restating the reward on Gabbar’s head... to thunderous applause.
At the end of a busy career, he deserved it. 

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