The man had a streak of grey in his hairs even when he started off more than 40 years ago. That was the most striking feature of Mohan Makhijaney, who adopted the somewhat strange screen name of Mac Mohan.
He had been a constant presence in the films of the seventies and eighties as the villain’s henchman. Every Bollywood villain worth his smirk had Mac standing guard behind him.
Even the mighty Gabbar had Mac watching over his den in Sholay. Yes, playing Sambha was the highlight of his career spanning more than 170 films in a host of languages, even English, Russian and Spanish.
I doubt if there’s a single Indian who has not heard of Sambha.
“Arey o Sambha, sarkar hum par kitna inam rakhi hai re?” Gabbar asks his trusted henchman perched atop a hillock with a .303 rifle by his side. Sambha replies: “Sardar purey pachhas hazar.”
This exchange between the dreaded dacoit Gabbar and his sidekick Sambha is probably the most popular dialogue of Hindi cinema.
It’s easy to dismiss Mac as an extra artist, but there was something about him that struck in the memories of all of us who have seen him over the years even if we barely remember any other dialogue he ever mouthed apart from the one in Sholay.
He continued to act for more than four decades ever since he debuted in Chetan Anand’s Haqeeqat in 1964. In the 70s and 80s when a villain’s henchman’s chief requirement was a brawny look, Mac with his unimpressive lanky physique held his own and continued to be cast in these minor villain roles.
In a ruthless industry like Bollywood where one bad Friday could ruin the career of stars, Mac’s decades-long career deserves a special mention.
The ageless villain regretted the fact that despite being from a theatre background he was typecast as a baddie. But he was happy that he managed to stay in circulation for so long.
In an interview to The Hindu he revealed the secret of his longevity in the ruthless filmworld. “If I was not improvising and researching on my roles, I would not have been alive on the big screen for so long.”
He had made cameo appearances in dozens of blockbuster hits of Amitabh Bachchan and other superstars and I suspect those minor roles were written with Mac in mind.
So when I saw the TV ticker running the news of his death I immediately googled and ended up learning things that surprised me. His foray into Hindi cinema was not as an actor but as an assistant to none other than Chetan Anand.
He had come to Mumbai to be a cricketer not an actor but got involved in theatre and finally ended up in films. There were other trivia like he was Sunil Dutt’s classmate in Lucknow and was the maternal uncle of actress Raveena Tandon.
But the most interesting bit of information came as a real surprise. Although, Sholay made him a household name, the film closest to his heart was another Bachchan starrer called Majboor.
In an interview to the Indian Express he says: “I played the villain opposite Amitabh Bachchan. For that role I completely did a makeover. I changed my look, my voice and even my dialogue delivery. It was my best.”
In an industry that has seen many a yesteryear actors even stars dying in penury and relegated to small briefs in newspapers, Mac in his death was able to make a splash in the media, if only because he played Hindi cinema’s most famous villain’s most famous sidekick — Sambha.