Bollywood’s Gentleman Villain takes his final bow

It was the stylish way in which he was spotted putting a pan in his mouth and chewing it with relish that got him his first role as a villain in his debut 1940 film Yamla Jat. From that moment onwards Pran Krishan Sikand aka Pran never looked back.

This anecdote comes from film journalist Bunny Reuben’s biography of the legendary actor with a quirky title — ‘…and Pran’. An apt title for the life story of a man who, despite never playing the hero in hero-centric Bollywood films, ruled the roost, to use a cliche, so much so that the film credits actually read …and Pran. 

Rest in peace.


Arey o Sambha!

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.

Mac Mohan

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.

Cinema, cinema

I love watching movies. Always have, for as long as I remember. I can watch any movie and enjoy it except for the ghost movies and some stupid superhero flicks.

When I was growing up in the late eighties and early nineties, Bollywood was probably going through its worst phase. The super heroes of Hindi cinema were getting older and to hold on to their careers they were starring in senseless potboilers peppered with mind-numbing action and stupid songs with pathetic dance sequences.

But I loved them. Growing up in a small town called Mughal Sarai near Varanasi, that was all you got those days. Cable television had yet to arrive so the two standalone cinema halls in the town were the only places of entertainment.

But even that was an occasional event. For, a 12-year-old kid wouldn’t be allowed to go for a movie alone or even with friends, you had to go with someone older than you. For me and my brother our uncle, who was twice my age, used to be our only hope.

Provided, he was in the mood to tag us along for a movie. And that happened only perhaps once in two or three months. So we had no option but to for the Sunday evening movies on Doordarshan even though they played old flicks from the sixties and seventies.

The most exciting parts of course were the action sequences that unfortunately came only in the last 20 mins when the hero would beat the villain to pulp and police would come only to say “you’re under arrest” to the villain who was by then half dead.

Slowly word started spreading that there was something called cable TV and if you got connection you could see as many movies as you like. I was told that there were channels that showed only movies throughout the day. And you even had English movie channels that showed movies of Hollywood stars you had only heard or read about.

Wow! That sounded so cool. Names like Stallone, Bruce Lee and Schwarzenegger (Arnold’s name I had heard for the first time from a friend who was bragging about having seen a movie called Terminator in Calcutta. But he couldn’t catch the  last name and called him ‘Swizenberger’ ) were filtering in through the grapevine. We couldn’t wait to get the cable connection.

But my parents obviously did not share our excitement. “Cable TV? Your board exams are only six months away,” my mother said, effectively putting an end to the conversation. However, there was a silver lining when after days of pleading she said, “Let your exams get over and if you score well, then we’ll see.”

That was enough motivation to take to studies with a religious zeal. Months passed, exams came and went, I did well despite many odds (a story for another time).

Then came the day we got our cable connection. A dream was fulfilled. Now I could see as many movies as I liked. But alas the Hollywood action flicks I used to dream about were not being shown. I checked the listings in the newspapers everyday and both Hindi & English channels were churning out duds (by my standards because they were not action flicks).

Finally after a few weeks I caught my first Bruce Lee film — “Enter the Dragon”. And my idea of an action film changed forever. Now all the punches of an ageing Dharmendra or Mithun Chakraborty couldn’t hold my attention. I had seen Lee in action.

Then one after the other came Rambo, Terminator, 36 Chambers of Shaolin the list was endless. Some I caught on TV some and on video cassettes (by then the only video shop in town was beginning to stock Hollywood flicks).

Years passed and I graduated to watching serious cinema both in Indian languages and world movies, but even now I feel as excited watching the reruns of those fantastic action flicks that blew me away from watching the tame stuff dished out by Bollywood.