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2 June 2012

My Favourites: Iconic Characters in Hindi Films

We go to see a masala film because of the actors, perhaps, or sometimes because of the directors. We come back with a medley of memories of beautiful people, gorgeous locales, melodious songs, and in some cases, non-stop zany entertainment. Think Nasir Hussain, Manmohan Desai, S Mukherjee et al. In certain cases, the actors disappear into the characters, and we actually identify with them and their narratives, their simple joys and sorrows leaving an indelible mark on our lives that we are touched by them long after we have moved on to the next blend of spices. Films by Bimal Roy, Hrishikesh Mukherjee, etc., would fall into this slot. 

Sometimes, however, there are 'characters' that take on a life all their own, one that their makers did not intend, one that the actors playing them did not expect. In most cases, the character came to be identified as one of the actor's best roles (Anthony, Basanti), roles that one cannot imagine any one else doing; in others, the character became bigger than the person playing the role (Shakaal), thus leading to the actor spending the rest of his career trying to live up to that one role that made him a byword in the annals of cinema.

These are characters that have the best lines and the best punch lines in stock, the dialogues you remember for years after you watched the film, characters that are more than just cardboard cutouts. They can be realistic (or as realistic as commercial Hindi films will allow them to be), or over-the-top in a so-bad-they-are-good category; they can appeal to your emotions, or to your funny bone, they can be funny or evil, chatty or independent, or suave and well, villainous. What matters is that the actors playing these roles have used their expressions, their body language, and their dialogue delivery to breathe life into paper characters, making them their own, and in some ways, subsuming themselves in them.

Let's start with the biggest, and probably the most iconic of Hindi film characters (the rest follow in no particular order).

1. Gabbar Singh (Amjad Khan / Sholay): Kitne aadmi the?
When a scene is chilling simply because the first glimpse you get is that of his legs, with a belt swinging idly by his side, and the tension builds up with the background noises, and a quietly spoken Kitne aadmi the? you know you are in for some great villainy. That the next sentence is almost screamed out makes it even more startling. This was a character who was frightening because he was ruthless. There was no backstory that tells you why he became a dacoit, and Gabbar Singh stole the thunder right from under the noses of a stellar cast that comprised Dharmendra, Sanjeev Kumar and Amitabh Bachchan. Amjad Khan's deadpan delivery only served to underline his ruthlessness. Ab tera kya hoga, Kaalia must rank as prelude to one of the most sadistic scenes ever filmed - all the more chilling for the suddenness of the conclusion.
Amjad Khan did have a long and reasonably successful career as villain, but he never quite scaled the heights that he reached in his fascinating debut. Sholay was an example of masala film-making at its best. Each and every character in the film, including the minor ones, were etched out with such loving detail that the 'stars' did not overwhelm the plot. 

2. Basanti (Hema Malini / Sholay): Mujhe befizool ki baat karne ki aadat toh hai nahin...
Talking of Sholay, how can one forget its single iconic female character who could not only stand up to all the testosterone, lending the film not only its oases of romance and humour, but who was also feisty enough to handle some action on her own? Amidst the all-male line-up in a masala film in the seventies, it says much for both the (male) writers that they conjured up a fitting example of what a heroine should (ideally) be, but usually, is not. 

This was Hema Malini's crowning moment - the pick of her long and very successful career. It says much for the strength of the character that no one has really been able to play the firebrand Basanti as well she did. (The less said about the travesty that was the remake, the better!) Talkative to a fault, and independent (she earns a living driving a tonga), she is definitely not the stereotypical village belle, there for only the romance and the mandatory songs and dances.
Chal, Dhanno, aaj teri Basanti ki izzat ka sawaal hai was a fitting end to the non-stop chatter with which she peppered the film. Director Farah Khan paid her a fitting tribute in Main Hoon Na,  her ode to the good old masala  entertainers of the seventies.

3. Prem Chopra (Prem Chopra / Bobby): Prem naam hai mera, Prem Chopra
Probably the best six-word introductory dialogue that any villain has ever had! When that villain has a face a hero might envy, it added just that edge that a teenage love story needed. An edge that lost none of its underlying sharpness for all that it was uttered in a very soft-spoken manner. Pitched against the innocence of two teenagers, his quiet (but slimy) villainy was all the more effective.
 
Prem Chopra had already made a name for himself as villain, but he remembers being totally unconvinced of the efficacy of this dialogue. He credits Raj Kapoor with making all of India hate him with unheard of intensity. 

4. Bobby (Dimple Kapadia / Bobby): I am Bobby. Mujhse dosti karoge?
One cannot think of Bobby without bringing in its eponymous heroine. The first teenage love story in Hindi films, Bobby Braganza and Raj Nath became the faces of teenage angst. Dimple Kapadia brought in both innocence and sensuality to the role of a Goan Christian girl, and Raj Kapoor, fortunately did not buy into many of the stereotypical tropes while picturing that community.
In scripting a film that shows lovers' rebellion against class and religious differences, Raj Kapoor may not have been treading new ground, but his treatment made all the difference.
Dimple Kapadia's Bobby was young and spirited, self-respecting and naive - a perfect foil for the adult debut of young Rishi Kapoor. The freshness of the young leads, coupled with excellent performances from veterans Pran and Premnath as the warring fathers ensured that Bobby remains a benchmark for teen romances even today.

5. Lion (Ajit / Kalicharan): Saara shehar mujhe 'loin' ke naam se jaante hain
The film played on the villain's name and NO 17, one of the vital clues in solving the case. It was Shatrughan Sinha's debut, and it was a stunning one, but Subhash Ghai's directorial debut gave us one of the suavest, most sophisticated of villains. Ajit channelled his Dharam Dayal Teja from Zanjeer, where he had given a new face to villainy. In Kalicharan's Din Dayal, he was the epitome of cool - his villain was always attired in natty suits and crisp sherwanis, well-polished shoes, and dazzling sunglasses.
With a savvy female accomplice in tow ('Mona Darling' and 'Robert' being almost as iconic as their employer), Lion delivered his catch phrases with a nasal twang that made his villainy remarkable. The accent, the dialogue delivery, the supreme confidence - Ajit was perfect! 

6. Mogambo (Amrish Puri / Mr India): Mogambo khush hua
India's first sci-fi film? Who knows? But what a fun ride, and to think it was Shekhar Kapoor, earnest, indie Shekhar Kapoor who helmed this riotous roller coaster. On the face of it, Mogambo was a farcical villain - all he did was enunciate the corniest of dialogues in his deep voice. Of course, his aim was control of India, and then, world domination. So why on earth was he interested in ousting an ordinary violinist and a bunch of orphan children from their modest home on the Bandra seaside? Who knew? Who cared? Along with 'Calendar' (Satish Kaushik in a fantastic cameo), Mr India boasted of Miss Hawa Hawaii, and Daga and Teja ("Bheja?" queries the lovely Miss Hawa Hawaii) - all creations from the fertile mind of Javed Akhtar, the man who, along with his partner, Salim Khan created such iconic characters as Gabbar Singh, and penned such pithy one-liners in movies that had gone before.
 
But Amrish Puri embraced Mogambo in all his flamboyance; he was a comic-book villain, hamming it up attired in gold brocade (and epaulets!) and boots, with a villain's den the likes of which had never been seen before. Boney Kapoor, the producer, pulled out all stops to ensure that his over-the-top villain had a lair worthy of him. He had a throne to sit on, an acid pond to throw his enemies into (one into which his loyal soldiers jump, at one command), and a plethora of slimy, wicked baddies to do his bidding. Shekhar Kapoor's deft direction ensured that a hilarious time was had by all. Hail Mogambo, King of India!

7. Anthony Bhai (Amitabh Bachchan / Amar Akbar Anthony)
Bambaiyya Hindi had never been so popular before. With tight shirts worn unbuttoned to expose a huge silver cross, the bootlegger-local dada-ward-of-the-local-priest, Anthony bhai was the ultimate in masala cool. In Manmohan Desai's brothers-separated-at-birth masala entertainer, Amitabh Bachchan played the middle brother, born of Hindu parents and raised by a Christian priest. Desai lost no chance to hit us over the head with the secular angle (the other brothers are raised by a Hindu policeman and a Muslim tailor respectively), but managed to deftly weave the insanity into a swallowable pill.
Amitabh's Anthony (named after Pyarelal's violin teacher Anthony Gonsalvez) brews illicit liquor, is a police informer, unless the dark side pays him not to inform against them, springs out of giant Easter eggs dressed in spats and a top hat, fights (and loses) against his elder brother, and talks to his own reflection when drunk. Umm, he also gives blood to his 'real' mother (Nirupa Roy, in a burst of extra carelessness, misplaces not one or two, but three children in this mad epic), serenades his beautiful Jenny on the beach (in Hinglish) and calls on his partner-in-crime (Jesus) to save him when he is being beaten up. 

8. Circuit (Arshad Warsi / Munnabhai series)
   
The Munnabhai  series would not have been the entertainer it became, if it hadn't been for Munna's sidekick, Circuit. At the end of the first movie, he even has a child called 'Short Cirtcuit'. Circuit is a very Wodehousian character, and the films are peppered with some fantastic one-liners in typical Bombay slang. The unprecedented success of the Munnabhai franchise made Circuit a household name - the loyal, lovable, good-natured goonda has ensconced Arshad Warsi firmly in the annals of iconic characters.
Starting with a parallel role in Tere Mere Sapne, he got slotted into inane comic roles until he played Babban in Ishqiya. In between, he also took on some interesting characters in Sehar and Waisa Bhi. However, it will be as Circuit that he is remembered - whether that is a good thing or a bad one is left to be ascertained. 

9. Crime Master Gogo (Shakti Kapoor / Andaz Apna Apna) Aankhen nikalkar gotiyan kheloonga   
Dressed as a cross between a pirate and a super hero, Crime Master Gogo wears sun glasses both inside and outside, and roams around on a bicycle which he steals from Bhalla and Robert. After all, as he says, Aaya hoon to kuch toh lootkar jaaoonga; khandaani chor hoon. 

In a film that referenced and cross-referenced other Hindi films (the heroes were called Amar and Prem) the actors themselves (the heroines were Raveena and Karisma - interestingly, while Raveena was actually Karisma, and Karisma, Raveena, for the second half of the movie, it was otherwise in the first half), and parodied dialogues (Yeh Teja Teja kya hai croons Gogo as Teja and Ram Gopal Bajaj (Hamara Bajaj) fight over who the real Teja is, taking off on Yeh ILU ILU kya hai, the hit song from Saudagar), it was indeed fit that Crime Master Gogo was Mogambo's nephew.
This was one of Shakti Kapoor's finest performances, one that won him a well-deserved award for best performance in a comic role. Andaz Apna Apna was a film which did not take itself (or us) seriously, and it is to the credit of every single actor that they made the insanity believable. 
 
10. Sher Khan (Pran / Zanjeer) Is ilaaqe mein naye aaye ho, saaheb? Varna Sher Khan ko kaun nahin jaanta?
Zanjeer may have been the beginning of Amitabh Bachchan's journey to superstardom, but who, having seen the film, could have come away unimpressed by Sher Khan? The hennaed Pathan, who flicked an errant lock away from his forehead, and who, having lost a fight to Vijay still makes you feel that he could have won, if he only wanted to? 

Prakash Mehra is on record that Zanjeer would never have been made if it hadn't been for Pran. Pran gave up a role in Shor, even though Manoj Kumar had given him a change of image in Upkaar earlier, because he was already committed to Prakash Mehra. It was also Pran who gave Prakash Mehra his hero. The script of Zanjeer had already made the rounds to several heroes - Dev Anand, Dharmendra, Raaj Kumar - before Pran recommended a not-very-successful newcomer who was his son's friend.
Pran's Sher Khan was enacted with class. He is an honourable man, a man who can appreciate courage in another, and can bow down without subservience in appreciation of that courage. He is as loyal a friend as he is an implacable enemy. And he also got to dance! (Pran was aghast when he was told that there was a qawaali to be filmed on him. But Prakash Mehra did not relent, and we got the wonderful Manna Dey Yaari hai imaan meraa song that was more than integral to the plot.)

Three other characters who rate an honourable mention are Col. Julius Nagendranath Wilfred Singh (Ashok Kumar / Choti si Baat), Dhurandhar Bhatavadekar (Utpal Dutt / Rang Birangi) and Mrs D'sa (Lalita Pawar / Anari). They may not have been the central characters, but they are the pivots around which the films move. 

It is interesting that out of the above list, there are only two 'heroines' and one 'hero' - the others are either villains, or play a secondary part to the main leads. It just strengthens my feeling that a great film is one that pays as much attention to the story and its secondary characters, as it does to the story of the 'hero' and 'heroine'.

48 comments:

  1. Very interesting post, Anu! I've not seen Kalicharan yet, but I agree with all the other iconic characters you've listed - all of them very memorable. And Gabbar Singh, in my opinion too, certainly wins hands down.

    The one person who'd come immediately to my mind as iconic may have been iconic for the oddest of reasons - a lover so depressed (and depressive) that he (indirectly) killed himself. Dilip Kumar as Devdas. Another depressed iconic character who occurred to me when I began reading was Guru Dutt as Vijay in Pyaasa. Neither Devdas nor Pyaasa are masala films, but still...

    P.S. No, Mr India wasn't the first sci-fi Hindi film. If fantasy counts, there were loads - Aab-e-Hayat, Parasmani, etc - from the 50s. Even if one excludes fantasy, there are other films. Kishore Kumar plays an 'Invisible Man' in Mr X in Bombay, for instance, and I do remember hearing about a Dara Singh flick named Chaand pe Chadhaai, aka Trip to Moon. :-)

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  2. Thanks, Madhu. I agree with Devdas being iconic - especially Dilip Kumar's Devdas.

    I'm not sure I would agree with  Pyaasa's Vijay being iconic in that sense. I mean, the movie was great, and Guru Dutt did a wonderful job, but there was nothing that separated 'Vijay' from any other disillusioned lover. I mean, if you said 'Vijay' one is more likely to think of Amitabh, who was named that in countless movies, rather than Guru Dutt. Or if you said 'lovelorn poet' one is still hardly likely to think of Pyaasa. I'm far more likely to think of Bharat Bhushan, for some reason. He had that dejected look down pat.

    About Mr India - I put that in only because I read somewhere that it was India's first sci-fi; and I knew about Mr X in Bombay for one (never heard about the Dara Singh one); the others would pass of as fantasy, I think, which is a completely distinct genre, and quite different from sci-fi. I was raising doubts about it. :)

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  3. Usually I read the post and then re-read it while commenting. Today, I just read the intro andd am totally fascinated by what is to come and also very very curious!

    Hey Gabbar Singh!!!
    In my opinion, he this is the most iconic role ever!!!! He gets the position from 1-10 and the rest come next. MD said this about Amitabh once in an interview in the Illustrated Weekly of India.

    Basanti
    What a nice role! And Hema did it with such a fervour. In lesser hands, it could have turned into a caricature, but Sippy, S-J and Hema didn't fall in that trap.

    Prem Chopra
    Really! You find him good-looking? Hmm, yeah, everybody to his/her own taste!
    Can't really agree with you on this choice.

    Bobby, I know it being heralded as THE teenage love story. I just found it sleazy, the way Dimple is presented in the film.

    Ajit's Loin is surely iconic! though he gets his zoology a bit mixed, showing tiger and calling himself lion! Cool!

    Mr. India is surely not India's first sci-fi film. KK's Mr. X in Bombay is surely one of the first ones and then there was this Wahan Ke Log or something like that with Pradeep Kumar and Tanuja.
    But Mogambo as a villian was great! Amrish played it like how Mogambo would play Mogambo!

    Anthony! What is there not to love him about! Great character! great portrayal by Amitabh. In those days he couldn't do anything wrong, could he?

    Crime master Gogo is such a hilarious and lovable character. And it speaks a lot for the character that one ended up even liking Shakti Kapoor in this role,w ho otherwise is UGH!

    I haven't seen Zanjeer as yet, but have seen scenes of Pran in that film and can believe that he does kick some ass there!

    For me one iconic character not emntioned here is, Anand! Rajesh Khanna just embodied that role. Sohrab Modi as Puru in Sikander, Meena Kumari as Chhoti Bahu, Johnny Walker as the tel malish guy in Pyaasa would also count as iconic for me.

    The post made good reading and it makes me want to watch all the films (except Bobby) all over again.
    Thank you Anu!

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  4. Harvey, thank you for your detailed comment. It is always a pleasure to read them. I think every one would agree that Gabbar Singh was (probably) *the* most iconic character we have ever seen, all others notwithstanding.

    As for Prem Chopra, his looks are not to my taste ( I tend to go for the slightly ugly, scruffy looking, but there is no denying he was a very good looking man. Take a look at this:

    http://www.premchopra.com/profile.htm

    About Bobby - I don't know about it being sleazy. Did you think so? Or is it confirmation bias because he tended in later years to drench his heroines? (And that was only when Padmini came into the picture.)

    I watched Bobby recently - so he had her in mini-skirts and swimsuits. He still managed to make her look so innocent. I am a woman, and I truly didn't see 'sleazy' when I saw her. But then, I didn't see 'sleazy' when I saw Mandakini under the waterfall in Ram Teri Ganga Maili either. The press played it up big time - and a still picture can look sleazier than a passing glimpse in the film - which is all it was, actually.

    Not seen Zanjeer?? Harvey your film education is incomplete! Here is the link. Watch! Now!
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ciLrERNNFw0&feature=results_video&playnext=1&list=PLC0C7BE7EA49E1561

    About your choices: Meena Kumari as Chhoti Bahu - definitely.  'Anand'? Not so much. Because to me, Anand had another iconic character; a side role - Babu Moshai. No one will ask you who you are talking about. :)

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  5. Oh, I wouldn't think of Vijay as a 'lovelorn poet', more 'disillusioned poet' or 'cynical poet'.

    Incidentally, it just occurred to me that I recently reviewed a film that had quite an iconic character: Raj Kumar's Raju in Waqt. I don't care for him as an actor, but his style and panache (not to mention his dialogues!) in that film were quite something.

    Will check out Trip to Moon. :-)

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  6. I wish you luck (Trip to Moon)... it sounds deliciously like one of the films Memsaab reviews. :))

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  7. Great post Anu. You've named all the ones I would know.
    What about Miss chin chin chou? Would that count? Mughal e azam is a very iconic film, and I'm wondering whether Salim/Akbar/Anarkali would be an iconic character.
     

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  8. I just thought of another one. Jaya's Guddi.
    Have you noticed how few women are remembered iconically?

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  9. Thanks, pacifist. Helen was Miss Chin Chin Chou only through the song, and while that may be remembered, I do not know if it would be considered iconic - at least not in the sense I used it in my post. I do not know how to explain the term 'iconic' as I have used it (I know it in my head) but (for me), the character has to supercede the actor playing it. Or be a role that one cannot imagine anyone else playing it. In that sense, Dilip Kumar's Devdas for instance, fits the bill - there have been other Devdas' before and since, but it is his performance that is the definitive one.

    Like I was telling Harvey, to me, Anand is not iconic - anyone could have been Anand. But 'Babu Moshai' - that was an iconic character. Not Amitabh as Babu Moshai, but the character itself.

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  10. Yes! Jaya's Guddi definitely! You are right - there are very few female icons. Shows the sad state of good women characters, no?

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  11. Circuit is such a nicely-written character and Arshad Warsi played him to the hilt. I think he and Riteish Deshmukh are excellent comedians, probably my favorites, currently.

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  12. Agree with both your observations. :)

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  13. Chitrapatsangeet5 June 2012 at 08:24

    Nice theme Anu! I loved Kanhaiyalaal as Lala in Mother India.What a terror he was! Such a great, great actor.

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  14. No, Prem Chopra does nothing to me and just can't say that he looked good! He wasn't a bad-looking man, but nothing outstanding. But he was a good villain, his appearance and dialogue delivery did make feel as if I had touched a snail.
    Re.: Bobby
    I don't mind drenching heroines. But there is a difference between Moushmi running drenched thorugh the streets of Bombay in rhim jhim gire sawan or the  folds of the skirt positioned over the thigh, o so artificially, while stepping out of the pool/pond. Mandakini below the waterfall compared to that can even be called aesthetic. But making a teenage girl run through the film in clumsy chaddis, putting her in a see through mini-dress at home, pressing her in a blouse with a décolleté so deep that it looked as if it would spill its contents any moment, while all others go normally dressed for the 70s (except for Bobby's father :-D), looks sleazy for me.
    No, I don't have anything against semi-clad women. I was just watching chori chori solah shingar karungi yesterday. Except for cringing at Zeenat Aman rolling on tiles, which looked fungal-infected, I found it done quite nicely.
    But maybe I just have to learn to check my tongue while writing here about Raj Kapoor. ;-)
    No, I know you can accept an opinion different to yours. That is why I like to come here! :-)

    Yeah, you are right my filmi education is not over yet!
    But I have to warn you, if you go on giving me filmi lessons, I will go ahead and interpret it as I like, the way i did it with Deewar! ;-)

    For me Anand remains an iconic character, because every time I see a terminally-ill patient on screen (thank god, only on screen), i have to think of Anand. And Babu Moshai, finds its palce in my memory not because of Amitabh, but for the way Rajesh Khanna begins his recording by calling out his name. I am not a big Rajesh Khanna fan. But he deserved a award just for the way he calls out Babu Moshai! Fantastic!!!!!

    Don't be mad at me for having a different opinion, just kick me! ;-)

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  15. I think tom Daniel has uploaded Wahan Ke Log (wahan = mars). I am not sure but I remember somebody mentioning that, but if he had then Greta would have written a review

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  16. Harvey,

    his appearance and dialogue delivery did make feel as if I had touched a snail.

    That's the greatest compliment to Prem Chopra's skill. :)

    No, I'm not going to beat you up over your differing opinions about Raj Kapoor. You are certainly not the first person to say that. But I had a much more visceral reaction against his portrayal of Padmini in Mera Naam Joker. I watched Bobby quite recently and my whole reaction was 'Eh, what?' but that could also be because I'm so inured to seeing heroines in the skimpiest of dresses while the heroes are all togged up from head to toe. (Also, I live in the US, and it's soon going to be summer - the girls will all be in the itsiest shorts and the tightest, smallest Ts, while the boys will have shorts that fall to their calves and T-Shirts that hit mid-thigh. *sigh*

    Laughing my head off at Except for cringing at Zeenat Aman rolling on tiles, which looked fungal-infected,. You say the funniest things!

    About Anand - oh, definitely, the way Rajesh Khanna says Babu Moshai is definitive in its own way. And I really, really liked Kaka in the film. He was so natural. But terminally  ill patients, there was Mili and Anand and (probably the most definitive one, for me) Jennifer from Love Story. Somehow,
    Babu Moshai, while only a supporting character, became the mirror which showed us Anand as he was. Just my two cents. :)

    And I'm not going to kick you for having a differing opinion. I wonder what you must think of me, to think I would do that!

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  17. Kanhaiyalaal was a great, great, great actor! It's a shame that Hindi cinema focusses so much on its leads that we tend to forget the supporting cast. And you have given me the idea for another post. Thank you, Karthik. :)

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  18.  Yes, I remember Greta reviewing that. Haven't seen the movie, though.

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  19.  "I wonder what you must think of me, to think I would do that!"

    I have already answered that!
    I know you can accept an opinion different to yours. That is why I like to come here! :-)

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  20. :) Continue to come by and entertain us with your comments, Harvey. You have such a droll sense of humour.

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  21. Thank heavens Greta *does* review those. I don't even have the time to watch the movies I *do* want to watch, much less over the top bad ones such as these. In any case, I'm pretty sure that her reviews outclass the film by several notches. :)

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  22. Wonderful theme, Anu. I would have never thought of writing a post on that !

    For me, Amitabh's character in "Bemisaal" (1982) is welll...bemisaal. Hrishida truly explores all shades in that one character and yet it manages to win the audiences' sympathy...well that is truly mind blowing.

    Another one is Dharmendra's character in "Bandini" (1963) as the prison doctor. Of course, the movie belonged to Ashok Kumar and Nutan, but I truly believe he did leave a mark. Imagine someone at the beginning of his career starring opposite such great actors and with such a great director doing that. Same for Sanjeev Kumar in "Satyakaam" (1969).

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  23. Very true, Arshad did a wonderful job as circuit. Did you know? When beginning "Lage Raho Munnabhai"(2006), he had forgotten all his mannerisms. He had to watch the MBBS movie DVD and pick them up !!

    Riteish is also aswonderful actor. For me he did a wonderful job in "Bluff Master"(2005).

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  24. Nargis in "Mother India" (1957) sure should top that list.

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  25. Thanks, Shashi. :) I'm glad I had an inspiration! All your selections - yes, they are unforgettable, but I cannot say they are iconic. To be iconic, the character has to be somewhat unique, even within the framework. Like for instance, Gabbar Singh. There have been dacoits before, and since. But he was larger than life. Same thing with teen love stories - so many of them have come and gone, merging into one another. But Bobby was a class apart, and also the first. There has to be *something* that sets that character apart.

    In Sholay for instance, the truly iconic characters were not the leads, except for Basanti. Gabbar was the villain. Then the Angrez zamaane ka jailor, Hari Ram, the barber, and even Soorma Bhopali - they were *all* iconic. Think about it - can you even *imagine* Sholay without any of these secondary characters? Where would Anand be without his Babu Moshai?

    So while I can accept Devdas and Guddi and Mother India, the others don't somehow make the cut. There are great roles, great characterisations. But in my mind at least, they do not come under 'iconic'.  Your mileage may vary. :)

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  26. I didn't know that. Thanks, Shashi. :)

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  27. Yes, definitely iconic. But i hated Mother India, and I hated Nargis in that. :)

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  28. Hmmm...I still don't know if I can see where you are coming from. I think my characters make a cut with at least one of your points is what I guess.

    But maybe not all of them, which is why they may not come across as iconic in your eyes.

    I think Kalyani in Bandini would not have shown such a gamut of emotions had it not been for Dr. Devender.

    Even Sanjeev Kumar was so mindblowing when he discusses about getting his daughter to Dharmendra's son in Satyakam. The way he says, "Bhabhi, is tarah mujhe mat dekho"....I can never forget that scene ever. I think that movie belonged equally to all characters and not just Dharmendra. Of course, it could be his best role, but I think everyone else has contributed so wonderfully to the story.

    On Bemisaal, I think that was Hrishida's last movie with Amitabh, but what a swan song !! A college friend referred me to the movie, so it could be that would have affected my judgement a bit.

    All in all, Anu. Thanks so much, I repeat - I would have never thought of such a theme. And I ust once again thank you and the other bloggers for giving me so much fodder for thought on my favorite topic - Bollywood !!

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  29. AND.....

    BTW, circuit's character was written keeping Javed Jaffery in mind. Don't know why it didn't work out. But it did prompt him to work with Raju Hirani for the only guest appearance so far - 3 idiots. I don't want to go far ahead.... :-)

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  30. :-)

    I watched it as a kid on Doordarshan with my father. He was teary eyed and was so pumped up to see young Birju !!

    That for me is more precious than the movie. So I guess your childhood memories does play a part in your likes and dislikes :-)

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  31. I think my point is, and I am sorry I'm being so unclear, that if you say 'Gabbar Singh' for instance, or 'Basanti' or 'Circuit', you know immediately who is being referred to. You can recollect the dialogues, the punchlines...

    Whereas, the others may be unforgettable characters, who, by dint of excellent acting by the actors playing the roles do stick in your mind, but say 'Kalyani' and I am not immediately going to jump to Bandini. I might make the connection between Satyapriy and Satyakam but only if I have seen the film.  Say 'Angrez zamaane ka jailor' and doesn't your mind immediate jump to Sholay?  So to me, being 'iconic' means the character transcends that particular film and sort of, becomes the most important thing, irrespective of the length of the role.

    Now, is that good or bad? I do not know. Certainly, Kalyani or Satyapriy were definitely better etched characters (and better acted roles in better directed films) than a caricature like Mogambo. So were a host of other characters. Amitabh's character in Bemisaal is one of his best; so is the one in Saudagar - but if you want 'iconic' then Anthony and Don will ring more bells.

    Does that make it clear(er)? :)

    ps: But I am glad the post provokes this sort of discussion. It is the sort we used to have when we were in Bombay, and friends would pile on in our one-bedroom flat, and we would sit nattering on until the early hours. We were all passionate about books and music and films.Sometimes, the discussions got very heated. :) But oh, I miss those days!

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  32. Really? I didn't know that! I used to love Javed's Videocon Flashback. My son used to call him 'Mad uncle'. (He was 4 at the time, and would religiously watch it for Javed's antics and the old Hindi songs.)

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  33. Of course they do. Our memories are inextricably bound with our present. Sometimes, we may not even know just why we like or dislike a particular thing. I'm glad you have that memory of your father.

    Some of the movies and books and songs I like today are because of my father's influence. He took me to see films, he bought me the books I read, the music I first listened to was the songs he played on the radio... (And yes, he hated Mother India. So now you know why I hate it too! :))

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  34. I don't know how I missed this post, sorry to be late to comment. Obviously, I agree with most of the above (the ones I have seen); it is almost a chronology of my growing up years :)
    Have to put in a special mention for adding all those villains, especially Ajit, I think they deserve much more credit for the success of movies.

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  35. I guess I am one of the dumbest. I should have seen that much earlier. Thanks for clarifying it with so much detail.

    And the good newsis, I am with you all the way. :-) Not that its something to boast of. But its good news for me at least :-)

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  36. Yes, Javed did let that out just before the release of '3 idiots'. I racked my brains and couldn't think of any other movie that had him in a guest appearance.

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  37. Albela (1951), Naya Daur(1957)   and so many more....When will those days come back?

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  38. Samir, it's never too late to comment. :)

    I agree with you about villains. Those days, the villains matched the hero; they were not just caricatures. And yes, villains like Ajit, KN Singh and Pran all added to the film. They truly deserve credit.

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  39. No, I don't think you are dumb. It is easy to miss the point sometimes. And it helped me (in explaining to you) to clarify exactly what *I* meant by 'iconic'. :)

    And then, there's also the fact that I like that my posts provoke such discussion. It's all good. :)

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  40. Wasn't he in a special appearance in Lafangey Parindey? He's an immensely talented actor, you know. And an amazing dancer.

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  41. Oooh, love them! Chori Chori, Anadi, Chalti ka Naam Gaadi, Ganga Jumna... the list goes on and on.

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  42. Subodh Agrawal18 June 2012 at 04:57

    I am coming late to this post, and with 41 comments already I run the risk of repeating what someone else may have already said. I would say a character deserves to be called iconic if that actor/actress gets better known by the name of the character, than their own name - at least for some time. Gabbar Singh definitely fits the bill, but the one who fits this criterion squarely is Gopichand Jasoos of Bees Saal Baad. For a long time I didn't know that the actor's name was Asit Sen. Another one that comes to mind is Ranga, played by Joginder, of 'Ranga Khush' fame from Bindiya aur Bandook. A real life criminal actually adopted this one as his name - people of my age group will recall the unfortunate case of Chopra children with Billa and Ranga as the two culprits.

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  43.  Subodh, der aaye, durust aaye :) And you are right - Gopichand Jasoos definitely fits the description. In fact, he must be the only character who spun off his own film later on, no? I remember the Billa-Ranga case, but I didn't know the name was taken from a film.

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  44. The choices are excellent but would also like to give Sanjeev Kumar a place in this list. Of course the list may be endless but Sanjeev Kumar's performance in Khilona was par excellence.

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  45. Thanks for dropping in, Anil, and for commenting. I wasn't writing a post on my favourite performances, or even the best performances. :) Which is why Sanjeev Kumar didn't make the cut. See, even in Sholay, it's not Jai or Veeru or the Thakur who are iconic - it's the secondary characters.

    (See my response to Shashi below where I described *my* definition of iconic.)

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  46. I liked the selection and also your explanation of "iconic". I guess I agree with you. But for me the high point of this blog is your writing, e.g., "Nirupa Roy, in a burst of extra carelessness,....", I'm still laughing. Great use of language.

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  47.  Thank you, Nalini. Do you realise you just made my day? :)

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  48.  Glad to hear that. Keep writing.

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