Apart from Jeevan, Sudhir, whose death was reported yesterday, was another guilty pleasure of mine in Hindi cinema. That was mainly because he was the kind of presence in Hindi movies that rarely let you down. He did what he did with conviction. It is a pity that actors like him, who put in decades in bit and sidekick roles in dozens and dozens of movies, never really get feted or memorialized.
Sudhir, whose real name was Bhagwandas Mulchand Luthria, acted in 207 films in a career spanning 50 years, according to the IMDB. Oftentimes, people do not realize that if they liked a particular movie it was not necessarily because of its main cast but because of actors such as Sudhir. They bring a flavor to the overall experience which is generally hard to locate the source of. Think of a great meal uplifted by one minor spice or flavor. That was Sudhir.
Sudhir is a great example of when people say, “You know that actor in that movie…no, no that actor in that movie.” That actor in that movie was Sudhir. A viewer like me, who likes to look at minor characters closely, would know the name. Of course, as minor characters go, Sudhir was a major presence. To be able to leave a mark despite being the fourth guy on the right from the hero or the villain takes a lot of talent. I think Sudhir had perfected that art of being noticed in quickly passing roles.
Dear friend and filmmaker Digvijay Singh and I frequently talk about Sudhir in terms of what his character might say in a given situation. Diggi, who does a terrific impression of Sudhir, would invariably start his Sudhir impression by saying in a gruff, tobacco roughened voice, “Daaga Saab..” Sudhir’s frequently employed an accent that was deliberately of someone who had acquired Hindi rather than being born to it. I do Sudhir’s impression too but I end up sounding like a bizarre hybrid between Raj Kumar, Dev Anand and Jeevan.
It is hard for me to explain why Sudhir invariably brought a smile on my face every time he showed up on screen. He had a greatly underused talent as an actor which shined occasionally in movies such as ‘Satte pe satta’ where he played one Amitabh Bachchan’s six brothers. He was what Seinfeld might call a “high talker” in that film. Sudhir’s reflexive talent seemed to be comedy. It was one of my minor dreams to make a whole, over-the-top movie with Jeevan and Sudhir where they would both speak Hindi like two Englishmen. It was a black comedy with both Jeevan and Sudhir dressed up in improbably yet stylishly flamboyant clothes. For some reason, I have always thought that Sudhir and Jeevan could carry off the Seth MacFarlane brand of ‘Family Guy’ humor rather well. Throw in a bit of a Quentin Tarantino flair and you have a terrific film. Of course, it is not to be with both now gone.
Here is to Sudhir for entertaining me personally for decades and not even knowing it.
I have linked above to a song from one of his very early films—the 1961 outing ‘Oomar Qaid’ where he had a substantial role. This happens to be a terrific song composed by Iqbal Qureshi, written by Hasrat Jaipuri and sun by Mukesh.