New Delhi: It's a sad day for Indian cinema. AK Hangal, the thespian whose mature take on the plight of the common man in a wide assortment of films delighted and charmed millions over four decades passed away on Sunday at a hospital in Mumbai. Hangal saab's last acting role was in the television serial Madhubala.
This is a piece I wrote at the time he wore make-up for the last time.
He takes tentative steps towards a cluster of people, guided purely by his senses, and the oppressive silence that warns him that something is not right here. The gentle timbre of his voice rings through the air heavy with mourning "yaha itna sannata kyu hai bhai"?
Thirty-seven years after AK Hangal shot that iconic scene from 'Sholay', the silence at the studio where the television serial Madhubala was being shot was shattered by applause from the people gathered at the set to watch his return to acting at the age of 95.
The veteran actor stepped out of his house for the first time in five months for the shooting of an episode of Madhubala in he has done a cameo. But Hangal proved that he may be a bit rusty around the edges at 95, but has not forgotten his art and pulled off his part in a single-take shot. He was, of course, delighted with the applause on the set.
"You see, my father now walks with the help of a walker. He doesn't even step outside the house. He stepped out for this role after almost four-five months," his son, Vijay Hangal said over the phone from Mumbai. "We stay about an hour's drive from the location of shoot, so we got him ready, the people from the production made every kind of arrangement to get him comfortably there," he said.
The senior actor rested for a while once he reached the location and then prepared himself for the shoot. It was a day's work and required the participation of someone who has seen Bollywood grow over the years and knew the industry as it once was.
"His work was appreciated by everyone, and he was himself quite happy with what he has done. He was smiling. Of course, we agreed only because it was a day's job and would not require too much of him. He does not keep very well," Vijay said.
Hangal's son had made an impassioned appeal through the media for help for the actor who was living in poverty and had little money to spare for medicines and bare essentials to keep him comfortable at his advanced age. Several industry professionals had responded to the call extending financial help to the beloved actor who made his debut in the 1967 film Shagird.
"People who have worked with my father, like Mr Amitabh Bachchan and also people much much younger, like Karan Johar, have helped out financially when they heard of the state we were in," Vijay said. He insisted that the actor had no immediate for money and that he was doing all right with the regular help from the association that looked into the welfare of cinema artistes.
Hangal has been active in filmdom since 1967 and played on-screen father, grandfather, great-grandfather and uncle to many top notch Bollywood actors, but two years ago Hangal - the famous 'Rahim Chacha' of 'Sholay' - was struggling for his life as his source of income had dried up and there was hardly any money for food or medicine.
Prashaant Bhatt, concept head of 'Madhubala', said that he thought about Hangal for the show because the serial is a tribute to 100 years of India. "As we have mentioned earlier that 'Madhubala' is a tribute to 100 years of Indian cinema. Mr AK Hangal has been part of the industry for such a long time and his presence made a huge difference to us. In fact, his blessings matter a lot," said Bhatt.
He was initiay sceptical about Hangal accepting the role, but the senior actor's enthusiasm proved his worries wrong.
"Very frankly, he was super excited to do the role. He is 97 now and he has not been keeping well, so we were sceptical whether he would agree to do the role. But when we spoke to him, he said when and where to come for the scene and what will be my role," added Bhatt, who is also the fiction head of Colors, told IANS. "He comes to the set, looks around and with his gentle voice he calls - 'makeup man'. Once an actor always an actor. It was an honour to have him on the show," he added.
"He is the oldest face in Indian cinema and since the show is a tribute to 100 years of cinema we wanted Hangal ji on the show. He comes on a wheel chair and is very excited and eager to know his lines. We don't have narrate too many scenes and lines since we don't want to exhaust him. But he feels at ease when on the sets." Hangal, who has acted in around 225 Hindi films and various TV shows in a career spanning nearly five decades, will be seen in a small role.
The episode that featured Hangal aired on Friday, June 1 at 8:00 pm on Colors.
'Madhubala' tells the story of a girl who is forced into the world of showbiz.
Drashti Dhami plays the title role and the cast also includes Vivian D'sena, Raj Zutshi and Shagufta Ali.