In this weekly series, Rahul Desai lists 50 of Hindi cinema’s favourite “third wheels” – that is, memorable characters whose roles are little more than fleeting cameos and little less than supporting turns – since 1990. There will be no particular order: just a colourful recollection of emblematic faces who’ve left us craving for more.

Asad Dadarkar isn’t a very familiar name in Bollywood circles. This, despite being perhaps the most memorable character in a Hindi film that permanently altered the language of the urban-Indian “multiplex” movie. The first and last role this unassuming young man essayed before vanishing into thin air: Subodh, in Dil Chahta Hai, Farhan Akhtar’s famous directorial debut in 2001. He did it in good humour, and unintentionally created one of the noughties’ most endearing “third wheels”. Was he really like that? Did he disappear because he became the face of emasculated affection? Was he really an actor? Perhaps we’ll never know.

Subodh was in fact the nicest person in the film – a settled, sensitive “Momma’s Boy” employed by Akhtar as an extreme contradiction to dispel the middling temperament of the trifecta’s nice guy, Sameer (Saif Ali Khan), in a more pronounced manner. Subodh cares for his girlfriend Pooja (Sonali Kulkarni) like a “time table,” hoping to express affection in the form of memory, clingy anniversary dates and noble intent. He might have been a device for comic relief, but on his own, if freed from the shackles of a film’s supporting turn, Subodh is actually an extremely desirable Indian man – the kind who ends up with women that are keen to grow up, locate selflessness and escape vanity.

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It’s conflicted man-children like Sameer, and even Akash for that matter, who don’t quite make for ideal partners in the real world. Subodh is the “Sharma ji ka beta” our parents used to taunt us about; he is so straight and so right that it’s impossible for lesser mortals to not parody him. On another day, Subodh would be former wild-child Aditi’s (Kalki Koechlin) fiancé, Taran (Kunaal Roy Kapoor), in Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, the epitome of goofy decency who seems to have punched above his weight, but is consciously aware of the fact that he is interesting precisely because he isn’t.

And in another, he may have morphed into an older version: Surinder Sahni (Shah Rukh Khan) in Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi, with an entire film pivoting around his own inferiority complex. Good things often happen to such people, even if Subodh was eventually dumped by an embarrassed, but classically misguided, heroine. Pooja and Sameer, if you truly think of it, were misfits and would never have lasted. These days, however, you can be sure that many such Subodhs laugh their way into marital bliss.

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Subodh, over time, became more than a character; he became an adjective to address an entire breed of “stable” companions. “Don’t be such a Subodh” is a regular figure of speech even today, especially while mocking a particular brand of blandness and security in a relationship desperate for new-age pace and adventure. It isn’t complimentary, and yet it is – because he remains an aspirational figure in a country whose urban-dwelling, intellectually limited men are becoming increasingly aware of cinema’s unrealistic standards. And Hindi cinema, at least before this decade, depended so heavily on the inherent manliness of their heroes – even when they were losing and crying – that it became imperative to run down nerds and geeks in order to highlight the artificial complexities of good-looking love stories.

The fact is there’s a Subodh in all of us, even if we try to cover him up with existential Imtiaz Ali protagonists and timeless Bhansali declarations. For instance, I remember that it was around 6:33 PM on July 25, 2001 – a rainy weekend in Gujarat – when I first laid my eyes on this well groomed, deeply relatable and severely virginal movie character.

Best Scene

Most of Subodh’s painfully sincere lines, especially in the first scene at the restaurant and later on a leisurely drive, sound hilarious because they occur off-screen to Sameer’s disbelieving, poker-faced expressions and Pooja’s apologetic face. Perhaps the funniest moment is when he doesn’t realize that the joke is on him, as he seriously replies, “Of course, yaad hai. Theek 5:55 PM,” when Sameer sarcastically asks him if he remembers the time – and not just the day – of his first date with Pooja.

 

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