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.
It’s more than nostalgia speaking when I say that Mahesh Bhatt’s Hum Hain Rahi Pyar Ke (1993), a movie that I first saw when I was seven years old, is one of Hindi cinema’s most endearing “family” films – a term that we often use to describe stories about children in context of the adult families rejuvenated by them.
A young Aamir Khan charmed a generation just about starting out on Bollywood romances, by playing a character (Rahul, of course) yanked out of his youth to take custody of his deceased sister’s orphaned kids. In him, many of us real-life kids saw an uncle closer to our age – that is, a movie hero tied down by sudden adulthood, yet one that can still stay a hero by being a father figure.
Then there was the infectious Juhi Chawla (as rebellious Vyjayanti Iyer), who for some reason did two of her most underrated career roles (the other being One Two Ka 4) as virtually the same character – a peppy girl who infiltrates and transforms a household struggling to recover from an untimely tragedy. The kids, too, were alright – little Kunal Khemu, Sharokh Bharucha and Baby Ashrafa oscillated between bratty and brave. They go from resenting an uptight uncle to ‘creating’ a cool one.
But it was the rest of the cast that went a long way in creating an uplifting story out of an inherently gloomy situation. The cameos were culturally diverse and playfully stereotypical – Dalip Tahil as the overzealous and money-minded Sindhi villain, a smart Navneet Nishan as his spoiled daughter and Rahul’s rich seductress, Tiku Talsania as Rahul’s well-meaning but jittery Parsi lawyer, K.D. Chandran as Vyjayanti’s orthodox Tam-Brahm father (a role that the evergreen Shiv Subramaniam mastered in 2 States, too), and Veeru Krishnan as the hysterically effeminate classical dancer and Vyjayanti’s caste match made in hell.
The one that remains with me after all these years, though, is veteran character actor Mushtaq Khan as Bhagwati Prasad Mishra, the incompetent and eager-to-please manager of Rahul’s garment factory.
“Mishraji” is a hyperactive Bihari immigrant who, despite being used as the comic-relief element in this film, seems to be a self-made man in dire need of human intervention. If the story had chosen him as a protagonist, it might have been an equally heartwarming underdog film about a dim-witted but hard-working chap whose young boss unwittingly changes his life. His position is the ultimate example of how seniority and experience in this country tends to insulate the weakest of them from criticism. Khan, high-waist trousers and hand-in-pocket reverence, gets the gait down pat – and even overplays it to accentuate the plight of a manager desperate to keep the factory running despite its owner’s death.
He repeatedly punctuates on his 4-years-in-Japan training – the highlight of his modest career, and according to him, an indicator of his worth. In just a handful of scenes, though, he becomes the yin to Rahul’s yang. He at once serves as a reminder of what Rahul doesn’t want to turn into, as well as a journeyman whose loyalty he appreciates. In a way, he is a living embodiment of the legacy Rahul has had to adopt despite being a simple engineering student – Mishraji is irritating, challenging, new, emotional and somewhat of a defeatist, and exactly the wake-up call Rahul needs to ease into his role as a responsible patriarch.
The more Rahul is forced to deal with him, the more equipped he becomes to deal with the kids he has inherited. Mishraji appears early in the movie, and stays right till the end, sticking with the young boss through thick and thin. He starts out perhaps hoping to be a mentor to a mild college boy, but remains resigned to his subservient fate when he realizes that Rahul is actually older, and firmer, than his age suggests. Still, he grows with his boss.
By the final scene, you can sense that it’s not just Mishraji who might have turned a new leaf to support Rahul, but also Rahul who begins to admire the spirit embedded within the man’s ‘nuisance’. There is a feeling that, going forward, maybe Mishraji will go from comedian to drama-queen – a promotion, if there was ever one.