It is difficult to describe Vijay Raaz’s role and evolution in Bollywood, or to even box him in a sentence flourished with adjectives. As I was growing up, I knew him as the comic additive that several films loved to include. Despite how those films turned out, Raaz had always been able to hold his own. Even if it is just for a few minutes, he temporarily managed to smoothen all narrative creases through his pure and vain-less slapstick.
The Raaz repertoire is fairly vast — ranging from a philosophising and relaxed air traffic controller to the formidable but cartoonish gangster. And each character of his came with some sort of a predicament, either of the bowels or of love. Here’s a list of all those crackling Vijay Raaz moments, where, somehow, he’s always stuck in some LOL-filled quarry on-screen.
Delhi Belly – The potty-mouthed gangster
In his introductory scene, Raaz neatly sets a red cloth on his table to give the diamonds, he is about to remove from a container, an honourable base. But instead, his crimson red fabric is graced with a wreath of crap. It is difficult to imagine that the cause of a local gangster’s troubles is a man whose bowels are in flux. And it is even more difficult to imagine that the ensuing ‘shitshow’, in one of India’s most comically irreverent films, will be kickstarted by that.
No Problem – The suicidal cynic
Raaz’s character in the film puts forward an interesting perspective on the trolley problem. Instead of actually saving anyone who’s about to get run over by a train, it’s best to join them and die — because, why not? Raaz, here, is a hapless victim of his own inability to kill himself, after repeatedly claiming that his family was murdered in Afghanistan, Iraq as well as the Gaza Strip. He is called a “maut ka farishta” — whenever he tries his hand at suicide, someone else ends up getting hurt. His hopelessness is not just wryly cynical but extremely screwy, especially when you find out that he’s a hack.
Dhamaal – The tripping airline controller
Dhamaal was one of my first few Bollywood outings to the theatre as a kid. And I distinctly remember two scenes from it — the overly absurd one where the four leads are tied to a tree and the moment where an airplane nearly runs over Vijay Raaz’s crotch. If someone told me that Raaz’s character, an air traffic controller, was supposed to be high as a kite, I would buy that. His tranquil and mellowly slow voice are just a few indicators of that. And of course, on top of it, him not being able to show the father-son duo how to land a plane, as they pilot it without any knowledge. It’s no doubt that this crazed scene makes Dhamaal so memorable.
Dedh Ishqiya – The wooing hooligan
The standoff scene between Raaz, his goons, Naseer, and Warsi reminded me of a much longer and funnier version of the Reservoir Dogs deadlock. Their gun-swishing impasse, that goes on through the night until someone needs to relieve themselves, is ridiculously farcical and amusing. And adding to that is Raaz’s desperate attempt at emulating a nobleman in order to seduce Madhuri Dixit’s Begum. He’s constantly course and caustic, providing a hilarious interlude to the shayari-spewing Nawabs.
Lootcase – The gangster-cum-zoologist
I hadn’t seen such an idiosyncratic Raaz character until this film. In Delhi Belly, he loses diamonds and here, a suitcase filled with crores of rupees. His DB intro was great but this one, by an inch, takes the prize. Raaz, a Don, explains the nature of his precarious business to his men using a National Geographic clip — where a crocodile silently attacks a deer. He also describes his enemy as a ‘lumbricus terrestris.’ It’s not often you come across a pistol-wielding gangster with the nerdy brains of a zoologist; his kooky wisdom here is unorthodox but exceptionally hysterical.
Welcome – The tragic filmmaker
Perhaps, Welcome is one of those few Bollywood hits where scenes with Raaz in it may not be as widely remembered as the film itself. After all, it also had Anil Kapoor, Nana Patekar, and Akshay Kumar to carry a large share of the humour. In this ephemeral moment, Raaz is directing a film starring Patekar’s Uday Shetty. Unable to get Shetty to ride a horse properly, the snappy director loses his cool, only to get thrashed by Kapoor’s Majnu Bhai. It is a short-lived but wacky affair.
Run – The conned man
This film may not be as noteworthy, but Raaz, as the laughingstock of the story, deserves to be fondly remembered. After following his friend and moving to Delhi, Ganesh (Raaz) stumbles across the city penniless, as a result of getting conned over and over again. Instead of getting chicken biryani, he’s fed ‘kauwa’ biryani; a doctor swindles his kidney out of him; and he’s duped by yet another doctor who’s actually a porn director. Like always, his capering subplot remains zappy, just like most of his on-screen personas.
Dream Girl – The lusting policeman
This is the programmatic Ayushmann-starrer with just a smidgen of comedy. And the only invigorating presence in the film, for me, was Raaz as the lousy cop for whom poetry was more important than police work. And also dialling a call centre meant to satiate a man’s horniness was significantly more important to him. His unsatisfied-loner-policeman shtick is a peculiar but fun caricature — the only character in the film that could send shivers of laughter down your spine.