Ranjeet: A Villain’s Destiny

From Bollywood’s bad guy to growing bhindi (which he shows off on Instagram), what a long strange trip it’s been
Ranjeet: A Villain’s Destiny

There’s just one aspect in which actor Ranjeet’s home in Juhu resembles a vintage Bollywood villain’s lair — it has a swimming pool, a badminton court, and a snooker table. Except they’re not the backdrop against which a menacing Ranjeet threatens hapless innocents. It’s hard to imagine this, but Ranjeet, one of Bollywood’s most beloved villains, now enjoys a quiet retired life. He’s taken up farming on his terrace garden where he grows vegetables like red bhindi, broccoli, cucumber and bitter gourd. Every morning, he wakes up early and makes his own morning tea. He likes to paint and since the pandemic, the veteran actor has discovered Instagram. “My kids told me that I have a lot of fans, after Housefull 4. They read out a few comments, and since then I’ve become a little active over there,” he said. He’s not fully comfortable with the ways of smartphones — “The other day I was trying to write Khotey Sikkey, instead the caption went up as Hirey Sikkey” — but he’s catching on to the influencer culture. He pointed out to us that after he started posting about his farming exploits, Dharamendra started posting about his own farm. Last month, he put up a video, promoting Yuksom Breweries (they make Dansberg beer).

If 80-year-old Ranjeet ends up becoming a social media influencer — his follower count was approximately 109,000 at the time of writing this — it’ll be a fitting next chapter to a life filled with luck-by-chance twists. Born Gopal Bedi in a village near Amritsar, in Punjab, Ranjeet has played some of the most distinctly pervy villains of Bollywood. Although his bad-guy routine has been parodied (sometimes tastelessly) in films like Sajid Khan’s Housefull 2 (2012) and Farhad Samji’s Housefull 4 (2019), there’s something unsettlingly convincing about the way he projected sleaze and immorality in his heyday. No matter how melodramatic and artificial the scene, Ranjeet has rarely offered escapist comfort to audiences through his roles. In fact, one could argue he’s been too convincing for his own good. “A young Madhuri Dixit – the day she found out we had to shoot a scene where I molest her – couldn’t stop sobbing in the studio,” said Ranjit, while talking about how his on-screen personas’ reputation tends to precede the actor. Even his own family needed convincing at one point. After watching Sharmeelee (1971), in which Ranjeet slaps Rakhee and pulls her by her hair, Ranjeet’s family banned him from entering their home. “Rakhee came to my rescue, I took her home, hoping she might be able to explain things better than I did. She explained it was just acting,” recalled Ranjeet, “and that she was fine and I was a decent man in real life.”

After Housefull 4, Ranjeet says he’s not interested in doing ‘big’ films. “Becoming an actor is hard, but I think it’s harder to stop being an actor,” he said. Today, he’s much happier looking back on his five-decade long career and reminiscing about his experiences. He’s got stories about everyone and everything from Raj Kapoor to Gabbar Singh, and we were more than happy to listen.

Three Nights In Bombay

As a young man, Ranjeet had no interest in acting. He studied in the science stream and graduated from Hindu College in Delhi. A passionate sportsperson, he represented the college team as the football team’s goalkeeper and earned the nickname Goli (a misspelt version of goalie), which has stuck to this day. Around the time of graduation, he sat for the entrance examination for the Indian Air Force (IAF) on a whim and made it through — only to pull a stunt reminiscent of Maverick from Top Gun (1986). While doing his IAF training in Coimbatore, he got into trouble with his instructor. “He thought I was maaroing line on his daughter, so he hurled abuses at me and threatened me by saying he would ruin my career,” remembered Ranjeet. “So I gave it back to him.” Shortly after, he was discharged from the IAF and an unperturbed Ranjeet, now 24, returned to a carefree life of playing football and whiling his time away at cafés in Connaught Place. Recalling his younger days, Ranjeet fondly remembered he had the “physique of a panther”.

Ranjeet’s introduction to Bollywood was through a gentleman named Ranvir Singh. It was a chance meeting through a friend’s father and in no time, Singh — or Ronny — was asking Ranjeet if he’d be interested in working in a film. Ronny said he was connected to the royal family of Kota and had worked with people from the British film industry and Hollywood. “He said he was in close proximity to Dilip Kumar, Dev Anand, Sunil Dutt, Raj Kapoor and Rajkumaar,” said Ranjeet. Ronny’s world sounded glamorous, but Ranjeet had his apprehensions. Especially in the Sixties, the public knew the film industry as a place where young people were exploited. To work in the industry was taboo, which is why when Ronny offered Ranjeet the hero’s role in a film titled “Zindagi ki Raahein” — about a truck driving crew that bumps into smugglers while driving through jungles — Ranjeet said yes, but didn’t tell his family.

When Ronny told Ranjeet to join him in Mumbai, Ranjeet lied to his family and said he was going to Maharashtra for a football tournament. Instead, he arrived in Mumbai and was whisked away to producer and director Chetan Anand’s sea-facing home. On his first evening in Mumbai, Ranjeet joined Anand, Ronny and others for drinks. For Ranjeet, who had grown up in landlocked Delhi, the sound of waves during high tide was startling enough to be imprinted upon his memory.

Ranjit’s first ‘home’ in Mumbai was in Sun N Sand Hotel. It was a culture shock. On his second day in the city, Ranjeet was called to the poolside by Ronny, for a meeting. The sight of so many people in swimsuits scandalised the Delhi boy. “I was trying to look up, down or anywhere, lest someone judge me for staring. It seemed like just another normal day for them,” said Ranjit. He ultimately decided to sit with his back to the pool and that was when a hand reached out for the towel on the chair next to Ranjeet. He turned around to find himself face to face with actor Sunil Dutt. “I saw his blood-shot eyes and it reminded me of Mujhe Jeene Do,” recalled Ranjeet.

Dutt sahab, as Ranjeet refers to him, invited the two men home so off Ranjeet went to Pali Hill. Once again, he sat in a corner, star struck, while others drank and chatted with each other. At some point, after midnight, he heard a thin voice summoning everyone to the dining table. “It was Mother India herself!” This was how Ranjeet met Nargis Dutt for the first time. He still remembers how she stood around the table and ensured everyone ate properly. “We were a bunch of drunk men, after all. I don’t think anyone would have noticed if she excused herself out from there,” he said.

On day three, Ronny took Ranjeet to Chembur to meet an actor, producer and director. Ronny didn’t share a name, but Ranjeet remembered feeling nervous when he saw the famous logo of RK Studio. “When you enter a temple or an academic institution, you become a lot more solemn, right? Something like that happened to me when I entered RK Studio for the first time ever. And that too on my third day in the city,” said Ranjeet. The first thing he noticed about Raj Kapoor was how fair he was and his gleaming cat eyes. “He was talking exactly like he did in the movies. I couldn’t figure out if he was being genuine or if his whole life was an act,” Ranjeet said. He also recalled Kapoor showed Ronny an album of heroines and said that they learnt their lines sitting on Kapoor’s lap. He then took Ronny and Ranjeet to a private theatre and showed them a song sequence from his upcoming film Mera Naam Joker (1970). The evening ended with them at Kapoor’s bungalow, drinking the night away. Ranjeet remembered that the more drunk Kapoor got, the more colourful his language became. “It was almost like Ranjeet gaali nikaal raha tha [was unleashing abuses],” he said, referring to the on-screen persona that was far from a reality at the time.

Of destiny and lachcha paratha

The idea of a screen name for Gopal Bedi was actually Sunil Dutt’s idea. It came to the hero during the shoot of Reshma Aur Shera (1971), when they were on location near Jaisalmer. “Dutt sahab was of the opinion that Gopal was a very soft name compared to my personality,” recalled Ranjeet who had asked Dutt to pick a name for him. Dutt asked him what letter he’d like as his first initial. “R, I said without thinking – and Dutt sahab came up with the name ‘Ranjeet’.” And just like that, a villain was born.

Although Ronny had brought Ranjeet to Mumbai with the promise of making him a hero, the industry stalwarts made it clear to Ronny that he needed an established star for that role. Instead, Ranjeet was seen as ideal for the main villain. He remained by Ronny’s side as the casting process continued. To meet the first candidate for the film’s hero, Ronny and Ranjeet drove down to the Sea Lounge restaurant at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, overlooking the Gateway of India. The ‘hero’ was late for the meeting, which was short. Ranjeet noticed he had a stammer. The actor in question was Jeetendra, who had just delivered a big hit with Geet Gaaya Pattharo Ne (1964). Another candidate was Sanjay Khan, who would become a friend of Ranjeet’s in later years. Both Khan and his brother Feroze had a larger-than-life flamboyance that Ranjeet felt was necessary to become a ‘hero’ in Bollywood.

Ronny’s film didn’t work out ultimately, but Ranjeet’s career was about to take a turn towards success. It all began with the lachchha paratha and kaali dal served at a restaurant named Neelam, on Linking Road. He was tucking into his meal when a young man approached Ranjeet and asked if he could help the other man get a job on Sunil Dutt’s new film, Reshma Aur Shera. Ranjeet said he could take him to Dutt’s office, which was close to Neelam. When they reached the office, it turned out that Dutt had been looking for Ranjeet because he wanted to cast Ranjeet as the heroine’s (Waheeda Rehman) brother in Reshma Aur Shera. When Ranjeet came to the office the next day to find out more about the role, he met director Mohan Segal who cast him as the heroine’s brother in Sawan Bhado (1970). “See how destiny leads — if I hadn’t met this man in Neelam restaurant, I wouldn’t have gone to Dutt sahab’s office, and I would never have been an actor. If I hadn’t met Ronny, I wouldn’t know Dutt sahab,” said Ranjeet.

Incidentally, that man from Neelam restaurant also got a job — as a spot boy.

‘80 Films On The Floor’

With two bona fide films to his name, Ranjeet was hopeful that his family would come round to supporting his decision to join show business. Their initial reaction had been negative. When he’d finally confessed to them that he was in Mumbai to become an actor, they were disapproving. “They disowned me immediately saying ‘Ladka galat jagah pohoch gaya hai’ [the boy’s wound up in the wrong place].” The relationship improved little by little. When Sharmeelee was going to have a premiere in Delhi, Ranjeet invited his family to the screening, hoping they’d see his success and forgive him. Instead, they walked out at interval, after seeing Ranjeet slap the heroine, Rakhee. It took Rakhee’s charm to convince Ranjeet’s mother that her son had not become the villain he played on screen.

Ranjeet’s family eventually warmed up to his profession. His mother would often go to a cinema near home after lunch, saying to her friends, “Chalo ji, munde di picture lagi hai! [Let’s go, it’s my son’s film that’s playing].” The theatre owner didn’t charge Ranjeet’s parents for their tickets and would also serve them refreshments for free. “She also caught on to the fact that I might be shot dead, or get arrested by the end, so she would get up right before the climax and walk out saying ‘Chalo ji, baaki ki film baad mein dekhenge!’ [Ok, I’ll see the rest later].”

During the Seventies, Ranjeet said he was one of the busiest actors in Hindi cinema. “I had 80 films on the floor at one point,” he recalled. His home also became, from the sound of things, like the ultimate bachelor pad where many young actors would hang out. Ranjeet remembers that on most days, there would be at least six people in his home, including famous names like Reena Roy (who made parathas), Moushumi Chatterjee (Ranjeet remembers her fish curry) and Parveen Babi. Ranjeet fondly remembered how the heroes he worked with loved their alcohol. “Dharmendra, Rajesh Khanna, Feroze Khan, Sanjay Khan, Randhir Kapoor, Rishi Kapoor, Amitabh Bachchan, Vinod Khanna or Sanjeev Kumar – they could all go through at least one bottle per night. Most of them would have to be carried to their respective cars,” he said.

If it sounds like Ranjeet partied hard, he’ll have you know that he worked even harder. He remembered how he didn’t cancel a shoot even on the day his father died. He took the morning flight to Hyderabad, finished his close-ups and mid-shots, and flew back by evening for the funeral rituals. “I didn’t want anyone to abuse my father, especially after his death,” he said. Ranjeet also remembered doing morning shifts in Srinagar and evening shifts in Mumbai. “Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Punjabi, Haryanvi, Bengali, Hindi – most heroes used to be late. So, I began doing one- to two-hour shifts. As it is, villains wouldn’t have that much work.” He can’t remember getting much sleep during these years and meals were often two or three bottles of lassi.

The biggest miss for Ranjeet was the role of Gabbar Singh. It was initially supposed to be played by Danny Denzongpa, who is a good friend of Ranjeet’s. Denzongpa was stuck in Afghanistan, shooting Feroze Khan’s Dharmatma (1975), and so a replacement was needed. “The crew of Sholay and I were staying in the same hotel in Bangalore. I said I couldn’t do it because Danny was a good friend of mine, and I would only do it if there was a ‘no objection’ from Danny, which they couldn’t bring.” The role went to Amjad Khan and Ranjeet insists he has no regrets. “Maybe if I had played Gabbar, it might not have become as iconic as it eventually did. Maybe this was destiny’s way,” he said.

Post-Credit Scene

When one’s been in the industry for as long as Ranjeet has, and seen success like he has, it’s almost impossible to remain untouched from vanity. The veteran actor encountered his vanity in the form of his two directorial ventures – Kaarnama (1990), starring Vinod Khanna and Kimi Katkar – which he mentioned was shot entirely at his farmhouse in Pen (Maharashtra), and Gazab Tamasha (1992), starring Rahul Roy and Anu Aggarwal. The one good thing that came off his directorial debut, Kaarnama, was that he met his wife Nazneen through it. She was initially being considered for the role that was eventually played by Kimi Katkar.

Today, Ranjeet seems unconcerned by the gloss and glamour of the present-day industry. His Instagram feed as @ranjeetthegoli revels in his past and there’s an unpretentious quality to his posts, which is perhaps the reason for his continued popularity. Much of his online following is organic. When told this, Ranjeet’s response was exactly as colourful as you’d expect from a legendary baddie: “Organic kya hota hai bhen***! [What do you mean organic, *****!]”

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