The Journey from Bollywood Raja to Runk

By Zeenat Zafar

However, Hangal is not the only one who is short on cash despite being a name in the Indian film industry for more than 40 years. Many other artistes have died not only alone and forgotten but also as unattended paupers. Khan Mastana, Mohammed Rafi’s co-singer in the famous patriotic number ‘Watan ki Raah Mein Watan ke Naujawan Shaheed Ho’ died a beggar at the Haji Ali Dargah in Mumbai.

What happened to Vimi and Cuckoo was even worse. Vimi shot to fame with the B R Films movie ‘Humraaz’. Her decline was just as rapid. It is alleged that when she stopped getting roles, she was linked to a call-girl racket. When she died no one came to collect her body from the hospital where she had breathed her last.

The most tragic story is that of Meena Kumari, who won five Filmfare Awards. It is said that problems in her personal life made her an alcoholic and that most of her money was usurped by her husband, producer-director Kamal Amrohi. When she died at her Bandra flat, there was no money even for her burial.

"I feel that Meenaji was not an economically savvy person. And she had a huge family to support. Her finances were managed by her relatives, who probably made mistakes. One also has to keep in mind that there were limited investment opportunities then - the market was not as open as it is today. The financial options that we have today are far greater. The stars today live in nuclear families. At best, they look after their parents," says Sharmila Tagore, chairperson of the Central Board of Film Certification.

But it is a known fact that the film industry has been traditionally cruel to its veterans. While people like filmmakers, writers, composers and singers get some acclaim, there are others like editors, audiographers, make-up artistes, stuntmen and junior artists who go into oblivion without getting the credit that they deserve.

The worst thing that can happen to an actor, besides having no money, is losing his/her celebrity status. Born in 1905, Chandra Mohan shot to fame with V Shantaram’s ‘Amrit Manthan’. With movies like ‘Pukar’, ‘Humayun’ and ‘Shaheed’, he became India’s most popular actor of the 50s and took to drinking and gambling. When he died at age 43, he went down to hooch - a long step down from his usual: VAT 69. His funeral expenses were paid by his drinking partner Moti Lal.

Very few would even remember Chandulal Shah who joined the industry by chance. He directed his first independent movie in 1926 – ‘Typist Girl’, which became an instant hit. In 1929, he founded Ranjit Studio, which employed actors like K L Saigal and Moti Lal. His downfall started when Raj Kapoor and Nargis starrer ‘Paapi’ failed at the box office followed by ‘Zameen ke Taare’.

e took to gambling and horse racing. On November 25, 1975, the industry’s most powerful man, who once owned a fleet of cars, was reduced to traveling in buses and died penniless.

So why is it that these stars ended up penniless? "While they were paid very well, as were directors, singers and music directors, the character actors were on a thin pay packet. Those days property and cars cost nothing. For example, if one was paid ` 1 lakh, one could buy an apartment. Most character actors, with the exception of Pran and Ashok Kumar, were not paid well. Before he became a character actor, Ashok Kumar was a famous hero and acted in many movies," Sharmila Tagore tells you.

The most common reason for yesteryear stars dying or living in penury is inflation.

There have been many more actors who led an extremely lavish life but died in penury. Ghulam M Durrani, who was spotted by Sohrab Modi to sing in films, towards the end of his life was seen begging on Mumbai’s streets. Pradeep Kumar was fished out of a Kolkata nursing home. He had been left there by his family members.

Lalita Pawar, known for playing the wicked mother, died all alone. Her body was discovered in her Pune flat four days after she had passed away. Bharat Bhushan known for his role in Baiju Bawra lost all his money, cars and bungalows to gambling. So much so that he started living in a chawl. A superstar of his time, Bhushan who had acted opposite Nutan, Madhubala and Meena Kumari died penniless.

And then there was Bhagwan. From playing an extra in stunt films he went on to direct films and became the owner of Jagriti Studios. He made his first film ‘Albela’ with Gita Bali and music by C Ramchandra. The film went on to break all records. He owned seven cars — one for each day of the week. If this was not enough he also had a seaside bungalow with 25 rooms. But failure followed when his movies ‘Jhamela’ and ‘Labela’ bombed at the box office. His love for horse racing, no control over lavish lifestyle and his brothers cheating him of money caused his downfall. In order to earn money, he even dressed up as a eunuch in a couple of movies but he had to shift to a chawl. When he died on February 4, 2002, he was alone and destitute.

Fortunately, today’s stars are wiser in money matters and invest prudently.

"The stars have learnt a lesson from their predecessors. They deal in shares and other financial options that the market has to offer. Also actors have many options other than acting," Tagore points out.

There are many actors like Keshto Mukherjee, Mukri, K N Singh, Shetty, Nadira, Pinchoo Kapoor, Satyen Kappoo and Vijay Arora who might have died as paupers but the industry and the public surely forgot all about them much before they passed away — and that was as killing for them as penury would have been.

Though A K Hangal had been acting on stage for 20-years, it was in his late 40s that he got the opportunity to play the role of Raj Kapoor’s brother in Basu Bhattacharya’s ‘Teesri Kasam’ in 1966.

Since he joined the industry at a late age, he did character actor roles — mostly playing the grand old man. In a career spanning over 40-years, Hangal acted in more than 125 films. His last role was in ‘Paheli’ in 2005 and at that time he was 90!

Six years down the line, the actor is almost destitute. So much so that he had to go public seeking monetary help. A K Hangal lives in Mumbai with his 74-year-old son, Vijay in a rented accommodation for which he pays ` 150 a month.

Asthma, skin disease, oedema because of kidney problems and old age (he is 95) make it difficult for him to talk over the phone for long. But he does tell you that after his appeal the industry, businessmen and some unknown Samaritans have come forward to help him cover his medical bills. "People with whom I have worked — Amitabh Bachchan, Jaya Bachchan, people with whom I have not worked — Priyanka Chopra, Karan Johar and many businessmen, The government of Maharashtra, PMO, president’s office have all given me money," Hangal says before a coughing bout makes it impossible for him to continue and his son Vijay Hangal takes the phone to continue the conversation.

"We had written to Maharashtra government for financial help but they did not respond and my father needed assistance immediately. We had no choice but to go public," Vijay says. INAV