In a career spanning over 46 years, Mac Mohan’s role in 218 films has gone unsung. He was one of the most popular faces of the 70s and 80s and acted with Amitabh Bachchan in 16 films
Last month, actor Pran was conferred the Dada Saheb Phalke Award for his showmanship spanning 60 years. In the star and hero obsessed world of Bollywood, it was heartening that a villain was accorded the highest film award. There are villains who have left a lasting impression on the minds of the viewers for their sheer negativity. They are the most hated and without them a good Hindi film is incomplete. The dirtier the dialogues, the more real they get. Villains have been portrayed as cruel human beings and the struggle between good and evil makes our Bollywood films feel successful and unforgettable.
Pran was conferred the title in the sunset of his life. Mac Mohan was another brilliant actor who passed away two years ago. In a career spanning over 46 years, his role in 218 films has gone unsung. He was one of the most popular faces of the 70s and 80s and acted with Amitabh Bachchan in 16 films. Rarely has a single-line role defined a man’s entire body of work as totally as it had for Mac Mohan. He was the man who looked the same for the last forty years. Mac had had an inimitable style that was inextricably linked with his stylish Lincoln beard. His name was so popular that in an exceptionally large number of films, his characters were also called Mac. In 31 out of his 218 movies, Mac was Mac.
He was often shown as the card sharp gambler. There are innumerable scenes where his playing cards, specially, aces of cards have figured. He could do magicians tricks with cards.
With his distinctive white-streaked hair and beard, he was the quintessential villain’s henchman, a side kick who ordered a hit or helped his boss escape the police. Mac Mohan was different, more a symbol than a person who played bit “blink and you miss it” roles typically as a secondary baddie. In an age where villains are no longer considered sellable, where true legends like Shakti Kapoor and Ranjeet are ignored in favour of two-bit punks, the villain’s henchman has become totally extinct. Today, the old world villains like Pran, Amrish Puri, Kulbhusan Kharbanda and Gulshan Grover are only remembered from time to time in dedications at award functions.
The three words “Poore pachaas hazaar” in the movie Sholay shot Mac Mohan or the gun toting Sambha to fame. Sounds difficult to believe but yes the actor who played the smallest roles in the film had travelled 27 times from Mumbai to Bengaluru to complete the take. Initially, the role of Sambha was much more but post editing it was reduced to just three words. In fact a disappointed Mac had asked Sippy to even delete this small bite.
Sambha’s role immortalised Mac Mohan. “No one could have suited Sambha’s role better than Mac Mohan. He will always be remembered by that role,” says Sippy. Amjad Khan’s (Gabbar Singh) conversation with Mac Mohan, sitting on a hilltop, is among the most favourite dialogues from the film. When asked by Gabbar, “Arrey o Sambha, kitna inaam rakhe hain sarkar hum par?” prompt comes Sambha’s reply, “Poorey pachaas hazaar”. Javed Akhtar, who penned those famous lines, said only Mac Mohan could have done justice to them. “The way he sat on the hillock, overlooking Gabbar’s den, was a sight to behold,” the noted writer-lyricist said.
Actor Mac Mohan was born in Karachi in British India. His father was an army officer. When the family relocated from Lucknow to Mumbai, Mac Mohan made up his mind to become a cricketer. He held the reputation for playing fabulous cricket and was also known to participate in cricket tournaments. But destiny had its own plans. His roots as an actor were in theatre. He forayed into the film industry as an assistant to Chetan Anand following which he made his debut in the 1964 film “Haqeeqat”. He was also part of several blockbusters with Amitabh Bachchan like “Zanjeer”, “Don”, “Majboor”, “Satte Pe Satta”, “ Shaan”, “Dostana”, “Khoon Pasina”, “Kala Pathar”, and “Hera Pheri”. He also featured in Rishi Kapoor starrers like “Karz” and “Rafoo Chakkar”.
In Bollywood, the side kick was the worker bee who aided the villains in their evil plans, kidnapping the heroine’s mother and bringing her to the lair, folding the hero’s sister’s sari after it had been undraped from her, procuring nubile nymphets for the lusty Thakur, remembering the exact bounty announced on the dacoit boss, wearing white suits and standing discreetly against the background of the smuggler don. In present day Bollywood, their contribution to the craft of villainy is seldom acknowledged. After the death of this most recognisable icon, Mac Mohan, who died on May 10, 2010, one can say an age has truly passed, the age of the villain’s tech-support, whose true uniqueness lay in his being nondescript.
Few know that besides Hindi, Mac had also acted in a number of other Indian languages, which include Punjabi, Haryanvi, Sindhi, Gujarati and Marathi. He had delivered dialogue in almost all Indian languages except Odia. He also acted in English, Russian and Spanish films.
The irony of his life was beautifully captured in one of his last movies. He played himself in Zoya Akhtar’s Luck By Chance, which was set in the world of strugglers in the film industry. In his role as the chief guest at the graduation ceremony of an acting class, he gave out the certificates. When asked to speak, the students asked him not for a few words but for those three words that made him iconic: Poore pacchas hazar. A fitting finale, great final words to a great career.
By Anil Dhir