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Sholay's 'Imam Saheb' takes final bow two years short of 100

Source: PTI
Last updated on: August 26, 2012 11:49 IST
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Once hailed as the 'uncrowned king of theatre', Hangal was not very keen to join films but ended up playing roles of the loving father or grandfather and doting servant of Bollywood with elan.

He played roles in films like Sholay, Shaukeen, Namak Haram, Aaina, Avtaar, Arjun, Aandhi, Kora Kagaz, Bawarchi, Chitchor, Guddi, Abhimaan, Anamika and Parichay.

He was also a regular in Rajesh Khanna's starrers like Aap Ki Kasam, Amar Deep, Naukri, Thodisi Bewafaii and Phir Wohi Raat.

Playing the role of Imam Saheb in Sholay, he uttered those famous words, 'Itna sannata kyon hai, bhai'.

In his autobiography The Life and Times of AK Hangal, he recounted how he ended up joining films and how he struggled to shake off his 'gentleman' image in Bollywood though without much success.

'I never had ambitions about pursuing a career in films and was quite content with my amateur theatre work... Circumstances pulled me into the film world, though I am not unhappy because of it. Here, I mingled with people from completely different sphere, called 'Show Business', and even after many years in it, sometimes I feel like an outsider,' he wrote.

Born as Avtaar Veenit Kishan Hangal into a Kashmiri Pandit family in Peshawar, he was an active member of the Communist party there while working as a tailor. He actively participated in union activities and was arrested.

Hangal moved to Bombay in 1949 after spending two years in a Pakistan prison. He came in the city of dreams at the age of 21 with Rs 20 in his pocket.

Hangal was drawn to Indian People's Theatre Association in India. He started working with Balraj Sahni and Kaifi Azmi in IPTA.

While in his late 40s, Hangal was offered the part of Raj Kapoor's brother in 1966 film Teesri Kasam by director Basu Bhattacharya but his scenes were removed from the film.

However, there was no looking back for him after that. He starred in over 200 films. He mostly played the roles of father, uncle, grandfather or that of a meek and harassed old man, an image he could never get rid off.

The veteran actor suffered a political backlash in 1993 when he applied for visa to visit his birthplace in Pakistan. He was invited and attended the Pakistan day celebrations by the consulate in Mumbai, thereby incurring the wrath of the Shiv Sena.

Shiv Sena Supremo Bal Thackeray took offence and called him a traitor. A call to boycott his films was made, his effigies were burnt and his scenes were deleted from films.

He bounced back after two years with character roles in Amitabh Bachchan's home production Tere Mere Sapne and Aamir Khan's Lagaan. He last shot for Shah Rukh Khan starrer Paheli in 2005.

He was awarded the Padma Bhushan for his contribution to Hindi cinema in 2006.

The actor was in the news last year for living a life in penury. His 74-year-old son Vijay, a retired still cameraman in Bollywood, appealed for help after failing to meet Hangal's medical expenses. Several Bollywood celebrities like the Bachchans, producer-director Vipul Shah, and actors Mithun Chakraborty, Aamir Khan and Salman Khan came forward to help him.

He returned to face the studio lights again recently after a gap of seven years for the TV show Madhubala.

Having reached the sets on wheelchair, Hangal was not sure if he would be able to handle it physically. But he came into his elements once the cameras started rolling.

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