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'Rituraj was the life of the party'

February 22, 2024 13:35 IST

'One day, just like that, without even saying goodbye, he was gone.'

IMAGE: Rituraj Singh with Varun Dhawan. Photograph: Kind courtesy Rituraj Singh/Instagram

On February 20, a little after midnight, Rituraj Singh, a much-loved actor, succumbed to a cardiac arrest, just months short of his 60th birthday.

From Rupali Ganguly who had worked with him in the daily soap Anupamaa to Hansal Mehta who directed him in another daily soap, K Street Pali Hill, from Arshad Warsi who has been his neighbour to Varun Dhawan, who worked with him in Badrinath KI Dulhania, his death left many heartbroken.

Among them an old friend, Rajev Paul, who mourned, 'Not done Bro... Our meeting is pending.'

Back from a funeral he had never expected to attend, the Sasural Simar Ka worked with Rituraj in two shows.

"There is so much to remember, from a minor tiff to phone calls that would always end with, 'Tu theek hai na?...I love you brother... Jaldi milte hain," Rajev Paul tells Senior Contributor Roshmila Bhattacharya.


'We didn't speak to each other for years'

IMAGE: Rituraj Singh, Achint Kaur and Rajev Paul in Kitty Party. Photograph: Kind courtesy Rajev Paul/Instagram

We were army kids from the North, who had arrived in Mumbai around the same time to become actors.

In our early days in the city, we would bump into each other at producers' offices.

Then he landed Banegi Apni Baat, the long-running drama series on Zee TV, while I was signed for Zee's Parivartan and Swabhimaan on Doordarshan.

Later, we did two shows together, Jaane Kahan Mera Jigar Gaya Ji on Sony and Zee's Kartavya.

I don't remember sharing screen space with him but years ago, someone sent me a picture of us in Kitty Party.

I couldn't recall shooting for it and neither could he.

More than a fellow actor, Ritu was a de facto brother, who was an integral part of my life.

Yet, there was a time in our 20s, when we didn't speak to each other for years.

But even during that period, whenever he met my brother Rakesh, Ritu would enquire about me and remember me warmly.

'I finally walked up to him at a party'

Photograph: Kind courtesy Rajev Paul/Instagram

It was a silly tiff over something so minor that, with Rakesh urging me to bury the hatchet, when I finally walked up to him at a party and told him I was upset with him, I couldn't remember why.

Nor could he, and we laughed for being stupid.

He then reprimanded me for staying away for so long despite knowing how fond he was of me.

After that we were always in touch, over phone calls and texts, discussing our work and life journeys.

Since we had both done well for ourselves, we could be happy and celebrate each other's success.

He would look at the pictures I posted on Instagram and admired how easily I jumped or went up the rope.

When I would tell him he could do it too, he would send me pictures of him frolicking around in the garden.

'I told him unless he joined the gym he'd have to pay'

Photograph: Kind courtesy Rituraj Singh/Instagram

I would insist he join a gym.

He promised he would, but never did.

Eventually, I told him that unless he kept his word, he'd have to pay every time we met as punishment.

He called me kamina, but said he didn't mind paying.

Last year, I called to wish him on his birthday.

We were both Geminis, his birthday is on May 23, mine on June 5.

He was having the happiest day of his life because his kids, who were studying abroad, had come down and the family was together after a long time.

He then wished me on my birthday and I sent a voice note warning him that if he didn't join a gym now, he would have to pay for both our birthday parties.

He never did join the gym, and we never did meet again.

Shootings, dubbing, there was so much keeping us away.

Then, one day, just like that, without even saying goodbye, he was gone.

'The last picture I have with him was taken five years ago'

Photograph: Kind courtesy Rajev Paul/Instagram

The problem with Mumbai is that even when you are not living that far from each other -- he was in Yari Road while I'm in Malad (both suburbs in northwest Mumbai) -- with roads dug up and travelling becoming such an ordeal, you spend your whole life with the 10 people who live close by or your colleagues while those who are there in your heart get left behind.

This is something only someone living in this city would understand.

For two years, I was busy with Sasural Simar Ka, which took me for shooting to Naigaon (a township near Mumbai) while Ritu's Web series took him out of Mumbai.

Before that, we lost two years to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The last picture I have with him was taken five years ago and had we not clicked it, I might never have recalled when we met last.

It's only recently that we've started taking selfies on our phones.

Earlier, no one walked around with a camera, so there were no pictures.

Aamir (Khan) and I have known each other for years but it was only recently, at his daughter's wedding, that we took a picture together for the first time.

'He would always greet me with a hug'

Photograph: Kind courtesy Rajev Paul/Instagram

It's unfortunate that Ritu and I didn't meet as often as we would have wished.

I've encapsulated this feeling in a verse I penned:

Rehte hain ek shehar mein,
Milte nahin pure baras mein,
Rishta hai sirf dilon mein,
Nibha nahin sakte aise phanse hain
Duniyadari ke rasmon mein.
Kahin mil gaye to mil jayenge,
Varna kaun sa ek doosre ko
Yaad ayenge...

Ritu loved my poems and would always share them.

We would bump into each other at parties sometimes, and once, even shared jury duties.

Like me, Ritu was a livewire: Chatty, happy, the life of a party and always surrounded by people.

But the minute he would spot me, he would greet me with a tight, warm hug.

'Shah Rukh was another common factor between Ritu and me'

IMAGE: Rituraj, Divya Seth, Deepika Amin and Shah Rukh Khan. Photograph: Kind courtesy Rituraj Singh/Instagram

It's the same with Shah Rukh (Khan) whom I met for the first met when I came to Mumbai.

Somewhere along the way, we lost touch, but the warmth, respect and admiration remained.

When we met recently, we hugged for a long time.

Shah Rukh was another common factor between Ritu and me.

They had worked together in Delhi during the Barry John theatre days and had been close.

Shah Rukh has grown bigger over the years and now, rightfully, is Bollywood's Badshah.

But he's the same loving human being.

'Tu theek to hain na?''

Photograph: Kind courtesy Rituraj Singh/Instagram

Ritu was full of life and conversations.

We may not have met in five years, but our yaari dosti (friendship) remained.

Whenever we spoke, he would end the conversation, saying, 'Tu theek to hain na? (You are okay, na?) You know na that you are great and that I'm always here for you. I love you brother... Jaldi milte hain.'

His words were reassuring because when you are going through challenges in life, it's a blessing to know that you have a brother like Ritu who loves you and is just a call away.

It ironical that jinke saath janmon ka rishta hota hai, woh pal bhar mein tooth jaati hai, aur jinke saath kachcha pakka dosti hai, woh dilon mein bas jaate hai.

That's how my friendship with Ritu was too, a bond that went beyond professional commitments, social niceties and physical meetings.

Jab tak the, dosti nibhayi, ab woh nahin rahe, but he will remain in my heart forever.