I checked my twitter feed this morning to find out that, for once, Aamir Khan had actually posted a tweet. He isn’t a regular twitter poster, his last big message was to release a public statement about his issues (or lack there of) with the Bombay police force. So any time there is a message from him, it is a big deal.
And it was a big deal! Rajesh Vivek is dead! You probably don’t know the name, but if you look at the picture above, you will go “oh right, that guy!” You probably know him best as Guran, the village wiseman/mystic in Lagaan (which is why Aamir posted the tweet, as head of the Lagaan family, it was his responsibility). Yesterday, Alan Rickman died, and the world discovered his massive filmography, his range, the respect he had from his friends and co-workers. Today, Rajesh Vivek is dead, and I think we should take at least a little time to acknowledge how, in his own small way, he also contributed to the world of film.
Yesterday, I talked about how Alan Rickman served as a link between multiple fields of film. While Rickman was the marquee name who linked them all, Vivek was the quiet worker, one of millions, who keeps the wheels of Indian film, and film worldwide, turning.
He was first discovered by Shyam Bengal for Junoon, an art film produced by Shashi Kapoor about the Indian rebellion of 1857 (full confession: I bought the DVD last time I was in India, but I still haven’t watched it, even though I know it is an Important Film). Shashi Kapoor is another one of those actors who helped tie together different strands of film. Part of the Kapoor Family, he starred in multiple popular hits from the 60s through the 80s, everything from Satyam Shivam Sunduram to Deewar to Sharmilee. But his true passion always seemed to lie with the more parallel cinema. He worked with Merchant-Ivory often, in fact one of their first films (Shakespeare Wallah) not only starred him, but was based on his own love story. He was married to Jennifer Kendall, part of the Anglo-Indian Kendall acting dynasty (to this day her sister Felicity Kendall, Shashi’s sister-in-law, is a common figure in BBC miniseries). It’s interesting that someone like that, who navigated through every stream of film in India for 30 years, discovered Rajesh Vivek, who in his on small way did the same thing.
After Junoon, Vivek went on to have small roles in everything from Attenborough’s Gandhi to Feroz Khan’s Janbaaz, to BR Chopra’s epic Mahabharata TV serial. His biggest part was as a secondary villain in Joshilaay, a 1989 Sunny Deol film (full movie on youtube, sorry no subtitles). Young Ashutosh Gowariker saw this performance and, somehow, it struck a chord with him and he remembered it years later when casting his village mystic in Lagaan.
Lagaan seemed like it would be one of those star making parts. Vivek lights up the screen whenever he is on it. But, it wasn’t. Oh, he got slightly better roles after that, and he worked regularly, but he never reached the point of having a whole film based on him, like Paresh Rawal or Anupum Kehr. Maybe it’s because he was too memorable, too good, he could only work in small increments. But, as a viewer, it was always a thrill when he suddenly appeared on my screen. Particularly as the bright spot in an otherwise terrible movie (Asambhav, I am looking at you).
That’s what I will miss the most, the possibility that, no matter how bad and uninspired a film may be, there is always that chance that Rajesh Vivek will suddenly be in it, working for his paycheck, and giving it his all.
(Check him out, boogieing in the reaction shots, along with Naseeruddin Shah. Mini-Junoon reunion!)