‘Hangal Saab Was A Frail Man With Strong Heart’

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Hangal Saab was a frail man. But he had a strong heart that kept him going until the ripe old age of 94.
Hangal Saab was a frail man. But he had a strong heart that kept him going until the ripe old age of 94. (BOC Photo)

Hangal Saab was a frail man. But he had a strong heart that kept him going until the ripe old age of 94.

Says Asha Parekh in whose hospital the veteran actor breathed his last on Sunday morning, “I went to visit him at our hospital on Saturday afternoon at around 4 pm. He was extremely critical. We wanted to put him on a ventilator. But Hangal Saab’s son Vijayji didn’t want to prolong his father’s agony. He refused to sign papers for ventilator support without which we thought Hangal Saab wouldn’t last beyond the evening. But he struggled through the night. He had a very strong heart.”

Producer Saurabh Tiwari in whose serial Madhubala A K Hangal did his final acting stint says, “I was amazed by Hangal Saab’s resilience.We needed a celebrity of stature and gravity for one scene where the serial’s heroine’s baby needed to be blessed. We first thought of Dharmendraji. But he went off to Toronto. Then someone suggested Hangal Saab. When I went to meet him I was shocked by how frail he was. Hangal Saab was lying down and couldn’t talk. When I saw him I quietly made up my mind not to cast him. When I was leaving Hangal Saab mumbled something to his son. Hangal Saab said, ‘Pehle scene to suna ke jao.’ Tell me the scene I have to do…Shame-faced I narrated the scene and wondered how he would manage in that frail condition.We were told not to give him heavy clothes to wear. We arranged for the lighest kurta pyjama.But Hangal Saab came in a black trousers and black shirt. On the day of the shooting when he came in a wheelchair my heart sank. But the minute the camera rolled Hangal Saab was a changed man. He transformed from a frail old man to a seasoned actor. He did the scene with the baby perfectly. We tried to make it as easy for him as possible, asking the other actors in the scene to support Hangal Saab. He was alert enough to see through our efforts . ‘Mere dialogues tum doosron ko kyon de rahe ho?” (why are you giving my lines to others) he asked me.It was a historic moment. But I didn’t know it was so historic. Now the scene that Hangal Saab did for my serial would remain his last acting stint. We all burst into spontaneous applause after he finished.And just see the humility of this stalwart! While leaving Hangal Saab said to me, ‘Bhool-chuk maaf karna.’ (forgive me for any slip-ups).”

In director Anant Mahadevan’s Shahid Kapoor starrer Dil Maange More A K Hangal did an interesting cameo as a music connosieur who visits a music store Planet M and insists a Mukesh number is sung by K L Saigal.Recalls Anant affectionately, “He kept saying ‘Planetarium’ instead of ‘Planet M’. But he corrected himself in the final take. Before I directed Hangal Saab in Dil Maange More I worked with him as a co-actor in films and on television. He was a real trouper. And full of amazing anecdotes from the time of India’s Freedom struggle , and his stints in prison for raising his voice against the British Raj. He was also part of the great Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA) before joining movies. His experiences were truly inspiring. Although he came from theatre he did the silent grief in Sholay so effectively…It still evokes a gasp of appreciation.But I’m sure he’d be remembered for more than just that scene in Sholay , much more.”

Ashutosh Gowariker in whose Lagaan A K Hangal was vividly etched in a small part thinks the going of this seasoned trouper is a sad day for both cinema and theatre. “In my growing years, I remember several films that had Hangal Saab in very pivotal roles. And he always left a mark on me like he did on millions of others. If the hero was the son of this man, then I always felt assured that the hero will never do any wrong and if he did, then he will be corrected by this pious, good-natured and humble man.Till date, I have not seen anyone play a blind man the way he did in Sholay. He reveals much more of the character than has been written in the script, which I think is a rare talent. This is best observed in his one scene in Deewaar, where as a father who has lost his son the tragedy of the situation can be felt tremendously on his face. Hangal Saab can truly be referred to as a great actor.Years later, on the sets of Lagaan I marveled at his artistry and craft, his creative inputs towards his character and his spirit to perform. For him acting was not a job but a real attempt to explore the nuances of the character he was portraying. I was amazed to discover that Hangal Saab was very similar to the characters he played. He was upright, honest, dedicated and humble. He was extremely spirited. His dedication was so intense that once during Lagaan when he had a back injury, instead of taking the option of going back to Mumbai he stayed on in Bhuj and shot for the film, despite all his pain and discomfort so that the film would not suffer. I saluted him then. I salute him today.I would say that I’m one of the fortunate few for whom he consented to play the role in Lagaan which did not have the length and range like his films in the 70’s. But he enriched the village Champaner in Lagaan by his sheer presence. He brought a lot of credibility to all the other characters in the film. And for that, I will remain forever indebted to this great actor called A. K. Hangal.”