Say it again, Jaani.

Jaani… hum tumhein maarenge, aur zaroor maarenge, par bandook bhi hamari hogi, goli bhi hamari hogi, aur waqt bhi hamara hoga!” (Darling… I'll kill you, most definitely, but the gun will be mine, as will the bullet, and the time too will be decided by me) — Raj Kumar in the film Saudagar.

Jaani… a term of endearment, is synonymous with actor Raj Kumar, the King of dialogue delivery. If not as popular as ‘Ajit jokes', the Jaani (beloved or darling) one-liners have no less an appeal with a whole generation that grew up watching Hindi films in the 1960s and 1970s.

It is 15 years since Raj Kumar's death on July 3, 1996.

Having acted in Hindi films for over four decades, he can best be described as an unconventional hero, with a pencil-thin moustache, a deadpan face and stony eyes, but with an understated acting style that blended beautifully with one of the most forceful and iconic dialogue deliveries that Bollywood has seen.

Who can forget that punchy dialogue from the hit film Tiranga, where Raj Kumar says, “Na talwaar ki dhaar se, na goliyon ki bauchaar se… banda darta hai to sirf parvardigaar se” (The sword doesn't scare me, neither does the shower of bullets… all that I fear is the Lord Almighty).

Of course, he was not a ‘traditional good-looking hero'. It was not a surprise, therefore, when a senior colleague, who probably grew up on a staple diet of the cherubic and milk-chocolaty Raj Kapoors, Rajendra Kumars and Jeetendras, didn't hesitate to compare Raj Kumar's looks to that of an “autorickshaw-wallah”. It is this stereotype that Raj Kumar smashed — he played the role of prince, a shayar (poet), a zamindar, an army officer, a police chief, a gangster and a romantic, with equal ease. He had what is referred to today as the ‘X' factor, that something special.

Sadly, not much is known or written about him. All that one could collate is that he was born on October 8, 1926 as Kulbhushan Pandit in Baluchistan. He was a Kashmiri. In the 1940s, he began earning his bread and butter as a sub-inspector with the Mumbai Police. In 1960, he married Gayatri, with whom he had three children.

In 1952, the acting bug bit him, and he changed his name to Raj Kumar. He debuted in a film called Rangili, which bombed at the box office. More films followed.

But, no one knew much about the actor Raj Kumar till Mehboob Khan's classic, Mother India, hit the screens in 1957. The film is remembered for the acting prowess of yesteryear beauty Nargis, and the blossoming of her romance with actor Sunil Dutt, who saved her when the set caught fire.

Mother India's Oscar nomination worked wonders for all its actors. Raj Kumar had played Nargis' husband, a poor farmer, who loses his arms in an accident and abandons his wife and children to fend for themselves.

Soon, Raj Kumar was part of a great many hits such as Shararat, Paigham, Dil Apna Aur Preet Parayi, Gharana, Dil Ek Mandir, Waqt, Hamraaz, Neel Kamal, Pakeezah, Lal Patthar, Heer Ranjha and Hindustan Ki Kasam.

In many of these, he starred opposite some of the reigning deities of filmdom, such as Sunil Dutt, Shashi Kapoor, Rajendra Kumar and Balraj Sahni. In the Hindi film industry's first multi-starrer, B.R. Chopra's Waqt, Raj Kumar towered among the stalwarts, his baritone spouting one of the most memorable dialogues in Hindi films: “Chinai Seth, chhuri bachchon ke khelne kee cheez nahin hoti, haath kat jaye to khoon nikal aata hai.” (Knives are no playthings for children; when cut, the hand bleeds.)

It would not be fair to Raj Kumar's memory to talk only about his dialogue delivery; he was much more versatile. While his famous dialogues reflect controlled anger and the arrogance of power, he enacted romantic roles with depth; of unrequited love in Neel Kamal opposite the sensuous Waheeda Rehman.

And who can forget the longing and helplessness he conveyed so beautifully through his eyes as Nurse Karuna (Meena Kumari), whom he could not marry, sings that unforgettable song Ajeeb dastaan hei yeh in Dil Apna Aur Preet Parayi? And, the Mother of all romantic filmi dialogues — “Aapke paon dekhe. Bahut haseen hain. Inhe zameen pe mat utariyega. Maile ho jaayenge (Your feet are beautiful. Do not place them on the floor; they'll get dirty)” — again, addressed to Meena Kumari in Kamal Amrohi's Pakeezah.

Those were the days when awards were difficult to come by and carried a great symbolic weight. For the Hindi film world, Filmfare magazine's ‘black lady' was one such coveted award. In the 1960s, Raj Kumar picked up Filmfare Best Supporting Actor awards for Dil Ek Mandir and Waqt.

With age catching up, he opted for supporting or villainous roles. His last big hit was Tiranga.

It is said that Raj Kumar was a maverick, just like singer Kishore Kumar. There are stories about him landing up for social gatherings in bright, outlandish, embroidered attire.

He is also said to have refused Zanjeer (which gave Amitabh Bachchan the ‘angry young man' tag) because he did not like director Prakash Mehra's face. He was also known for using his trademark address — ‘Jaani' — quite liberally with friends.

Raj Kumar was also the face to some of the most beautiful renditions, across genres, by the great Mohammed Rafi. Who can forget his drunken “Chu lene do nazuk hoton ko, kuch aur nahin hain jaam hai yeh” and “Yeh zulf agar bikhar jaye to achcha ho”, “Yeh Duniya, yeh mehfil”, “Unkey khayal aaye to aatey chale gaye”, and many, many more.

All said and done, Raj Kumar played his part and left an imprint which is unique to him — his memorable dialogues.

Tragically, in the end, his sonorous voice was reduced to a whisper. Finally, he lost the battle to cancer.

For Hindi film lovers, his exit was as quiet as his entry.

(This article was published on July 21, 2011)
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