Asrani – A timeless talent
Timelessness is a word that comes to mind when I think of Asrani, the actor. Govardhan Asrani, who comes from a Sindhi family, started his career as an extra in a Shammi Kapoor film called Ujala in 1959. His dad had a carpet business and he could follow the family line of business but his interests lay elsewhere. His heart was set on becoming an actor.
One of the most unique things about Asrani is that he has done a ton of comedy movies and played the dumb and the dumber; however he is one of those rare talents that can take the shape of any character etched out for him. He can do character roles equally well. This is probably what made him a permanent fixture in Hrishikesh Mukherjee films. Every actor/artist/writer/director will find that one person in the industry who believes in their talent and their craft. It wasn’t just Bollywood that Asrani acted in. He has been cast in many Gujarati movies too. In 1982, he set up a small Gujarati production company with fellow artistes Dinesh Hingoo, Harish Patel and Salim Parvez (son of famous supporting actor Yunus Parvez). The company dissolved in 1996 with a large profit.
Asrani is a trained actor which could be the reason for his ease when it comes to transitioning from a comedian to a supporting role to a character role, across movies. He studied acting from Sahitya Kalbhai Thakkar in 1962 and then came to Bombay where he met Hrishikesh Mukherjee who encouraged him to learn acting professionally. That’s how he ended up in FTII, Pune, where he trained further, honing his acting skills. A lesser known fact about Asrani is he was also a singer. In 1977, Asrani sang two songs in the movie Alaap, both picturised on him. A year later he sang “Mannu Bhai Motor Chale”, a duet with Kishore Kumar, for the film Phool Khile Hain Gulshan Gulshan.
Although his first acting assignment was in a Bollywood film called Hare Kaanch Ki Choodiyan in 1967, he played a few roles in Gujarati films right after his Bollywood break and they seemed to garner him praise and attention. In 1969, Hrishikesh Mukherjee gave him a role in his movie Satyakam. The rest as they say is history.
Asrani’s relationships in the industry played a huge role in bringing him work. Below are some movies we picked out based on the friendships he formed in the industry.
This was Asrani’s first big role and there is an interesting story behind how he bagged the role of ‘Kundan’ in Guddi. After passing out of FTII, Asrani became a member of the teaching staff. He would use the money he earned by teaching at FTII to travel to Mumbai in anticipation of a role or some acting work. During this time Hrishikesh Mukherjee, who was the editing lecturer at FTII, one day asked Asrani where Jaya Bachchan, then Bhaduri, was. He wanted to speak with her about a role in the film Guddi. While Hrishikesh Mukherjee spoke with Jaya, Asrani pestered Gulzar for a role in the movie. Gulzar blurted out that there was in fact a role that Asrani would be perfect for. As luck would have it, Guddi became a huge hit and Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s bond with Asrani only grew deeper.
This was Asrani’s second milestone. Everything about this move screamed success right from the beginning and Asrani’s role in the movie, even though not mighty big, brought him a lot of attention and positive reviews. His dialogue “Hum angrezon ke zamaane ke jailor hain” became very popular among the masses. He was apparently given World War II books and asked to learn Hitler’s moves in detail for this role.
Aaj Ki Taaza Khabar
Working on Rajendra Bhatia’s 1973 comedy changed Asrani’s personal life. He worked with his future wife Manju in this film. Apparently Manju was Asrani’s student at FTII. They seemed to have had a happy marriage. However, it’s said that Manju asked Asrani to announce that he is unhappy in his marriage just to see what reactions he gets from the women in the industry. There were two actresses who wanted to have an affair with him after this announcement, but Asrani obviously withdrew! Co-incidentally Aaj Ki Taza Khabar is also about the relationship between a husband and his suspicious wife.
This movie marked a friendship that would last a lifetime. Asrani met Rajesh Khanna on the sets of Bawarchi and they forged a deep friendship. Apparently when Rajesh Khanna was approached for B. Rama Naidu’s film Prem Nagar, he asked them to sign Asrani too. Their friendship grew during Namak Haram and they worked together till Ghar Parivar in 1991.
Asrani was Jaya Bhaduri’s instructor in FTII, Pune. He has mentioned many times about how Jaya put the institute on the map when she bagged the role in Guddi. Abhimaan was the film where Asrani became close with Amitabh and Jaya Bachchan, although this was not a friendship that lasted long. While Amitabh and Asrani parted ways as friends, Jaya still remains the same with him.
Apart from being a versatile actor, Asrani directed a couple of films as well. Udaan that released in 1997 was one of Asrani’s directorial ventures. The film’s storyline was strong and the starcast including Rekha, Saif Ali Khan, Prem Chopra and Danny Denzongpa was amazing, to say the least. The movie was praised for Rekha’s work who portrayed a modern “Jhansi Ki Rani” kind character but the movie overall was to be “avoided” according to the reviews it received.
One of his more recent works, Hera Pheri brought Asrani back in full form. He had a lull before the stint of movies that Priyadarshan and David Dhawan offered him. Hera Pheri re-established his acting capabilities along with other movies of this era.
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