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When KN Singh muted the most powerful voice in Indian cinema

When an actor struggled with his dialogues, the legendary villain convinced director-actor Sunil Dutt to turn him into a mute man.

Mayur Lookhar

Film greats are often looked up to for their gift of the gab. While we don't concentrate much on them as novices, it's imperative that they had their moments of self-doubt and share of failure.

In 1971 Sunil Dutt directed, produced and acted in Reshma Aur Shera, which is remembered as India’s official entry to the 44th Academy Awards. It was also nominated for the Golden Bear at the 22nd Berlin International Film Festival.

The titular roles were played by Waheeda Rehman and Dutt, while KN Singh played the villain as Reshma’s father. The film also had Rakhee and Vinod Khanna in the supporting cast. Another unheralded name (who is now a superstar) was also part of the cast. Back then, he was like any other young actor struggling to make his mark.

Recalling a surprising anecdote, a source close to Singh said, “This gentleman was struggling with his dialogues and would require multiple retakes. Every time this actor would say his dialogues, the sound recordist would cut the shoot. Repeated retakes, too, failed to convince him. Sunil Dutt was left stranded.”

“KN Singh went up to Dutt and asked him what the problem was. A nervy Dutt then told him that the said actor wasn’t convincing in his dialogue delivery, which lacked the requisite rustic touch. So, Singh recommended Dutt to do away with his voice, and portray him as mute in the film. Dutt immediately approved of the idea and the actor played a mute. For the record, the actor in question was none other than Amitabh Bachchan," revealed the source.

You heard it right, much before Bachchan became the 'angry, young man' with Zanjeer (1973), he was just another struggler trying to prove himself. He had been rejected by All India Radio that said his voice wasn’t good enough. Singh’s suggestion perhaps saved Bachchan’s fate in the film. Bachchan played Chotu, the mute sharpshooting brother of Shera.

“The noble suggestion given by Singh was not to degrade Bachchan, but this came from Singh’s vast experience. Singh was a great believer in punctuality, and so he would never want to delay things," added the source.

It was likely not easy for Bachchan to be muted like that, but he sure would have taken Singh's advice positively. After all, a legend like him gives junior actors much to learn, just like Singh did.