In memoriam: The film personalities we bid goodbye to in 2016

From actor Rajesh Vivek to actress-turned-politician Jayalalithaa Jayaram, remembers the lives and legacies of the film personalities who left us this past year.

Sonal Pandya


Rajesh Vivek (31 January 1949 – 14 January 2016)
Filmmaker Shyam Benegal first spotted character actor Rajesh Vivek during a play, Begum Ka Takiya, and offered him a role in Junoon (1979). The actor was then a graduate from the National School of Drama (NSD), where actor Naseeruddin Shah was his senior, and had an MA in ancient history and archaeology from TD Degree College. He was soon stepping on the sets of Richard Attenborough’s Oscar-winning film Gandhi (1982) where he had a small part as Dr Rajendra Prasad.

Vivek moved easily from villain to jester to all-knowing mystic in his career. He was also seen in several iconic televisions shows from Amir Khusro to Mahabharat. But he is best remembered for his role as the fortune-teller Guran, part of Bhuvan’s team of Davids who takes on the Goliath English team in Ashutosh Gowariker’s Lagaan (2001). The film was nominated for an Academy Award for best foreign film the next year.

Vivek worked with Gowariker again in Swades (2004) where he played the village postmaster who believes that Shah Rukh Khan’s Mohan brings about great change. He was present in other Gowariker productions from Jodhaa-Akbar (2008) to Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey (2010) as well. Vivek’s last Hindi film was the Shilpa Shetty-produced Dishkiyaoon (2014). He passed away at 66 following a cardiac arrest.

Anil Ganguly (26 January 1933 – 15 January 2016)
The famed writer-director of the 1970s and 1980s came to the fore with two woman-centric films, Kora Kagaz (1974) and Tapasya (1975), starring Jaya Bachchan and Rakhee, respectively. Both actresses won the Filmfare awards for best actress and fetched Ganguly consecutive National awards for Best Popular Film Providing Wholesome Entertainment. Kora Kagaz and Tapasya were both adapted from Bengali literature and Ganguly gave the films his own stamp by changing the endings to a happier note.

In 1976, he adapted Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay’s Parineeta into Sankoch starring Sulakshana Pandit and Jeetendra. A few years later, he remade Satyajit Ray’s Mahanagar into Humkadam (1980). However, the Anil Kapoor-Amrita Singh-starrer Saheb (1985) was his best-known film of the 1980s. He continued making films in the 1990s, but never quite recaptured his early success. His last film was Angaara (1996) starring Mithun Chakraborty which was also a flop.

His daughter Rupali Ganguly is a film and television actress, best known for her role on Sarabhai vs Sarabhai, while son Vijay is also a director. Ganguly died on 15 January 2016 after a brief illness. He was 82.

Padmarani (25 January 1937 – 25 January 2016)
Padmarani, the renowned actress of Gujarati theatre, was born on 25 January 1937 in Pune. When she was still a child, her family moved to Vadodara, Gujarat, and she and younger sister Sarita Joshi began acting in theatre to ease financial difficulties at home. She was still a teenager when she moved to Bombay and married Namdar Irani (uncle of Aruna Irani).

In her illustrious career on stage and film, Padmarani appeared in thousands of stage shows, including the popular Baa Retire Thai Chhe, and over 200 Gujarati films like Kalapi (1966), based on the poet Kalapi’s life, opposite Sanjeev Kumar. Occasionally, she acted in Hindi cinema with roles in films like Parivar (1968), Jai Santoshi Maa (1975) and Dil (1990), where she played mother to Aamir Khan.

She continued acting until the very end; her last Gujarati play was Mari Toh Arji Baaki Tamari Marji opposite Arvind Rathod. She was admitted to a hospital in Mumbai after an infection in her lungs and passed away at 79 on 25 January 2016. Padmarani is survived by daughter Daisy Irani, a former actress, who lives in Singapore.

Nida Fazli (12 October 1938 – 8 February 2016)
Lyricist Nida Fazli was born Muqtida Hasan on 12 October 1938 in a Kashmiri Muslim family in Delhi. The family moved to Pakistan during Partition. Muqtida, only nine at the time, decided to stay back and studied English literature in Gwalior. As he grew older, he moved to Bombay and wrote for the publications Dharmyug, Guftagu and Blitz.

He began writing dialogues with Sweekar (1973) and turned lyricist with the Naseeruddin Shah-starrer Shaayad (1979). Fazli wrote the remaining lyrics for Razia Sultan (1983) after poet Jan Nisar Akhtar passed away during the making of the film.

In later years, he became known for his ghazal, ‘Hoshwalon Ko Khabar Kya’ from Sarfarosh (1999), as well as the meaningful songs from Is Raat Ki Subah Nahin (1996) and Sur: The Melody of Life (2002). Fazli made a late return to screenwriting, penning dialogues for Govind Nihalani’s Dev (2004) and Gautam Ghose’s Yatra (2007).

The Padma Shri and Sahitya Akademi awardee (for his Urdu poetry collection) was rushed to a Mumbai hospital on 8 February after complaining of breathlessness. He passed away the same day at age 77.

Rajesh Pillai (10 July 1974 – 27 February 2016)
Director Rajesh Pillai was just about to make his foray into Hindi cinema with the remake of his own Malayalam film Traffic when he passed away at age 41 from cirrhosis of the liver. Based on true events in Chennai, Traffic details the intricate mission to deliver the heart of a young man just killed in a traffic accident to a sick and needy girl child.

The original film was a grand success picking up numerous awards from the Filmfare South and Kerala Film Critics awards to the Asianet Film award. The remake had Manoj Bajpayee, Jimmy Sheirgill, Prosenjit Chatterjee, Parambrata Chatterjee, Sachin Khedekar, Amol Parashar and Divya Dutta in an ensemble cast.

The Hindi version was released three months after Pillai’s death on 27 February 2016. Pillai was admitted to hospital on 25 February when he was put on a ventilator. His last Malayalam film Vettah, starring Manju Warrier, hit theatres a day later.

Honey Chhaya (1930 – 28 February 2016)
Actor-writer-director Honey Chhaya was 87 years old after he passed away in a hospital in Vasai near Mumbai. He had been hospitalized for a kidney infection. Chhaya began acting in Gujarati plays about the fight for Indian independence when he was 14. He later joined the Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA) where he produced Gujarati plays. He moved to direction with the Gujarati film Anand Mangal which was written and produced by Salim-Javed and starred Kiran Kumar. After the famed writer duo split, Chhaya became an assistant to Salim Khan.

He was closely associated with the Khan family and even became Salman Khan’s business secretary in the early part of his career, and was instrumental in sending him to audition for Sooraj Barjatya’s Maine Pyar Kiya (1989) which turned him into a star overnight.

In the last decade, he made a comeback to acting appearing in small but prominent roles in Homi Adajania’s Being Cyrus (2005), Nandita Das’s Firaaq (2008), Ashutosh Gowariker’s What’s Your Raashee? (2009) and Abhinav Kashyap’s Dabangg (2010) with Salman Khan. His last film was OMG! Oh My God (2012) with Paresh Rawal and Akshay Kumar. Chhaya’s son Bibhas works for Salman Khan’s production company.

PK Nair (6 April 1933 – 4 March 2016)
Film archivist Paramesh Krishnan (PK) Nair devoted the majority of his life to the preservation of Indian cinema. If it weren’t for him and his vigorous efforts to track down and archive classics of the Indian screen, many landmark films would have been lost to history.

Born in Trivandrum, Kerala, Nair initially thought of becoming a filmmaker by moving to Bombay to learn from the greats. However, he realized early where his expertise lay. He joined the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) in 1961 as a research assistant and was responsible for setting up the National Film Archive of India as founder and director. When he retired 30 years later, there were 12,000 films in the archive.

Nair had a big hand in shaping the young talent that graduated from FTII, showing them classics from Indian and world cinema and adding to their cinematic knowledge. Artistes like Jaya Bachchan and Naseeruddin Shan and filmmakers like Vidhu Vinod Chopra and Rajkumar Hirani all spoke of his influence in the documentary made on his life, Celluloid Man, by Shivendra Singh Dungarpur.

After retirement, Nair continued to live in Pune, the city he loved. In the last few years of his life, he was confined to a wheelchair. He passed away at 82 at the Sahyadri Nursing Home in Pune after a prolonged illness.

Suresh Chatwal (died 28 May 2016)
Character actor Suresh Chatwal began his career with Mahesh Kaul’s Raakhi Raakhi (1969) and worked steadily before his death from illness on 28 May 2016. The high points of his film career include roles in Mahesh Bhatt’s Saaransh (1984) as a police inspector, Karan Arjun (1995) as Shah Rukh Khan’s father and Munna Bhai MBBS as Manilal.

Most recently, he was seen on the popular television show FIR with Kavita Kaushik as Commissioner Suraj Agnihotri. His last film was Nakshatra (2013). His son Yaman Chatwal is also an actor.

Razak Khan (1951 – 1 June 2016)
The comedian started his career in the iconic 1980s television show Nukkad and got his big break with Boney Kapoor’s Roop Ki Rani Choron Ka Raja (1993). The film was a flop, but Khan worked continuously since then. He was mostly seen as the villain’s henchman or sidekick and, more often than not, used to provide comic relief in a film.

Razak Khan’s most notable films were Raja Hindustani (1996), China Gate (1998) and Hera Pheri (2000). His last Hindi film was the adult comedy Kyaa Kool Hain Hum 3 which was released this year. After his sudden death on 1 June in Mumbai of a heart attack, he was remembered fondly by everyone in the film industry from Rishi Kapoor to Arshad Warsi. Khan was 65.

Sulabha Deshpande (1937 – 4 June 2016)
Actress Sulabha Deshpande balanced theatre along with Hindi and Marathi cinema throughout her career. Deshpande was a teacher at Chhabildas High School, Dadar, in the 1950s when she asked noted playwright Vijay Tendulkar to write some plays for her students. Through Tendulkar, she became associated with the experimental theatre movement of the times.

She and her husband, Arvind Deshpande, founded the theatre group Awishkar in 1971 which still welcomes adult and child performers to its troupe. That same year, she joined films with Satyadev Dubey’s Shantata! Court Chalu Aahe (1971) and a few years later made her Hindi film debut with Sai Paranjpye’s Jadu Ka Shankh (1974).

Deshpande was part of the new wave of parallel cinema with her roles in Bhumika (1977), in which she played Smita Patil’s mother, Bazaar (1982), and Ijaazat (1987). She also appeared occasionally on Indian television. Her last big role was in Gauri Shinde’s directorial debut English Vinglish (2012), in which she played Sridevi’s supportive mother-in-law.

Deshpande’s health was failing for a while and she passed away on 4 June 2016 at the age of 79, leaving behind a rich legacy on stage and in film.

Mubarak Begum (1936 – 18 July 2016)
Mubarak Begum was a playback singer in the 1950s through the 1970s, but in recent times she was all but forgotten as she battled old age and illness. She began learning classical music at a young age and was brought to Bombay by her father. Mubarak sang on several programmes for All India Radio (AIR).

She sang her first song for the film Aeeye (1949) composed by Nashad (aka Shaukat Ali Hashmi). Her unique voice was quite distinguished and she got the chance to sing for music composers SD Burman and Shankar-Jaikishan on Devdas (1955) and Hamrahi (1963), respectively. However, with Lata Mangeshkar in the fray, the opportunities began to dwindle.

In focus: Mubarak Begum (1936 - 2016)

Mubarak Begum was reduced to living in a small flat, taking care of her daughter, who was suffering from Parkinson’s disease. She reached out to the industry for financial help after she was hospitalized. The government of Maharashtra, Lata Mangeshkar and Salman Khan all contributed to help her out.

She was 80 when she passed away at her home in Jogeshwari, Mumbai, after ailing for many months.

Mahasweta Devi (14 January 1926 – 28 July 2016)
Eminent Bengali author and social activist Mahasweta Devi grew up surrounded by poets, writers and filmmakers. Though writer-director Ritwik Ghatak was her uncle, he was older to her by just a year. After writing her first novel, Jhansir Rani, in 1956, Mahasweta Devi published over 100 novels and more than 20 collections of short stories in Bengali.

In the 1960s, she started teaching at Bijoygarh College. Two of her short stories of ordinary people were turned into the film Sunghursh (1968) starring Dilip Kumar and Rudaali (1993) starring Dimple Kapadia. Govind Nihalani adapted her novel, Hajar Chaurashir Maa, in 1998 into his film, Hazaar Chaurasi Ki Maa, starring Jaya Bachchan and Anupam Kher.

On 23 July 2016, Mahasweta Devi suffered a major heart attack and was hospitalised. She passed away five days later at age 90. She was bestowed with many honours during her life — the Padma Vibhushan, Sahitya Akademi award, Jnanpith award, and Bangabibhushan.

Rajjat Barjatya (21 September 1973 – 29 July 2016)
The managing director and CEO of film studio Rajshri’s broadband entertainment portal, Rajshri Media, and cousin of filmmaker Sooraj Barjatya passed away after a long battle with cancer. Barjatya was grandson of Rajshri founder Tarachand Barjatya, who set up the studio in 1962 with Aarti starring Meena Kumari, Ashok Kumar and Pradeep Kumar.

Rajjat was an associate producer on Sooraj's biggest films Hum Aapke Hain Koun..! (1994) and Prem Ratan Dhan Payo (2015). Barjatya was also close to the lead actor of both films, Salman Khan, and the star was overcome with emotion at a condolence meeting two days later.

Barjatya helmed Rajshri Media and expanded the brand on the digital medium, offering online audiences movies, music videos, concerts, documentaries and more. He wasn’t keeping well for a few months before his death and was trying to get a bone marrow transplant before he passed away on 29 July 2016. Barjatya was only 43. He is survived by his wife and two children.

Jagdish Aurangabadkar (1951 – 13 October 2016)
Veteran photographer Jagdish Aurangabadkar’s body was found hanging from the ceiling of his residence by a tiffin delivery person on 13 October. He was 65. The Mumbai police found bandages on Aurangabadkar’s legs and his wife confirmed that he was suffering from diabetes and often got wounds on his legs.

Aurangabadkar was responsible for taking continuity stills on the sets of many a Hindi film and even had a small role as a hangman in Pukar (1983) starring Amitabh Bachchan and Randhir Kapoor. He could be found at most Hindi film parties and events of the 1980s and 1990s as official photographer.

A suicide note was discovered alongside Aurangabadkar’s body, in which he did not blame anyone for his death. He is survived by his wife and a son and daughter.

Kersi Lord (14 February 1935 – 16 October 2016)
A trailblazing musician and arranger of iconic Hindi film songs, Kersi Lord was a second-generation instrumentalist. His father Cawas Lord was a pioneer percussionist and his younger brother Burjor is a star drummer, while his sister Hilla is a talented pianist. Kersi himself began his career at 14; he admitted to bunking school in order to play at Naushad’s film recordings.

He played many Latin-American percussion instruments, the drums, the piano and the piano accordion. His constant curiosity to know and learn more about music led him to introduce the Glockenspiel for the Jaidev-composed Hum Dono (1961) song ‘Mein Zindagi Ka Saath’ and for bringing the ‘MOOG’ synthesizer to Hindi film music.

Kersi was part of the close-knit group of RD Burman’s arrangers and musicians, but he assisted most music composers from Naushad to Madan Mohan to Kalyanji-Anandji. Three years ago, Kersi and his brother Burjor were featured on Rudradeep Bhattacharjee’s documentary The Human Factor in which they shared their incredible journey in Hindi film music.

Kersi's most recognisable contributions can be heard on ‘Roop Tera Mastana’ from Aradhana (1969), ‘Duniya Mein Logon Ko’ from Apna Desh (1974) and ‘Dil Lena Khel Hai’ from Zamaane Ko Dikhana Hai (1981). In 2010, he received the Dadasaheb Phalke Film Foundation award. A year earlier, he had received a standing ovation from the crowd at the Mirchi Music Awards where he was honoured for Outstanding Contribution to Hindi Film Music.

For 60 years, Kersi and the Lord family contributed to the music industry and stayed largely in the shadows. The 81-year-old Kersi was in hospital a week before his death and eventually died of septicaemia on 16 October 2016. Kersi is survived by his daughters Zarine, Perizad and Jasmin.

Krishnakant (15 September 1922 – 26 October 2016)
Character actor Krishnakant, affectionately known as KK, arrived in Bombay in 1942, becoming part of Rooptara Studio in the sound department. He went on to assist noted filmmaker Nitin Bose, who later gave him a role in Mashal (1950). That led to more assignments and, eventually, Krishnakant became a popular character actor playing villain, uncle, or father in films like Andolan (1951), Patita (1953) and Detective (1958).

After the 1950s, he left films to work in Gujarati theatre with famed director Pravin Joshi and later directed Gujarati films in the 1970s with Dakurani Ganga (1976) and Visamo (1978). He retired from the industry and settled down in Surat, Gujarat, where his memoirs, Guzara Hua Zamana, were completed by Biren Kothari in Gujarati.

On 26 October, Krishnakant complained of breathlessness and was taken to a Surat hospital where he passed away after suffering from a heart attack. He was 94. He is survived by his son, Supratim Bhukhanwala.

Ravi Sundaram (17 June 1947 – 13 November 2016)
Like Kersi Lord, Ravi Sundaram was initiated into music at a young age and began playing on film soundtracks as a teenager. His father, Sundaram, taught him how to play the violin and the mandolin and over the years he added the banjo, balalaika, bouzouki and the guitar to his repertoire.

When he travelled the world on his music tours with singers and musicians, Ravi Sundaram found newer instruments to master and introduce into the Hindi music scene. The Greek instrument bouzouki was used in the title track of Sholay (1975), while the Russian balalaika was used on the romantic song ‘Dekha Ek Khwab’ from Silsila (1981).

In his illustrious career of five decades, Ravi worked with music composers like Naushad, Laxmikant-Pyarelal and RD Burman and played for film soundtracks in many different languages, from Gujarati to Oriya. He was a long-time member of the Cine Musicians Association (CMA) and was awarded the Dadasaheb Phalke Film Foundation Award for his outstanding contribution to Indian cinema.

Ravi Sundaram passed away on 13 November 2016 at the Apollo Hospital in Nerul, New Mumbai, after suffering a massive heart attack. He was 69. His work can be heard on classic songs like ‘Do Lafzon Ki Hai’, ‘Chura Liya’, ‘Tu Tu Hai Wahi’ and ‘Meri Pyari Bindu’.

Mukesh Rawal (1950 – 15 November 2016)
A seasoned actor of stage, film and television, Mukesh Rawal passed away in an accident on the Mumbai suburban railway tracks. His body was found at the Kandivali railway station in the early hours of 15 November.

The 66-year-old actor was on his way to a dubbing session for a Gujarati film when the accident occurred. Rawal gained fame with the character of Vibheeshan in the television series Ramayana by Ramanand Sagar, but he also acted in Hindi films with Subhash Ghai’s Ram Lakhan (1989), Auzaar (1997) alongside Salman Khan and Kohram (1999) with Amitabh Bachchan.

His last film role was a Gujarati film, Sathiyo Chalyo Khodaldham in 2014. At the time of his death he was working on a Gujarati television show, Nass Nass Mei Khunnas.

K Subhash (1959 – 23 November 2016)
Son of Tamil filmmaker R Krishnan, K Subhash started out as Mani Ratnam’s assistant on Nayakan (1987) and a year later made his directorial debut with Kaliyugam (1988) starring Prabhu, Raghuvaran and Amala. With his second film Chatriyan (1990), he quickly became a sought-after director.

While he primarily worked in the Tamil film industry, Subhash directed two Hindi films, Brahma (1994) with Govinda in the lead, a remake of his own film Bramma (1991), and Insan (2005) starring Ajay Devgn and Akshay Kumar. In the last decade, the 57-year-old filmmaker was also a successful co-writer on two Rs100-crore grossers, Shah Rukh Khan’s Chennai Express (2013) and Akshay Kumar’s Housefull 3 (2016).

K Subhash was suffering from kidney disease and had been on dialysis for the past few years. He passed away at SRM Hospital in Chennai on 23 November 2016.

Jayalalithaa Jayaram (24 February 1948 – 5 December 2016)
From one of Tamil cinema’s top actresses to one of the most powerful women in Indian politics, Jayalalithaa Jayaram was an integral part of Tamil Nadu’s cultural and political scene for nearly five decades. Born on 24 February 1948, Jayalalithaa had to join films at a young age to help out her family.

In 1961, she appeared as a child artiste in the English film Epistle and the Kannada film Shri Shaila Mahathme. The next year, she appeared in R Krishnan and S Panju’s Hindi film Manmauji (1962) starring Kishore Kumar and Sadhana. She danced in a three-minute sequence where she appeared along with Kumari Naaz who was Radha to her Lord Krishna. Jayalalithaa returned to the Hindi screen six years later in Izzat (1968) opposite Dharmendra where she played a tribal woman in love with his character.

But by then, Jayalalithaa was already an established actress of Tamil and Telugu cinema. She won five Filmfare awards for Best Actress in Tamil cinema and five Tamil Nadu State Film awards for Best Actress. She continued acting until the late 1970s when she made the transition into a political career with help from her mentor and former co-star MG Ramachandran. She joined the All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) party and became propaganda secretary a year later. From 1984 to 1989 she was a member of the Rajya Sabha and slowly became the party's undisputed leader a few years after Ramachandran’s death in 1987.

She was elected to the Tamil Nadu assembly in 1989 and became the first woman opposition leader and, later, woman chief minister in 1990, going on to be elected to the post four times. Each term brought its own set of controversies and charges from which Jayalalithaa miraculously emerged unscathed every time.

After she was forced to demit office in 2014 on her conviction on charges of corruption, the 68-year-old was re-elected chief minister in 2016. On 22 September, she was admitted to the Apollo Hospitals in Chennai for treatment of a lung infection, after which she went into a coma. She eventually came out of the coma but suffered a heart attack on 4 December and died a day later.