Jagdish Raj: The eternal police inspector

The character actor was typecast as a police officer in a record 144 films.

Sonal Pandya

Every Hindi film buff knows Jagdish Raj by sight, even if she may not know his name. The veteran actor, born Jagdish Raj Khurana in 1928, held the title of police inspector or commissioner several times in his long career. It is said that he was typecast as a lawman in 144 films. He is listed in the Limca Book of Records for essaying ‘most roles as Police Inspector’.

Jagdish Raj became a policeman for the first time in Raj Khosla’s C.I.D. (1956) with Dev Anand and Waheeda Rehman where, fittingly, he played a character named Inspector Jagdish. But despite getting pigeon-holed as a law-enforcement officer in most films, Jagdish Raj occassionally managed to find other roles. In films like Seema (1955), Pyaar Ka Saagar (1961) and Do Anjaane (1976), he was a doctor. In Dhool Ka Phool (1959) and Insaniyat Ke Devta (1993), he was a man who had to dispense justice.

Whatever he did, Jagdish Raj couldn’t escape the fact that filmmakers saw him as a person of authority. Even in Suhaag (1979), where he is first shown frequenting a brothel, it turns out that he is actually a police officer on an undercover assignment to bring down human trafficking at the establishment.

Jagdish Raj in a still from Suhaag (1979)

In rare films like Yash Chopra’s Deewaar (1975), he got to play against type as the villain. Jagdish Raj was one of the henchmen, Jaggi, in the crew of rival badman Samant (Madan Puri). In Manmohan Desai’s Naseeb (1981), he was the trusting friend, Jaggi, whose so-called friends murder him when he wins the lottery and make off with the winnings. His two young children grow up to be Amitabh Bachchan as Johnny and Rishi Kapoor as Sunny.

The other character actor who was second only to Raj’s typecasting was Iftekhar, who was also seen in the same positions – police officer, doctor or judge. Like Raj, he, too, was seen as a corrupt businessman in Deewaar, one of the few times Iftekhar was a villain.

The responsibility of being a police officer on screen probably crept into Jagdish Raj's real life as well. In an interview with The Indian Express, his daughter, actress Anita Raaj, said, “His on-screen police uniform is kept crisply ironed in his cupboard. He was always particular about this, and there were umpteen times when he was mistaken for a real police officer or commissioner!”

Jagdish Raj passed away on 28 July 2013 after suffering from respiratory ailments. He was 85.