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Remembering Shrivallabh Vyas: When Lagaan's wicket-keeper was also Osama bin Laden

The actor died on Sunday (7 January) at the age of 59 after a long illness. 

Keyur Seta

Shrivallabh Vyas's name might not ring a bell for many. But all will remember the wicket-keeper of Ashutosh Gowariker’s cricket team in Lagaan (2001).

The actor worked in around 60 films, besides creating his own space in television and theatre. However, his character in Lagaan remains his most well-known work among cinephiles.

The veteran died yesterday (7 January) at the age of 59 in Jaipur. Vyas, who was born on 17 September 1958, had suffered a stroke followed by a paralytic attack while shooting for a film in Gujarat in 2008. He had been ailing since.

Vyas started off as a theatre actor and got recognition on the circuit for his characterization of Bhaskar in Satyadev Dubey's Virasat in 1985, which was the Hindi adaptation of playwright Mahesh Elkunchwar’s Marathi play, Wada Chirebandi. 

Vyas as Muhammad Ali Jinnah in Sardar (1994)

The actor's Hindi film debut came with Pankaj Advani’s Sunday (1993). Though the film won three trophies at the 41st National Film awards (Best Short Fiction Film, Rajat Kamal for Director, and Best Music Director), he went almost unnoticed.

Things took a positive turn for the struggling actor with Ketan Mehta’s Maya Memsaab (1993), starring Shah Rukh Khan. But the film that brought him into the spotlight was Mehta’s Sardar (1993), a biographical drama on Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, where he essayed the important role of Pakistan founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah.

From there on, Vyas was regularly seen in Hindi films until 2009. The actor's notable films from the 1990s include Droh Kaal (1994), Mammo (1994), Naajayaz (1995), Criminal (1995), Oh Darling Yeh Hai India! (1995), Chaahat (1996), and Sardari Begum (1996). 

John Mathew Matthan’s cult hit Sarfarosh (1999), in which he played a Pakistani army officer, cemented Vyas's stature as the go-to man for character roles. Even with the likes of Aamir Khan and Naseeruddin Shah sharing screen space, Vyas managed to shine in the role of Major Baig.

With Aamir Khan in Lagaan (2001)

And two years later, Lagaan (2001) happened. Here he played Ishwar, the leading lady's (Gracy Singh) father and the elderly support to the amateur and crude cricket team. Overcoming a brief period of reluctance, Ishwar joins Bhuvan's (Aamir Khan) team as the wicket-keeper. The team of novices needs to defeat the British in their own game to save their village from paying the tax on land. His contribution in the high-octane match comes with his skillfull stumping of the officers. 

Thereafter, Vyas continued taking up supporting roles in films like Shool (1999), Bawandar (2000), Hari Bhari (2000), Chandni Bar (2001), Satta (2003), 3 Deewarein (2003), Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose: The Forgotten Hero (2004), Welcome To Sajjanpur (2008), Shagird (2011) and Rang Rasiya (2014). He also tried his hand at Gujarati cinema. 

Not many would know that Vyas was one of the few actors in the world to play the most dreaded terrorist — late Osama Bin Laden. It was for Ketan Mehta’s TV series called Time Bomb 9/11, that ran from June-December 2005. The focus of the series was Laden’s mission to destroy Delhi and also kill the prime minister of India (played by Kay Kay Menon). However, a RAW agent (Rajeev Khandelwal) saves the day. 

Vyas as Osama bin Laden in Time Bomb 9/11

The actor's successful streak came to a halt when he suffered a stroke in 2008 while on an outdoor shoot in Gujarat. One morning, he was found in the toilet of his hotel room, lying in a pool of blood. He was taken to hospital and operated upon, but was left paralyzed. His wife, Shobha, had to run from pillar to post to organize funds for his treatment. 

Shobha Vyas approached CINTAA, the Cine and TV Artists Association, for help, but the members could only collect a portion of the money required for his treatment. Finally, some of his co-stars like Aamir, Irrfan Khan and Manoj Bajpayee came forward and donated money to cover his medical expenses.

Vyas’s last film was Ketan Mehta's Rang Rasiya (2014). He had shot for the film much before he suffered the stroke, but the film was only released in 2014.