In a year when human lives were reduced to statistics, the film industry lost many who were integral parts of it. As we reach the end of 2020, it is only appropriate that we remember those who shone so brightly, and whose loss only multiplies the tragedy of the year.
Goodbye 2020: The pandemic-blighted year took a heavy toll on Indian cinema too
Mumbai/Delhi/Kolkata - 30 Dec 2020 9:13 IST
Updated : 10 Jan 2021 17:10 IST
The Cinestaan Team
The film personalities who departed in 2020 have left a deeper void than usual, because fans of most never got a chance to mourn them properly, isolated as we were for much of the year at home. As the pandemic triggered by the novel coronavirus and the anxieties it brought on grew, so did our grief.
The list of those we lost is longer than usual this year as we try to honour their lives and the legacies they leave behind.
1. Pandhari Juker (1932–18 Feb 2020)
Known to one and all in the film industry as Pandhari Dada, Juker, make-up artiste to stars from the late Meena Kumari and the late Sunil Dutt to Madhuri Dixit and Sanjay Dutt, was born Narayan H Juker. In a career spanning nearly six decades, he worked with leading filmmakers such as V Shantaram, BR Chopra, Yash Chopra and Subhash Ghai.
Juker joined Shantaram’s Rajkamal Studios in 1948 as an assistant to veteran artiste Baba Vardam, who was also his neighbour. Before long, the promising young man was sent to the erstwhile Soviet Union for a training course for KA Abbas's Pardesi (1957) and got a diploma in make-up. Decades later, he founded the Star Institute which returned the favour by training aspiring make-up artistes and beauticians. His protégés in the industry included Deepak Sawant (Amitabh Bachchan's make-up man), Mickey Contractor and Bharat Godambe.
Juker began in the black and white era with a keen eye for the look and design of characters and moved with the flow as the industry was transformed with the advent of colour. He brought a touch of glamour to stars Sadhana and Sharmila Tagore in Yash Chopra's Waqt (1965) and was present on Bachchan's first film Saat Hindustani (1969) to turn him into the revolutionary poet Anwar Ali. The veteran worked across generations, from father Yash Chopra in Silsila (1981) to son Aditya Chopra in his directorial debut Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995).
Later, he transitioned to working on television shows such as BR Chopra's epic serial Mahabharat and in theatre. A consummate professional, Juker championed local artistes over foreigners throughout his career. He experimented with trends in make-up and made the most of the products at hand, especially when he was starting out in the business. In Abbas’s Char Dil Char Rahen (1959), his wizardry made Meena Kumari look darker.
Sadly, despite his dedication to his craft, he was never properly honoured by the industry he loved so much. In an interview with the Mid-day newspaper, he had said, “As per people’s wishes, I want to be conferred with the Dadasaheb Phalke award. My other wish is to work till my last breath.” Juker died of a prolonged illness on 18 February.
2. Tapas Paul (29 Sep 1958–18 Feb 2020)
Tapas Paul’s acting career began in 1980 and for the next two decades he was among Bengali cinema's most popular stars alongside Prosenjit, Deboshree Roy and Chiranjeet Chakraborty. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Paul made his mark in both critically and commercially successful films.
Tapas Paul shot to fame with his debut film Dadar Kirti (1980), directed by Tarun Majumder. Srinibas Chakraborty, assistant director on the film, apparently spotted him during a train journey and took him to Majumder who was looking for a fresh face for the character of Kedar. Paul’s effortless portrayal of the naïve Kedar caught the attention of cine-goers, along with the performances of acclaimed artistes like Mahua Roy Chowdhury, Deboshree Roy, Anup Kumar and Kali Bannerjee. Dadar Kirti was a huge box-office success.
Paul’s tryst with success continued with films like Majumder’s Bhalobasha Bhalobasha (1985), Sachin Adhikari’s Chokher Aloye (1989) and Tushar Majumdar’s Mayabini (1992) as he and Deboshree Roy became the most bankable on-screen pair of the time. Paul was equally well received for his portrayals opposite Mahua Roy Chowdhury. The actor later collaborated with Buddhadeb Dasgupta in Uttara (2000) and Mondo Meyer Upakhyan (2003).
Popular Hindi film actress Madhuri Dixit made her debut opposite Paul in Hiren Nag’s Abodh (1984). Guru Dakshina (1987), Agaman (1988), Mangaldip (1989) and Sangharsha (1995) are some of his other successful films. He appeared in close to 80 films in a career spanning more than three decades. His last big-screen appearance was in Ashok Pati’s Khiladi (2013).
Paul then joined the All-India Trinamool Congress and became a member of Parliament from the Krishnanagar constituency in 2014. Thereafter he got embroiled in several controversies as the soft-spoken lover-boy actor morphed into a fiery rabble-rousing politician. He was eventually arrested for his alleged involvement with Ponzi firm Rose Valley Group. Though he was released after 13 months, his health deteriorated considerably as he suffered from prolonged cardiological problems. Paul died of a cardiac arrest on 18 February.
3. Nimmi (18 Feb 1933–25 March 2020)
Just a day after the country went into a strict lockdown to curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, Hindi cinema lost one of its last remaining stars from the golden era. The ailing 87-year-old actress Nimmi died in a Mumbai hospital on 25 March; few were able to attend her burial.
Nawab Banoo was launched by Raj Kapoor and rechristened Nimmi by the showman for his multi-starrer Barsaat (1949). The film made the teenage actress a star overnight and she went on to be a part of other hits like Deedar (1951), Aan (1952), Daag (1952), Amar (1954), Uran Khatola (1955) and Kundan (1955), many of them opposite Dilip Kumar.
At the London premiere of Aan, Nimmi famously rebuked the swashbuckling Hollywood star Errol Flynn for wanting to kiss her hand, stating, "Don't you know I'm an Indian girl?" She later married screenwriter S Ali Raza and stepped away from the limelight. One of her last films was K Asif's unfinished passion project, Love And God (1986).
Also read: Nimmi (1933–2020): Another star fades away from the horizon
4. Nemai Ghosh (8 May 1934–25 March 2020)
A theatre actor, Nemai Ghosh accidentally discovered his passion for photography and was then taken by actor Rabi Ghosh to the sets of Satyajit Ray’s Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne in 1969. He became a member of Ray’s shooting unit from Aranyer Din Ratri (1970) and the association continued till the great filmmaker's death. Fascinated by Ray’s style of work, Ghosh became his chronicler, shooting more than 100,000 photographs of his life and work. Ray called him “Boswell with a camera, instead of a pen”.
Apart from capturing rare moments of Ray, Ghosh was known for his work on Bengali theatre. In 1991, a photo biography of Ray, titled Satyajit Ray at 70, was published by Eiffel Editions of Belgium. Presented at a travelling exhibition, the photo biography documented a collection of black and white photographs of the legendary filmmaker captured by Ghosh.
After recovering from Ray’s death in 1992, Ghosh concentrated on capturing the lives of indigenous peoples around the country. He was awarded the Padma Shri by the government of India in 2010. Ghosh, 86, died on 25 March after a prolonged illness.
Also read: Nemai Ghosh, chronicler of Satyajit Ray, Bengali theatre and much more
5. Ranjit Chowdhry (19 Sep 1955–15 April 2020)
Among the many things that 2020 took away was the innocence of the 1970s. For an entire generation, Ranjit Chowdhry remains immortal as the shaggy-haired imp who coloured Basu Chatterji’s films. Born in the world of performing arts, Chowdhry learnt stagecraft from mother Pearl Padamsee, the doyenne of English theatre in Bombay. In his first film, he acted with his mother in a tribute to the jovial Parsi community in Khatta Meetha (1978). But it was with Baton Baton Mein (1979) and Khoobsurat (1980) that he truly rose to popularity.
With an immediately recognizable face, lanky appearance and the nasal twang with which he delivered his lines, Chowdhry was unique. When the novelty of the 1970s faded into the stereotyped 1980s, he crossed over to international films. Joining hands with the first wave of Indian-American filmmakers like Deepa Mehta and Mira Nair, Chowdhry established his own place in films like Mississippi Masala (1991), Such A Long Journey (1998) and King Of The Jungle (2000).
By the turn of the millennium, Chowdhry had become one of the many Indian faces that showed up routinely in television series. He was most memorable on the small screen as Vikram in the American sitcom The Office (2005-13). He also made his mark in the immensely popular Prison Break (2005-17).
Though he was entering the second half of the wizened sixties, Chowdhry will always evoke the image of a shaggy-haired, quick-witted, impish young man who defined the irrepressible independence of the late 1970s.
6. Irrfan Khan (7 Jan 1967–29 April 2020)
He was not one of 'The Khans'. Yet he was not just an actor. In his own way, Sahabzade Irrfan Ali Khan redefined and altered Hindi cinema beyond recognition. If he were an artist, he would have been Caravaggio. He was capable of expressing the most sublime, heart-rending emotions in a glance while being at home in the company of peasants, knaves, and children. He is the common thread running between Tigmanshu Dhulia, Vishal Bhardwaj, Danny Boyle, Ang Lee and Anees Bazmee.
From the moment Mira Nair set eyes on the lanky young man she had picked for the bit part of a letter writer in Salaam Bombay (1988), he was destined for great things, though he had to slog for a long time in near anonymity. When he did attain the limelight, people began to note and remark about the seeming ease with which he moved from one character to another. He could play a Banarasi gangster (Haasil, 2003), a dacoit from the Chambal ravines (Paan Singh Tomar, 2012), a lonely widower (The Lunchbox, 2013), and a kind father (The Namesake, 2007) with equal conviction.
In an industry constantly trying to ape the West, Irrfan Khan broke the mould by seamlessly slotting into Western and European consciousness without any external changes. It endeared him to filmmakers who craved authenticity, and to audiences who craved relatability.
Passionate about his art, conscious of his influence, and effortlessly stylish at all times, the actor remained humble and graceful even after he achieved stardom. Through the course of a dreaded disease that ate him from within, he remained poetic and good-humoured. When the inevitable loomed on the horizon, he quietly stepped away from the limelight and spent time with the people who truly mattered — his family and friends. This action speaks more of the man than any obituary can. It is for this reason that Irrfan Khan will be loved. For, beyond his immaculate craft, his soulful eyes, and the powerful personality, he remained, till the end, a kind and graceful human being.
Also read: Irrfan Khan (1967–2020): Accomplished actor who won hearts and spoke his mind
7. Rishi Kapoor (4 Sep 1952–30 April 2020)
A scion of the first family of Hindi cinema, Rishi Kapoor wooed audiences with his electric presence and magnetic charm. His grandfather, the legendary actor Prithviraj Kapoor, laid the family’s foundation in cinema. His father, Raj Kapoor, was one of the best-known actors and directors of Hindi cinema. Uncles Shammi and Shashi Kapoor were great stars.
Rishi Kapoor made his debut as a child artiste in a small walk-on part in his father’s classic Shree 420 (1955). He played his father's younger version in the ambitious film Mera Naam Joker (1970) and then made his debut as a leading man with the blockbuster teen romance Bobby (1973), which also launched actress Dimple Kapadia.
Kapoor went on to play the romantic hero in several films and was often cast opposite Neetu Singh, whom he later married. The 1970s being the era of the multi-starrers and the Angry Young Man portrayed by reigning superstar Amitabh Bachchan, Kapoor featured with Bachchan in films like Kabhi Kabhie (1976), Amar Akbar Anthony (1977) and Naseeb (1981). In his autobiography, he reflected that playing the romantic lead in an era of action films meant that in many of the multi-starrers, the meatier roles were reserved for the action stars.
Nonetheless, Kapoor was a big star with several big-ticket successes. The reincarnation film Karz (1980) was a huge moment as he essayed a role that remains fresh in collective memory. He also worked with a range of stars well into the 1990s, bringing a crackling energy to the characters he portrayed. Prem Rog (1982), Saagar (1985), Chandni (1989), Henna (1991), Bol Radha Bol (1992) and Damini (1993) were some of his popular films in this period. He worked in around 100 films, appearing in recent years in films such as Agneepath (2012), Aurangzeb (2013), Kapoor & Sons (2016), 102 Not Out (2018), Mulk (2018) and Rajma Chawal (2018), remaining active till the end.
Kapoor was also known for the remarkable and refreshing candour with which he spoke about his career and about political issues in an industry that is preoccupied with avoiding controversy. Diagnosed with bone marrow cancer, he underwent treatment for more than a year in New York. He died in Mumbai during the lockdown, aged 67.
8. Ratnakar Matkari (17 Nov 1938–17 May 2020)
Ratnakar Matkari was one of the leading literary figures to have emerged in Maharashtra in the final third of the twentieth century and leaves behind a treasure trove of plays, novels, short stories and children’s plays.
He was also one of the few individuals worldwide to make their film directorial debut after the age of 70. He directed Investment (2013), based on his own short story of the same name, when he was pushing 75. The film won the National Award for Best Marathi Feature Film.
Matkari was also a screenwriter. His last film project involved writing the dialogues for Mahesh Manjrekar's ambitious two-part biopic of legendary Marathi litterateur, humorist, actor and filmmaker PL Deshpande, Bhaai: Vyakti Kee Valli (2019).
Matkari did not take Marathi theatre by storm but worked his way up diligently. He acquired a degree in economics from the University of Bombay after which he found a job in a bank. But he was passionate about writing since an early age. His first drama was the one-act play Vedi Manase (Mad People), written when he was just 17. It was performed on the Bombay station of All India Radio. It was only after 20 years of working in a bank that he quit to focus solely on writing.
Matkari, 81, was admitted to hospital in May this year with exhaustion. A test showed that he had COVID-19. He died on 17 May.
9. Wajid Ali Khan (7 Oct 1977–1 June 2020)
Sajid-Wajid were among the more popular music composers in commercial Hindi cinema in the past decade and a half. Wajid Ali Khan, one half of the partnership with brother Sajid Ali Khan, was born on 7 October 1977 in Saharanpur, Uttar Pradesh. The brothers migrated to Mumbai to try their luck in the film industry and got their first break in the Salman Khan and Kajol-starrer Pyaar Kiya To Darna Kya (1998). The album became an instant hit and Sajid-Wajid were on their way to succcess.
The duo composed the music for a number of films starring Salman Khan, including Shaadi Karke Phas Gaya Yaar (2006), Partner (2008), Hello (2008), God Tussi Great Ho (2008), Wanted (2009), Dabangg (2010) and Ek Tha Tiger (2012).
Wajid Ali Khan had undergone a kidney transplant some time back but earlier this year he was diagnosed with a kidney infection and admitted to hospital for treatment. His condition worsened and he also tested positive for COVID-19 and died in hospital on 1 June. Last month his name was back in the news when his widow Kamalrukh claimed that her in-laws had been trying to force her to convert to Islam or lose her children's inheritance.
10. Yogesh (19 May 1943–29 May 2020)
Grace and poetry are usually inseparable, and these qualities came together to great effect from lyricist Yogesh's pen. Though a reluctant poet, Yogesh was a lyricist nonpareil. Arriving in Mumbai as a young man, he found the ideal mentor in composer Salil Chowdhury. The passing of Shailendra had also created a niche for a lyricist who could combine musicality and deep philosophy with simple, realistic language. Yogesh Gaur revelled in this.
The lyricist’s work captured deep, philosophical ideas in the simplest metaphors. With 'Zindagi Kaisi Hai Paheli’ from Anand (1971) began a journey that reached a height with ‘Kai Baar Yunhi Dekha Hai’ from Rajnigandha (1974). His poetry captured the aspirations of a rising middle class, portrayed through the 'middle-of-the-road' cinema of Basu Chatterji and Hrishikesh Mukherjee. His lyrics were not just beautiful, but musical. In ’Rimjhim Gire Saawan’ from Manzil (1981), he created the eternal Bombay rain song. Through all of his work, there is a playfulness, a charm, that casts an illusion over the complex craft that is Hindi cinema lyric writing.
The mettle of a lyricist is in the longevity of his words. Yogesh’s lyrics continue to waft through street-corner tea shops, the radio and now YouTube videos. However, the man himself remained out of the limelight. A reclusive, private poet, he lived a life of quiet dignity till the end. But as that line in Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s film goes, Yogesh’s words will not die. They never die.
Also read: Yogesh (1943–2020): Underrated lyricist who will be remembered for his timeless songs
11. Basu Chatterji (10 Jan 1927–4 June 2020)
Before he became part of a wave in cinema called ‘middle-class’ or ‘middle-of-the-road’, Basu Chatterji spent nearly two decades as an illustrator and cartoonist for Russi Karanjia’s weekly tabloid Blitz. The young Bengali man from Ajmer, Rajasthan, began his cinema journey by assisting Basu Bhattacharya on Teesri Kasam (1966).
Beginning with his directorial debut Sara Akash (1969), which established his voice straightaway, Chatterji delivered distinct gems like Piya Ka Ghar (1972), Rajnigandha (1974), Chhoti Si Baat (1975), Chitchor (1976), Khatta Meetha (1978), Baton Baton Mein (1979) and Shaukeen (1982). These films celebrated the lives and ordinary triumphs of everyday people, and audiences saw parts of their own lives on the big screen.
The veteran filmmaker was also a strong force on the small screen, directing the popular series Rajani starring the late Priya Tendulkar in 1985 and Byomkesh Bakshi with Rajit Kapur as the titular Bengali detective in the 1990s for the national broadcaster Doordarshan.
He died of age-related ailments in Mumbai on 4 June, with mostly family and close ones attending his last rites.
12. Sushant Singh Rajput (21 Jan 1986–14 June 2020)
Sushant Singh Rajput was one of the more talented blokes to have emerged in Hindi cinema in the past decade. But his sudden death by suicide on 14 June this year brought it all to an abrupt and premature end. Six months on, many of his fans are yet to come to terms with the loss, more so because of the questions surrounding his demise.
Rajput started his career as an actor with the Hindi television serial Kis Desh Mein Hai Mera Dil. But it was his second show, Pavitra Rishta, where he played the lead character, Manav, that brought him fame.
The actor continued his winning streak with his debut film Kai Po Che! (2013), where he was cast with two other newcomers, Rajkummar Rao and Amit Sadh. He went on to impress cine buffs with films like Shuddh Desi Romance (2013), Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! (2015), MS Dhoni: The Untold Story (2016), Kedarnath (2018), Sonchiriya (2019) and his last, Dil Bechara (2020).
Also read: Sushant Singh Rajput: A star that shone briefly and was gone
13. Sachy (25 Dec 1972–18 June 2020)
Director, scriptwriter and producer KR Sachidanandan, popularly known to film fans in Kerala as Sachy, was a man of many talents. Sachy, who hailed from Kodungalloor, was active in theatre from his college days. Before making his directorial debut in cinema with the critically acclaimed and commercially successful Anarkali (2015), he co-scripted many films with Sethu and then began writing solo.
His first film as a writer was the Prithviraj Sukumaran-starrer Chocolate (2007). The coming-of-age romantic drama about an irresponsible guy who is forced to join a women's college only to satisfy his mother's wishes was a box-office hit and launched Sachy's career as a writer. After the success of this film, he never looked back and wrote about a dozen more, including super-hit films like Run Baby Run (2012), Ramleela (2017) and Driving Licence (2019).
From comedy, procedurals and thrillers of all sorts to action and romance films, there was hardly a genre Sachy did not explore in his short movie career of 13 years. His latest, Ayyappanum Koshiyum (2020), starring Prithviraj and Biju Menon, which also turned out to be his last, was a big hit with collections of more than Rs30 crore. Like his previous films, it was a complete entertainer. The film is already being remade in Tamil, Telugu and Hindi.
Sachy shared a close rapport with Biju Menon, having worked with him on films like Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves (2009), Seniors (2011), Chettayees (2012), Anarkali and Sherlock Toms (2017). Besides his work in the movies, Sachy was a practising lawyer at the Kerala high court.
Sachy died on 18 June in hospital after having suffered a cardiac arrest two days earlier. He was only 47. Sadly, on his 48th birthday, Anil Nedumangad, 48, an actor who had featured in Ayyappanum Koshiyum, died by drowning at the Malankara dam in Thodupuzha.
14. Saroj Khan (22 Nov 1948–3 July 2020)
A star maker with all the right moves, Saroj Khan etched her name in the annals of Hindi cinema with her talent, grit and determination.
Born Nirmala Nagpal, Saroj Khan displayed an indisputable talent for dance from a young age. She began working as a child artiste and appeared in films like Aagosh (1953) and Howrah Bridge (1958). Khan could memorize any dance, however complicated, and would practise her steps for hours to perfect them. This caught the eye of famed dance master B Sohanlal, who was impressed by her skill and expressions. Thus, she became his assistant at the age of 12.
Although she was the choreographer on films such as Geeta Mera Naam (1974), Hero (1983) and Mr India (1987), the film that catapulted Saroj Khan to stardom was Tezaab (1988), specifically the number 'Ek Do Teen'. The song became such a rage that the long-running Filmfare Awards instituted the Best Choreographer prize, which she duly won.
The success of the song also marked Saroj Khan's long partnership with a till-then little-known actress called Madhuri Dixit, who became a huge star known for her dance numbers. Together, the duo delivered hits such as 'Humko Aaj Kal Hai Intezaar' (Sailaab, 1990), 'Dhak Dhak Karne Laga' (Beta, 1992), 'Choli Ke Peeche Kya Hai' (Khalnayak, 1993), 'Dola Re Dola' and 'Maar Dala' (Devdas, 2002).
Equally skilled at traditional forms of movement and modern rhythms, Saroj Khan remained the queen of dance and ruled the 1980s and 1990s. She died in Mumbai on 3 July, aged 71.
Also read: Saroj Khan (1948–2020): Graceful, talented starmaker who had the magic touch
15. Jagdeep (29 March 1939–8 July 2020)
Veteran comedian and actor Jagdeep's tryst with the silver screen began quite early in life. As a boy, he appeared in small parts in films by BR Chopra and Bimal Roy and made his mark in Guru Dutt’s Aar-Paar (1954) and the AVM production Hum Panchhi Ek Dal Ke (1957), where he was singled out by prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru for his performance.
But despite his attempts to break out as a hero, he was later slotted in comedic roles, which became his forte. Jagdeep was the reliable comic relief in films like Hariyali Aur Rasta (1962), Brahmachari (1968), Dhoti Lota Aur Chowpatty (1975) and Agent Vinod (1977), and gained cult status with his iconic Soorma Bhopali in Sholay (1975).
Even as the parts grew smaller, Jagdeep kept dazzling, working into his seventies. By then, he had won over an entirely new generation of fans as Salman Khan’s father in the cult comedy Andaz Apna Apna (1994). His death on 8 July left a huge void, as yet another link with the golden era was snapped.
Also read: Jagdeep (1939–2020): Effortless comedian behind some of Hindi cinema’s most iconic characters
16. Kum Kum (22 April 1934–28 July 2020)
Yesteryear actress and danseuse Kum Kum is best remembered for her roles in Aar-Paar (1954), CID (1956), Pyaasa (1957), Mother India (1957), Naya Daur (1957) and Kohinoor (1960), among many others in a career spanning more than 100 films.
Born Zebunnissa, she was fascinated by the movies at a young age and started learning the dance form Kathak. It is believed that her aunt, actress Nirmala Devi, helped her get her first dancing role in Sheesha (1952). She continued to appear in small dancing roles and slowly created a sure footing for herself in the industry. The song 'Kabhi Aar Kabhi Paar' from Guru Dutt’s Aar-Paar catapulted her to fame. Guru Dutt also gave her a small role in Pyaasa and the immortal song, 'Yeh Hai Bombay Meri Jaan' from CID features Kum Kum alongside Johnny Walker. She went on to work in several successful films, including Mr And Mrs 55 (1955), Naya Andaz (1956), Ek Hi Rasta (1956), Ghar Sansar (1958), King Kong (1962), Ankhen (1968) and Geet (1970). Her sister Radhika was also an actress.
Kum Kum was such an accomplished dancer that directors often wanted her in their films just for her dance. Her effervescence and expressions lit up the screen and breathed life into her characters. Some of the famous songs in which she appeared are 'Jadugar Qatil, Hazir Hai Mera Dil' from Kohinoor opposite Dilip Kumar, 'Reshmi Roomaal Kurta Jaali Ka' from Naya Daur, 'Yeh Hawa Yeh Nadi Ka Kinara' from Ghar Sansar and 'Mera Naam Hai Chameli' from Raja Aur Runk (1968).
Besides acting in Hindi films, she starred in the first Bhojpuri film, Ganga Maiya Tohe Piyari Chadhaibo (1962), which went on to become a huge hit. She worked in the industry till the early 1970s.
Besides Guru Dutt Kum Kum worked with other stalwarts of the time such as Mehboob Khan, BR Chopra and Ramanand Sagar, to name a few. She also featured in several films opposite Dharmendra, including his debut film Dil Bhi Tera Hum Bhi Tere (1960). The veteran shared a bond with Kum Kum and expressed deep sadness at her passing.
Kum Kum died at her home in Bandra, Mumbai. She was 86.
17. Rahat Indori (1 Jan 1950–11 Aug 2020)
In a year that was tumultuous and radical, Rahat Indori’s words attained new significance. When the protests against the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) broke out late last year, it was Indori’s words, ‘Kisike baap ka Hindustan thode hai [India isn't anyone's pop's property]' that echoed as a battle cry. It was the final stamp on Indori’s stature as a people’s poet that the masses adopted his words and message as their own.
For a generation that grew up on memes and WhatsApp corruptions of Ghalib’s couplets, Rahat Indori dominated the Urdu poetry stage. This was a man with flair, panache, and a unique style of delivery. With a doctorate in Urdu literature, his poetry belied the depth and intensity of his knowledge. He could write an ‘M Bole Toh’ for Munna Bhai MBBS (2003), and ‘Neela Dupatta Peela Suit’ for Hameshaa (1997). But he could also write the poignant ‘Dhuan Dhuan’ for Mission Kashmir (2000).
Yet, it was on the stage that Rahat saheb flourished. He could hold the crowd’s attention, and divert it with humour, flair and sharp poetry that resonated with current events. He could write couplets that would diss the most powerful men on thrones with the same humour that he would tease a friend with. But even he could not coax more than his share when the dreaded SARS-CoV-2 virus caught him. His demise comes at a dear cost to Urdu literature, which needs a charismatic, powerful voice to rise once again.
18. Nishikant Kamat (17 June 1970–17 Aug 2020)
Nishikant Kamat was one of those filmmakers who couldn’t have asked for a better debut. His Marathi film Dombivali Fast (2005) was not only critically and commercially acclaimed, but it also created a rage in Maharashtra. So much so that it was remade in Tamil by Kamat himself as Evano Oruvan (2007), with R Madhavan.
On Kamat’s death, Sandeep Kulkarni, who played the lead in Dombivali Fast, recalled in a conversation with Cinestaan.com, “Because he [Kamat] was a very good technician and editor himself, he had shot and edited the film in his mind. He could see the film.”
Kamat proved he wasn’t a one-film wonder when he struck gold with his next, Mumbai Meri Jaan (2008), his Hindi film debut. Revolving around a group of people affected by the 11 July train blasts in Mumbai, it touched the hearts of people, not just Mumbaikars.
From here on, Kamat tried his hand at films that were more mainstream, like Force (2011), Lai Bhaari (2014), Drishyam (2015), the Hindi remake of the Malayalam film of the same name, Rocky Handsome (2016) and Madaari (2016). Coincidentally, Irrfan Khan, who played the lead in Madaari, also died this year.
Kamat was admitted to hospital in Hyderabad on 11 August following a recurrence of his liver ailment brought on by his hard-drinking ways. Six days later he was dead of multiple organ failure. He was only 50.
19. Pandit Jasraj (28 Jan 1930–17 Aug 2020)
World-renowned Hindustani classical vocalist Pandit Jasraj was born into a musical family in Hisar, now in Haryana, in 1930. His father and one brother were both classical singers while another brother, Pandit Pratap Narayan, was a musician. While Jasraj started out as a child learning the tabla from Pratap, he focused his energies on singing by the time he was a teenager.
He received further musical training in the Mewati and Agra gharanas (musical traditions) and later performed classical renditions on the radio. According to The Guardian newspaper, Jasraj stood out as "a pioneering artiste" and for "his egalitarian approach" to classical music.
With time, as his stature grew, he became known for incorporating the styles of different gharanas into his singing and launching a new form of jugalbandi wherein male and female singers duelled with different ragas simultaneously.
He married Madhura, daughter of filmmaking legend V Shantaram, and they lived in Kolkata as well as in Mumbai. Jasraj also sang under composer Vasant Desai for Shantaram's Ladki Sahyadriki (1966) and sang a duet with fellow classical vocalist Pandit Bhimsen Joshi in Birbal My Brother (1975). He even sang a song for Vikram Bhatt's horror film 1920 (2008).
Jasraj was an encouraging, generous teacher and mentor whose pupils included singers Anuradha Paudwal and Sadhana Sargam. His nephews Jatin and Lalit became film composers while nieces Sulakshana and Vijeta Pandit dabbled in both singing and acting. He also set up musical institutes in cities in India, Canada and the US. When the coronavirus pandemic brought the world to a halt, the nonagenarian continued to conduct classes over Skype.
Over the course of his seven-decade career as a performing artiste, Pandit Jasraj received the Padma Shri in 1975, the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 1987 and the Padma Bhushan in 1999. A year later, in 2000, he was conferred the Padma Vibhushan, the country's second-highest civilian honour.
Like many of the silver screen stars who left us this year, Pandit Jasraj was one of the last of the greats of Hindustani music. He died aged 90 in his New Jersey home on 17 August. His body was brought back to India for a state funeral.
20. S Mohinder (24 Feb 1925–6 Sep 2020)
The decade of the 1950s is often referred to as the golden era of Hindi films. This is not just because of the number of classic films that were produced in this decade, but also because of the number of evergreen songs it produced that have stood the test of time. In an era of some of the most accomplished music composers to grace Hindi cinema, music director S Mohinder carved a niche for himself by composing soulful, melodious numbers that remain immortal.
Born on 24 February 1925, Mohinder Singh Sarna was fascinated by music since childhood. His father, Bakshi Sujan Singh, was a sub-inspector in the police and would play the flute as a hobby. S Mohinder, as he came to be known later, learnt classical singing when a ragi (Sikh devotional singer) spotted the boy's talent. He began his career by singing for the Lahore station of All India Radio before Partition.
In May 1947, he was to board a train from Lahore to his home in Lyallpur but was forced to board another bound for Bombay as the Partition riots had broken out. As luck would have it, he found himself in the heart of the music industry and set about making a living there. He got the chance to compose music for Sehra (1948) and Shadi Ki Raat (1950). While working at the Lahore station of AIR, he had met the singing star Suraiya, who had come to promote her film Anmol Ghadi (1946). With her help, he bagged the film Nili (1949), starring Suraiya and Dev Anand. The songs of the film, especially 'Phool Khile Hain Gulshan Mein' and 'Ulafat Ka Adhura Afsana', became immensely popular and there was no looking back for Mohinder.
Mohinder was active as a composer in Hindi cinema till 1968, writing music for nearly 60 films. With a background in classical music, he excelled in creating light melodious songs. He would ask lyricists to write the songs according to the situation in the film and then set them to music instead of asking them to follow his tune. The popularity of his songs in the films Naata (1955) and Shirin Farhad (1955) made him one of the top music directors of the day along with Anil Biswas and Naushad. Amirbai Karnataki, Talat Mehmood, GM Durrani, Geeta Dutt, Mohammed Rafi, Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhosle and Suraiya are some of the singers who brought his compositions to life.
Mohinder shared a close association with Madhubala, having worked with her in Naata, Shirin Farhad and Mehlon Ke Khwab (1960). The soulful song from Shirin Farhad, 'Guzara Hua Zamana, Aata Nahi Dobara', is perhaps his best-known composition.
Bahadur (1953), Papi (1953) starring Raj Kapoor and Nargis, Shahzada (1955), Karwan (1956), Sultan-e-Aalam (1956), Zameen Ke Tare (1960), Jai Bhawani (1961), Reporter Raju (1962), Professor X (1966) and Sunehre Qadam (1966) are some of the other films he composed music for. He also composed the score for the superhit Punjabi film Nanak Naam Jahaz Hai (1969) starring Prithviraj Kapoor and IS Johar. The film won Mohinder the National Award for Best Music Direction.
His other Punjabi films included Pardesi Dhola (1962), Dukh Bhanjan Tera Naam (1972), Man Jeete Jag Jeet (1973), Teri Meri Ik Jindri (1975) and Daaj (1976). The last Hindi film for which he composed music was Dahej (1981). He moved to the United States thereafter, returning to Mumbai in 2013, where he died on 6 September.
21. Ashalata (2 July 1941–22 Sep 2020)
Veteran actress and singer Ashalata Wabgaonkar, popularly known as Ashalata, began her acting career in theatre, performing primarily in Marathi and Konkani plays.
She had a dream debut in cinema with Basu Chatterji's Apne Paraye (1980) and was nominated for the Filmfare Award for Best Supporting Actress. In her 40-year movie career, Ashalata featured in more than 100 Hindi and Marathi films. Among them were Ahista Ahista (1981), Shaukeen (1982), Umbartha (1982, Marathi), Namak Halaal (1982), Yadon Ki Kasam (1985) and Ankush (1986). She received critical acclaim for her role as the grandmother of a girl who is raped and dies by suicide in Ankush.
Ashalata was a trained classical singer and made her theatre debut in the role of Revathi in the musical play Sangeet Sanshaykallol. She also received praise for her work in plays such as Guntata Hridaya He, Varyavarchi Varaat, Chinna (with Smita Patil and Sadashiv Amrapurkar), Matsyagandha and Mahananda.
Ashalata died on 22 September after a four-day battle with COVID-19 at a private hospital in Satara, a town in Maharashtra, where she was shooting for a Marathi mythological show, Aai Majhi Kalubai. She was 79.
22. SP Balasubrahmanyam (4 June 1946–25 Sep 2020)
Among the most beloved figures to be cut down by the pandemic was singer SP Balasubrahmanyam aka SPB. Before Salman Khan, or music composers, discovered auto-tune, it was the subtle, mellifluous voice of SPB that they depended upon. Charismatic, humble and immensely talented, the singer’s distinct voice dominated the post-Rafi-Kishore era.
Six National Awards for Best Male Playback singer, six Filmfare Awards, Padma Shri and the Padma Bhushan are testament to the love and appreciation he received. But above all, SP Balasubrahmanyam could act. He did act, literally, in Tamil films such as Keladi Kanmani (1990) and Kadhalan (1994). But when it came to singing, he was in his element. He did it in multiple languages. His singing earned him fame among Hindi speakers as much as it did down South. He was among the few stars who could make the transition that was too big a challenge for even a Kamal Haasan or Rajinikanth.
With his demise, the world of Indian film music lost an artiste who understood the nuances, reacted according to his actors on screen, and used his voice as an instrument of their emotions. No wonder he seemed rare in a world dominated by auto-tuned and heavily remixed compositions. They may remake the tunes, but they will never find another singer to match up to SPB.
Also read: SP Balasubrahmanyam (4 June 1946–25 September 2020): The singer who could act with his voice
23. Bhanu Athaiya (28 April 1929–15 Oct 2020)
A woman who brought fame to India by winning the country's first Academy Award, Bhanu Athaiya left an indelible mark on Hindi films and fashion. From figure-hugging sarees and sexy churidars worn with stylish, tight kurtas to flowing gowns and traditionally draped sarees, she created some of the most iconic looks in Hindi cinema and shaped fashion trends that influenced generations of young women.
Born in Kolhapur in Maharashtra, she studied at the prestigious Sir Jamsetjee Jeejebhoy School of Art in Bombay and made her foray into cinema with the film CID (1956). She was spotted by the star Nargis and went on to have a long association with Raj Kapoor, working on his films Sangam (1964), Mera Naam Joker (1970), Bobby (1973), Satyam Shivam Sundaram (1978) and Ram Teri Ganga Maili (1985), creating distinctive looks in each.
Athaiya was equally at ease designing traditional and modern clothes and her repertoire includes films as diverse as Guide (1965), Amrapali (1966), Reshma Aur Shera (1971), Shalimar (1978), Karz (1980), Razia Sultan (1983), Chandni (1989), Ajooba (1991), 1942: A Love Story (1994) and Lagaan (2001).
Her biggest moment, however, came with Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi (1982), the film that won her an Academy Award in 1983 (shared with John Mollo).
24. Asif Basra (27 July 1967–12 Nov 2020)
Born in Amravati, a small town in Maharashtra, in 1967, Asif Basra was fond of theatre from his teenage days. His love for acting was sparked when he first ventured on stage in a school theatre production. He moved to Mumbai in 1990 to pursue his acting career. As luck would have it he was spotted by Salim Ghouse, a well-known theatre personality. Ghouse asked Basra to meet him and that meeting marked his entry into the Mumbai theatre scene.
Basra was first noticed in the popular 1998 TV show Woh, a horror serial based on Stephen King's It. Around the same time, he did small roles in television shows like Saturday Night Suspense, Rishtey and X-Zone.
He got his first big break in cinema in Anurag Kashyap's Black Friday (2004), in which he played one of the accused. His brief role in Imtiaz Ali's Jab We Met (2007) is still remembered by many cine-goers.
Basra got his first substantial role in Milan Luthria's cult gangster drama, Once Upon A Time In Mumbaai (2010), starring Ajay Devgn, Emraan Hashmi, Kangana Ranaut and Prachi Desai. In the film loosely based on the lives of gangsters Haji Mastan and Dawood Ibrahim, Basra essayed the role of a police constable, the father of Shoaib Khan played by Hashmi.
Basra also appeared in some international English-language productions such as the acclaimed 2006 movie Outsourced, One Night With The King (2006) with Omar Sharif and Peter O’Toole, and Tandoori Love (2008).
His other noteworthy films include Parzania (2005), Kai Po Che! (2013), Krrish 3 (2013), Ek Villain (2014), Freaky Ali (2016), Hichki (2018) and The Tashkent Files (2019). Most recently he acted in Anushka Sharma's acclaimed Amazon Prime web-series Paatal Lok (2020) and the Hotstar original Hostages (Season 2) (2020).
Basra died by suicide on 12 November. He was found dead at a private complex in Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh. It is suspected that the actor was suffering from depression.
25. Soumitra Chatterjee (19 Jan 1935–15 Nov 2020)
COVID-19 struck arguably its cruellest blow to Indian cinema when it claimed legendary actor Soumitra Chatterjee on 15 November, bringing a flourishing career stretching six decades to an end.
The 85-year-old had returned to the set of his biographical film Abhijaan after the pandemic-inspired lockdown earlier this year as soon as the courts struck down a restriction on those above 65 going to work as an unfair infringement of their rights.
Chatterjee said he had certain responsibilities to fulfil, both to his producers and to his family, and could not afford to sit the pandemic out. “It’s not that I am not scared," he had said at the time. "The entire atmosphere around us is quite scary... [But] When you are alive, you have a lot of responsibilities. Responsibilities of both your family and as an actor."
Less than three months later, he contracted the virus and perished after spending more than a month in hospital on ventilator support. While Soumitra-da is now free of his responsibilities, his fans and family are left to rue their loss.
Update, 10 January 2021: An earlier version of this report recorded filmmaker Basu Chatterji's year of birth as 1930. It is 1927.