It's Eid and every year we are used to seeing Eid blockbusters, most notably from Salman Khan. After a long time, Khan is playing a Muslim character in a film this year. That only doubles the joy of the army of his fans from the community.
This is not an article about Salman Khan and his fans, however. We are taking a look at Muslim characters who have remained largely unheralded, but who have moved us with their stellar performances.
You may have forgotten some of these characters. So, while you go gaga over Sultan, we would like to remind you of some of these characters too.
2 AK Hangal as Rahim Chacha – Sholay (1975)
There is a deafening silence every time you hear Rahim Chacha utter the fateful words: "Itna sannata kyun hai bhai? [Why this deathly silence, brother?]"
The late Avtar Kishan Hangal would never have thought these five words would become his identity. Decades later, Rahim Chacha, along with other leading characters from Sholay, would become the subject of spoofs and memes. But while we amused ourselves with the jokes, the respect for AK Hangal always screamed out loudly. Though a brief role, the blind Rahim Chacha will forever remain part of the legend of Sholay.
3 Johnny Lever as Aslam Bhai – Love Ke Liye Kuch Bhi Karega (2001)
Ram Gopal Varma is known to unearth out-of-the-box characters. While he only produced Love Ke Liye Kuch Bhi Karega, the unique characters in this 2001 comedy had RGV, as Varma is also known, written all over them.
Johnny Lever was cast as Aslam Bhai, a jovial ruffian who has celluloid dreams and no idea how to fulfil them. He gets tricked by one Aaj Kapoor (Snehal Dabhi). Aslam Bhai’s varied emotions, from a no-nonsense goon demanding a hafta (pay-off) to the child-like enthusiasm he displays when the trickster Aaj Kapoor sells him false dreams, will have you in splits. Comedians having a song dedicated to them in Hindi films are far and few between. But the Aslam Bhai track was the best from this one. It’s hard to find a film in which Lever bettered this performance.
4 Kader Khan as Sardar Khan – Aa Ab Laut Chale (1999)
Rishi Kapoor’s only directorial venture featured a Sikh named Iqbal Singh (Jaspal Bhatti) and a Pakistani named Sardar Khan (Kader Khan) providing for light-hearted Indo-Pak skirmishes, which made for great viewing. Khan has undoubtedly done bigger and better roles, but Sardar Khan will always remain dear to him and to his fans.
5 Mukesh Rishi as Inspector Salim – Sarfarosh (1999)
Big, bad Mukesh Rishi is now lost to South Indian films. A man who sent shivers down the spine with his menacing and gruesome act as Billa in Gardish (1993) found himself playing a positive role in the Aamir Khan-starrer Sarfarosh (1999). Rishi played Inspector Salim, who has his allegiance questioned by his senior, assistant commissioner of police Ajay Singh Rathod (Khan). The misunderstanding leads to Rathod dumping Salim from his team before the Muslim officer gets his shot at redemption.
“Ek nahin, aapko dus hazaar Salim milengey agar aap bharosa karo to” [Show faith and you will find not one but 10,000 Salims]," Rishi thunders in one scene, which became the hallmark of Rishi’s role.
6 Razak Khan as Fida Hussain – Joru Ka Ghulam (2000)
Razak Khan played an Urdu scholar whose command of the language, sadly, isn't appreciated by his boss or by anyone else in Joru Ka Ghulam. Despite his sweet tongue, Fida Hussain remains a bachelor even into his fifties. That isn't for want for trying, though, and Khan's unsuccessful attempt will have you rolling on the floor with laughter.
7 Amit Sial as Alibhai – Phas Gaye Re Obama (2010)
Those who have watched and enjoyed the 2010 comedy Phas Gaye Re Obama would remember the joyful buffoonery of Rajat Kapoor, Neha Dhupia and Sanjay Mishra. Director Subhash Kapoor had created some very realistic and rustic characters for the film. But how many would remember Alibhai, one of the mild-mannered kidnappers in the film?
Alibhai defines the rustic, Nihari-loving, groin-scratching, menacing Muslim ruffian, but he also displays Urdu hospitality while dealing with Shastriji (Kapoor). You would be forgiven for believing that the man playing the character is a true-blue Muslim until you see the credits. Sial's immaculate portrayal of Alibhai will both intimidate and amuse you.
8 Ila Arun as Maham Anga – Jodhaa Akbar (2008)
Ashutosh Gowariker's Jodhaa Akbar is among Hindi cinema's finest period dramas. Gowariker presented Hrithik Roshan as an Akbar we had never seen before. Aishwarya Rai shone as Jodhaa Bai. The film had a great supporting cast as well, with the likes of Raza Murad and Kulbhushan Kharbanda. However, one was left in awe of Ila Arun, whose character, Maham Anga, was more than a wet nurse to the emperor, having healed him in tough times. Throughout the film, she opposes Jodhaa, using every dirty trick of kitchen politics to defame the Hindu princess. Grief, deceit, past scars, they are all writ large on Anga's face. Ila Arun's intense display left you wondering, why didn't we see this side to her before?
9 Gul Panag as Zeenat – Dor (2006)
Today, you are more likely to find her on television news debates than on the silver screen. But in 2006, Gul Panag gave us a glimpse of her talent in Nagesh Kukunoor's Dor. Panag played Zeenat, a woman who travels all the way to remote Rajasthan in search of Meera (Ayesha Takia), hoping to convince her to pardon her husband, who is on death row for killing Meera's husband. Panag doesn't reveal her intentions immediately. She befriends the innocent Meera, wins her trust, but in the end leaves it upon her to decide if she wants to pardon her husband.
Ayesha Takia was the star performer here, but Gul Panag proved that given a defining role, she could do full justice to it.