The Man who saw Infinity

The Man who saw Infinity

आनंद मरा नहीं..
आनंद मरते नहीं.

It was 1980 and Bombay’s woolly old belly was churning. It was no longer a city of mills. A cultural transformation was taking place. The middle class was shaking the dust off its ample midriff and stepping into a new era. Inspired from Midtown Manhattan’s Studio 54, socialite Sabira Merchant set up Mumbai’s first nightclub, Studio 29. It was at the heart of the iconic Bombay International Hotel, and was the city’s most glitziest partying joint, complete with turntables, music systems, shimmer curtains, velvet chairs and the pièce de résistance of all “discos” back then, an imported disco ball.

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Mahesh Anand and a young Kimi Katkar at Studio 29

Studio 29 became the haunt of the rich and famous, the glimmering and the glamorous. This was also the time the fashion scene in Bombay was coming into its own. In addition to the musical extravaganzas, the place also hosted a number of fashion shows. Models, aspiring starlets like Salman Khan, Jackie Shroff, Sangeeta Bijlani and fashionistas like Sangeeta Chopra were regulars at Studio 29. Among them sashayed a towering young man, very closely resembling Adonis. An up-and-coming model named Mahesh Anand.

Beginnings

Regardless of his obvious talent and even more obvious popularity, Pancham alias R.D. Burman got his first Filmfare Award for Sanam Teri Kasam, one of his lesser (though equally popular) albums. The film featured Kamal Hassan in his prime, flanked by a buxom Reena Roy. Both were incredibly talented dancers and the songs survive to prove it. But there was another great dancer that held pride of place in that film. Quite literally. Sanam Teri Kasam begins with a muscular but lithe male silhouette gyrating against a deep crimson backdrop, to RD’s pulsating soundtrack. For years, even decades, I thought the man dancing was Kamal himself. But it was producer Barkha Roy’s boyfriend and future husband, Mahesh Anand. (Barkha is Reena Roy’s sister)

Following the success of Sanam Teri Kasam, Barkha decided to repeat the Kamal-Reena pairing on her new film Karishmaa. The backdrop of this murder mystery was the fashion and beauty industry and featured some good looking people, right from Sarika to Tina Munim to Swaroop Sampat. And Mahesh Anand. And this time, in addition to swaying with another of RD’s sizzling title tracks, Mahesh starred opposite Sarika and was as good as the second lead after Kamal Hassan in the film.

Mahesh was killed in the third act and would have garnered some amount of attention, if Karishmaa hadn’t flopped so spectacularly. Mahesh Anand had never looked so glorious. One of the songs had him breaking out of a Greek-god statue and dancing with chains wrapped over his ripped torso, with Sarika looking on longingly.

Rajani was one of the most iconic shows during the golden age of Doordarshan. Such was its popularity that when a young Shah Rukh Khan played a cameo in an episode, he too had to play second fiddle to Priya Tendulkar, the star of the show. She was the daughter of legendary playwright Vijay Tendulkar but to the average Indian in the 80s, Priya was just Rajani.

When in ’86, Priya appeared in her first mainstream Bollywood vehicle Sasti Dulhan Mahenga Dulha, it was a far cry from her housewife avatar as Rajani. She looked every bit as ravishing as any other glam doll of 80s Bollywood. Her love interest was Mahesh Anand playing Shankar Dada, your neighbourhood goon with a heart of gold. Blessed with a baritone voice, towering height, martial arts skills and a body to die for, Mahesh Anand had everything going for him. But it was a terrible film and today, Sasti Dulhan Mahenga Dulha comes up only in dumb charade routines.

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Rise through the ranks

What clinched the deal for Mahesh to become one of Bollywood’s favourite henchmen were Bhavani Junction and Insaaf. An absolute crackpot of a film, Bhavani Junction is loved by Bollywood cult mongers. The only movie in history where the title song spells out what you’re in for: “Kabhi hai music, kabhi hai romance, kabhi hai tension, magar hai action!” Ten minutes in, Rati Agnihotri’s character gets raped and killed by Vicky and Kundan, played by Mazhar Khan and Mahesh Anand looking like Siamese twins. While Mazhar unleashes the horror, Mahesh walks around like a panther outside, keeping watch. The evil was palpable.

Despite Mazhar being clean shaven and Mahesh sporting a beard, the resemblance was uncanny. When a magnanimous film buff uploaded the unreleased ‘Prem Ashram’ song from the film, the video description and comments section was full of Mazhar Khan and his reckless lifestyle and death. But the man on the video, alternating between swigging a beer and writhing with the lead dancer on a stage, was Mahesh Anand. Insaaf was Vinod Khanna’s comeback vehicle after his five-year-long sabbatical at Osho’s. The posters said “Re-introducing Vinod Khanna”. Mahesh plays his first major henchman role. His signature move was to leap out of a coffin and start firing. When Vinod and Mahesh shared a frame, swagger oozed out of the screen.

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Mahesh and Reena Roy in Dharam Shatru

Our villains have always been suave. From Pran and K.N. Singh in the 50s & 60s to Ranjeet, Sudheer and Prem Chopra in the 70s. But the 90s was the era of the sexy villain. More often than not, the bad guy in this era oozed charisma and looked better than the hero. Gulshan Grover, Shakti Kapoor, Dan Dhanoa, Kiran Kumar, Mohnish Bahl, Gavin Packard, Anand Balraj…the list is endless. And Mahesh Anand was the Feroz Khan of Bollywood villainy. There’s hardly any film without him flaunting his shades and his long mane. Despite being relegated to henchman status, he was a looming presence in every film where he appeared even for a second.

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In Shahenshah

One can see him during the song “Andheri raaton mein” in Shahenshah trying to rob some street beggars of their money, till Bachchan arrives on the scene and roughs him up. (Strangely, Tinnu Anand – the director of the film – dubbed over Mahesh’s voice) In his next film, Ganga Jamuna Saraswathi, Mahesh plays Amrish Puri’s son Thakur Shakti Singh, this time being whupped by Bachchan on multiple occasions throughout the film. Thus began a long ‘association’ that spread across at least three more films: Toofan, Indrajeet, Akayla (Mahesh himself claimed the figure to be nine in total but the other four may have been unreleased projects). It was imperative that Bachchan be pitted against baddies visibly larger than him: Shetty, Amjad Khan, Amrish Puri, and Mahesh Anand.

Though Mahesh Anand was not exactly known for his acting prowess, one film stands out. A Malayalam cult Gangster flick called Abhimanyu, directed by Priyadarshan and starring Mohanlal as a Malayali immigrant to Mumbai. Mahesh plays a don with cold-blooded intensity and the grace that came so naturally to him. The film did reasonably well and is revered by film buffs as a cult, but did nothing to prop up Mahesh Anand’s career.

Abhimanyu
Abhimanyu (1991

How The Mighty Fell

But in the mid-90s, two filmmakers sounded the death-knell of villains in Hindi films. Maine Pyar Kiya still had Mohnish Bahl, but since Hum Aapke Hain Koun…!, Sooraj Barjatya hasn’t had a villain in his movies. DDLJ didn’t need a villain (come on, Parmeet Sethi’s Kuljeet wasn’t really a true-blue villain), and nor did Mohabbatein. Subsequently, Karan Johar took the story further by propagating the NRI film which didn’t require baddies. By the mid-2000s, the Hindi film villain had breathed his last. Since then, barring a sporadic Singham or Dabanng with Prakash Raj or Sonu Sood as shadows of their evil predecessors, the stock character of the gangster or henchman is hardly to be seen.

While some of them like Shakti and Gulshan have ridden the storm by graduating to comedy roles or by moving to Hollywood, most others have been hit pretty bad. Bob Christo moved to Bangalore and taught Yoga till his death in 2011. Gavin Packard died virtually penniless. Mahesh’s last major film was Govinda’s Ssukh in 2005. Since the start, Mahesh Anand was known for his flamboyant lifestyle and reckless image. In 2008, he hit the headlines for abusing a cop and spending hours in a police station till the cops got tired of his antics and dropped him home. He got married five times, just two short of Elizabeth Taylor. But none of them could save him from the downward spiral that was his life. Probably he wasn’t worth saving.

With the advent of social media, Mahesh got a new lease of life on Facebook. A coterie of fans started following him, and his profile became popular as Mashy Anand. Many of his posts dripped with the sense of melancholy and doom that pervaded his life. The About section of his profile said “I m a faded away small time actor, done almost 300 mainstream movies…and yet don’t have money to buy bread lolol…I just have a sense of humour…”. In the days following his death, much of these posts (including the About section) were altered or deleted. After almost two decades, he was brought back by Govinda and Pahlaj Nihalani in a blink-and-miss role in Rangeela Raja. He was obviously excited and kept posting about it for days.

April 1989

YouTube is a veritable treasure trove of yesteryear Bollywood. If you search for ‘Follow That Star’ chances are you’ll stumble on to Nasreen Munni Kabir’s 1989 documentary capturing the phenomenon that was Amitabh Bachchan. It features five of his films being made: Agneepath, Khuda Gawah, Akayla, Jaadugar and Toofan. There’s a scene in Toofan where Shyam the magician dressed as Toofan (Bachchan) incurs all kinds of humiliation on Daaku Zalim Singh (Mahesh Anand), including making him hover in the air with a flick of his finger. We see this scene being shot, Mahesh being lifted on a cable as B indulges in a bit of banter:

B: “Mahesh, you don’t worry, haan? …you stay there. I’ll talk to your family and your newly born son. Don’t worry, I’m there.”

Mahesh: “He’s 22 days old.”

B: “22 days old? Tomorrow he’ll be 23 days old! Don’t worry about anything.”

It was 5 pm on the evening of 8th October, 2014. A filmmaker close to Mahesh Anand, Rahul Gupta filmed him pouring his heart out while romancing a glass of whiskey. The video made its way to YouTube, three years later.

“I’m not a loser…” Mahesh says, “I used to have my coffee, I used to go to the gym…but last two weeks, I found my son’s picture on Facebook, and I got so emotional.”

“My ex-wife has my son in Canada, in Toronto. And I don’t know what shit they have told him about me. I have not seen him since he was nine months old. You can see his picture there..”

(Holding an old photo up to the camera) “That’s my son Trishul. I saw him the last day at my friend Tej Sapru’s house at dinner. I love him. I called him my Punchy Boy.” (Kisses the photograph)

“My Punchy Boy, I used to take you in the car, you used to honk. I used to stretch. I don’t know what everybody has said to you about me. Even the court says that the father can see the son…(choking) I love you, I love you…just once say before I die that I love you Dad, I’m proud of you (sobbing)…please…that’s all…”

Mahesh Anand’s Imdb profile says his son Trishul is known by a different name and is now one of the leading gourmet chefs in Toronto.

Mahesh Anand’s lifeless, rotting body was discovered at his Versova home on February 9th 2018, two days after his death.

कौन कमबख़्त है जो
बर्दाश्त करने के लिए पीता है?
मैं तो पीता हूँ के बस साँस ले सकूँ..
– देवदास मुखर्जी, 1955

My alcoholism is not to drink.
It is to escape from my past.
– Mahesh Anand, 2014

Footnote: Buy the book

amborish

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