Ranjeet – Interview (2012)
He was the devil incarnate. The locket dangling on his bare chest being witness his lustful exploits. The iconic baddie of the ’70s and ’80s, Ranjeet shot to fame with the infamy of having committed a record 350 rapes — on screen! That it made him the most wanted pinup boy in showbiz was incidental. “I wasn’t good-looking like the heroes. But I had a good physique having been a goalkeeper. I was like a panther,” beams the 60-plus actor whom friends call Goli (from goalkeeper). “My producers repeated me. I enjoyed my work,” says Ranjeet who was both hated and desired by women. “I’ve never hurt a fly but how ruthlessly I treated women on screen!” muses the veteran who’s a staunch vegetarian and not too fond of alcohol.
In fact, his character in Sajid Khan’s blockbuster Housefull 2 was a take-off on his ‘rapist’ image of yore. “I’ve never received so many compliments in my entire career as I did after this film,” he says adjusting the scarf on his head — a style statement he’s synonymous with. “It’s been designed by my daughter Divyanka (she’s working with designer Manish Arora). I asked her to design some scarves for me, which could be worn like a cap,” he says. Incidentally, the villain has also been sporting jhabbas (robes worn by Arabs) since the past few years. “I began wearing these when I was shooting non‑stop. It was easier to move around in them from set to set. Those days there were no vanity vans and I had no nakhras. I’d tell the heroine, `Darling, look the other way,’ and slip into my costume,” he smiles.
Women have willy-nilly influenced Ranjeet’s life. “I was supposed to join the air force and was training at the National Defence Academy. But I was thrown out after I got involved with the trainer’s daughter,” he recalls. It was this rejection that pushed the Delhi lad into films. The out-of-college Ranjeet happened to watch Guide (1965) and Hum Dono (1961) so many times that he could mimic every nuance of hero Dev Anand.
During this time he also got acquainted with Ranjeet Singh, alias Ronnie, from Kota in Rajasthan at a party in Delhi. “He was well- connected with the British and the Indian film industries and asked me if I’d like to join films. With my face, I couldn’t imagine being in the movies but I agreed.” Ronnie was planning the movie Zindagi Ki Raahein and asked Ranjeet to accompany him to Mumbai. “I lied to my parents that I was just going for a visit. My mother, wary of the city, gave me a gold ring, a chain and a watch to wear. She feared there were pickpockets in Mumbai and I could sell these if I got robbed,” he smiles.
In Mumbai, Ranjeet was introduced to industry stalwarts even before he had signed a film. “Ronnie was staying at Chetan Anand’s (late director) seaside bungalow in Juhu and took me along. I met Priya Rajvansh (late actor and Chetan Anand’s companion) there. It was the first time I had come face-to-face with a heroine. She was beautiful, 5 feet 10, cultured and well-mannered. After dinner, she served us Alphonso mangoes. She cut them like a cup so that you could scoop out the fruit with the spoon. But I wanted to have the gutlis (seed) kept aside. Chetan saab, who was a ‘fork and spoon’ person, gave me an uncomfortable look. But Priya told him, `Chetan saab aam aise hi khaaye jaate hai (mangoes are eaten like this)’. Later she confided that she too enjoyed eating gutlis.” Ranjeet remembers spending a terrifying night on the dewan in the hall. “There were mosquitoes inside and a high tide outside. The windows rattled all night. I started reciting the Hanuman chalisa.”
The next day Ranjeet was introduced to the late Sunil Dutt. “Dutt saab took us home in his sports car, an MG convertible. He sat at the wheel and we behind. With nothing to hold on to, Ronnie and I were tossed from side to side. There were some guests present at his home. He changed and returned in a blood red lungi and kurta, looking handsome. They chatted and drank through the evening.
When they laughed, so did I. Then around two in the morning, I heard a woman’s voice, ‘Dutt saab!’ Everyone stood up and said, ‘Namaste Bhabhiji!’ She was Mother India Nargisji! She said, ‘Dutt saab food has been warmed three times, how much will you drink? Let’s eat.” He continues, “Nargisji served matka gosht (mutton cooked in an earthen pot). The guests forced me to taste it. When Nargisji realised I was a vegetarian, she asked the cook to put the tadka on the dal and serve it with parathas. I was taken up by her gharelu warmth. She was personally serving everyone.”
Ranjeet also befriended the Khan brothers, Sanjay and Feroz and played badminton with them. But despite becoming a familiar face in the circuit, no film offers came his way. Ronnie too had returned to London as his project had failed. Ranjeet thought of chucking his film dreams and was about to fly to Germany to dabble in the chemical industry when he got offers for Sunil Dutt’s Reshma Aur Shera (1971) and Mohan Segal’s Sawan Bhadon (1970). “Dutt saab said `Let’s give you a filmi name, just as I changed mine from Balraj Dutt to Sunil Dutt and Yusuf saab changed his to Dilip Kumar’,” reveals Ranjeet whose real name was Gopal Bedi. Ranjeet remembers being paid a paltry sum for Sawan Bhadon. “I was signed for 1500. After a week of shooting I was given a cheque of 250. I thought they had forgotten to add the zeroes. So I went to Mohan Segal’s office. But they just laughed it off. For a long time I kept the cheque as a memento.”
But soon Ranjeet tore into the limelight for his rapist act in Sharmilee (1971). It became the precursor to several such onscreen trysts. “I was embarrassed when my parents and relatives attended the premiere of Sharmilee in Delhi. When we returned home there was a lot of rona dhona. My mother said, ‘Daffa ho jaao (get lost). Ladkiyon ke kapde phaadna, izzat lootna (tearing a girl’s clothes, raping her), is this what you do?’
I then took along my costar Raakhee to meet and reassure them that it was only an act. This made matters worse. ‘You’ve misbehaved with such a nazuk (delicate) and khoobsoorat (beautiful) girl, tumhein to doob marnaa chahiye (you should drown yourself with shame),’ said my mother.” Gradually, Ranjeet’s mother saw reason. “She knew that in every film I’d be eventually beaten up or taken to the police. So, she’d not let her friends watch the last bit. She’d say, ‘Baaki picture baad mein dekhenge’.”
Gradually, ‘rapist’ Ranjeet went on to become a money-spinner. He was seen in Prakash Mehra’s Haath Ki Safai, Namak Halaal, Muqaddar Ka Sikandar, Sharaabi and Laawaris as also in Manmohan Desai’s Amar Akbar Anthony. He redefined villainy in films like Victoria No. 203, Dharmatma, Vishwanath, Rocky and Hero. So popular were his raucous acts that distributors would demand ‘a rape scene with Ranjeet’ to boost the film’s viability. “They even went to the extent of recommending me to Hrishida (Mukherjee). Poor Hrishida was aghast and said, ‘There’s no role for Ranjeet in my films!’ They’d then suggest that he feature me in a dream sequence where I’m raping the heroine and the hero jumps to her rescue.”
Ranjeet remembers the difficult rape scene he shot with Reena Roy for Sunil Dutt’s Daku Aur Jawan (1978). “Dutt saab had conceived the scene in a mandir. There were lamps lit all over and a slight push would have had the oil spilling on us.” He also recalls how scared Madhuri Dixit was when she had to shoot with him for Bapu’s Prem Pratigyaa (1989). “After the scene Madhuri was asked whether she was okay. But she said she didn’t sense me touching her even once.” Ranjeet adds, “I never used force in my scenes; I’d whisper cues in the heroine’s ears like ‘pull my hair’, `push my face’ and guide her.”
But off-screen the villain invited reactions that varied from shock to awe. For Zamanat (1977), director A Salaam wanted him to flaunt a cobra as a pet. “A vegetarian like me was petrified. I asked for a rubber cobra. But the director was adamant and wanted to zoom the camera on the cobra’s tongue, before introducing me in the film. The cobra’s poison was removed before the shot. But because I held it tight, it got irritated and bit me while we were shooting. There was panic on the set and a lady doctor opposite Filmistan Studio was sent for. When told I was the injured party, she backed off saying, ‘Main nahin aati, he’s so crude’!” He adds, “Women often found me creepy. A censor board officer would shut her eyes every time I came on screen.”
On the flip side, the bad boy had his share of admirers. “Some crazy ones would say, ‘I don’t want to marry you but I want to sleep with you’. Or they’d come up to me and say, ‘Hold me tight!” Leaving his shirt buttons open was a Ranjeet idiosyncrasy. “Those days we didn’t have stylists. I liked wearing huge lockets and to show them off I would leave the shirt buttons open. The audiences would be busy watching the locket and the scene would be over,” he smiles.
The villain had his fair share of linkups. “We actors spend more time with co-stars than with the family. We’re human beings after all, so things happen. But I never boasted about my relationships nor did I exploit anyone. The heroes would wonder how I got the best girls,” laughs Ranjeet.
His live-in relationship with girlfriend Pushpa also invited much gossip. “We were friends since the time I was a nobody. I had decided that if I ever got married, it would be with her. Though I had given her everything and she was introduced as the lady of the house, as a woman it must have been hell for her to be called `Ranjeet’s mistress’. Also, I’m not made in the ‘use and throw’ mould. So I married her despite having several girls chasing me and gave her the status of my wife.” But within a year and a half, Pushpa walked out on Ranjeet and even aborted their baby. “Some girls poisoned her mind against me. She had known me for 12 years. How much worse could I have been than what she already knew? People divorce after 12 years, but I chose to marry her after 12 years of living together.”
Few years later, Ranjeet met Aloka aka Nazneen, who was then a star aspirant. He was planning to launch her in his directorial debut Karnaama. But commercial concerns forced him to make the film with popular stars Farha, Kimi Katkar and Vinod Khanna. Though Aloka could not be his leading lady, she nevertheless became the lady of his home. “My parents liked her and suggested I marry her. Aloka was a homely girl and made for an ideal wife,” says he. The two got married in 1986.
While his image may have preceded him, Ranjeet vouches that he’s remained committed. “I can say I’ve been a loyal husband. Marriage is based on trust. Every woman is possessive though she may not show it. After marriage I’ve never two- timed even though there have been many chances. Women still approach me; I still receive missed calls and vulgar messages. I receive titillating messages, even from married women. But I see to it that I don’t hurt my wife and kids.”
Not many would know that the `ruthless’ Ranjeet has a softer side and enjoys painting, gardening, writing and even preparing barbeque chicken. “I’m a vegetarian but not a pandit,” he reminds me. Right now what’s most exciting for him is writing a script for his dapper son Chiranjeev. “Though he’s into Formula One racing, he’s star material,” smiles the dad. As proof of his literary leanings, the veteran raps:
Kya pata aaya hai insaan yahan kiske liye,
Zindagi bhar ka yeh anjaan safar kis ke liye
(Ranjeet interviewed by Farhana Farook in July, 2012).