indian cinema heritage foundation

‘Purana Mandir’ – Anirudh Agarwal

24 Mar, 2020 | Beete Hue Din by Shishir Krishna Sharma
Image Courtesy- Beete Hue Din

The movie Mahal on its release in 1949, had kick-started the genre of mystery-thrillers. Madhumati in the 1950s with Bees Saal Baad and Woh KaunThi in the 1960s was the popular films in this genre. During the 1970s, a newer dimension in the form of horror films was added to the genre. The mysterious common faces of the earlier decades were now replaced by rotting corpses, grotesque faces, devilish forces and terrifying demonic characters. Ramsay Brothers had introduced such elements in their 1972, Do Gaz Zameen Ke Neeche. This movie made on a small budget did so well at the box office that Ramsay Brothers were inspired to make more horror films. For the next twenty years, they made many successive hit films of the genre creating a new audience for them. Viewers of that audience are now nearing the bracket of senior citizens, but they have not forgotten their love for the films made by Ramsay Brothers. In particular, they are still avid fans of the actor Anirudh Agarwal who had played demonic characters in films like Purana Mandir (1984), Saamri (1985)  and Band Darwaza (1990).
The readers of Beete Hue Din often used to enquire about the current whereabouts of Anirudh Agarwal. My curiosity to know more about him was also on the rise continuously. In the last 14-15 years, he was neither seen on the cine screen nor on television. I did not come across anything written on him and there was no news heard as well. My inquiries regarding him with film folk gave me contradictory news. Few people said that he has left Mumbai for good. I also came to know that he was originally a resident of Dehradun. Some people claimed that he was doing business now in Dehradun. Further inquiries informed me that he was originally a resident of Rajpur. Rajpur is a small community, 7 kilometres away from Dehradun on Mussoorie road from where the mountains of Mussoorie start. Dehradun’s main road Rajpur road is named after this area. Another shocking information was that Anirudh Agarwal had passed away a few years back. 
Dehradun is my hometown too. I tried to obtain information about him there, but my efforts did not lead to any useful information. Nobody seemed to know about him. Everyone knew him from Ramsay movies but even the people of Rajpur did not know that he was a resident of their area. It was quite disappointing, and I was slowly abandoning this search when one day, a miracle presented itself. 
Actually, after the death of actress Rita Bhaduri, when I was trying to obtain information on her, I called the office of the Cine and TV Artists Association (CINTAA) of which I am a life member. When I was taking information about Rita Bhaduri from their office’s Ms.Shweta Aayre, I realized that I had never asked CINTAA about Anirudh Agarwal and on my taking his name, Shweta gave me his mobile number on the spot! 

In this way, the Anirudha I had been searching for 1700 km away in Dehradun was located by me here in Mumbai itself. The warmth in his voice multiplied when I took the name of Dehradun. Once the day and time of the interview were fixed, in my enthusiasm I posted about it on Facebook too. That very evening, Author Vivek Agarwal, a well-known crime reporter who has written books like Mumbhai, Khel Khallas and Bombay Bar called me. He asked me, “What’s the real name of Anirudh Agarwal?”. I replied, “This is his real name.” He exclaimed, “But the actor who played the demon’s role in Purana Mandir belonged to the underworld!”. The summary of what he told me was that his real name was Mohammad Iqbal Sheikh who had been chosen for the demon’s role in Purana Mandir due to his big build and was called as 'Purana Mandir’ in the Underworld, had been killed in a police encounter a few years back.  He had acted in Aamir Khan’s movie Mela also. According to Vivek, he had got this information from the Police Department and he had shared this information in his book Khel Khallaas as well. 
On one hand, Mohammad Iqbal Sheikh had been killed in a police encounter and on the other, Anirudh Agarwal was amongst us. This was quite puzzling for me.
My mind kept contradicting, “but it was Anirudh Agarwal who acted in Purana Mandir and Mela!” While talking to Vivek, I tried to crosscheck on IMDB as well as the reference books in my collection but I did not find the name of Mohammad Iqbal Sheikh anywhere. The cast of both films did mention the name of Anirudh Agarwal however. The case was quite complicated. Vivek was insisting on the correctness of the relationship between the underworld and the film world as well as the police information. He said that it was a common practice in both underworld and film world to change names. In this scenario, my confidence in the name of Anirudh Agarwal was getting shaken as well. On one hand, Mohammad Iqbal Sheikh had been killed in a police encounter and on the other, Anirudh Agarwal was amongst us. This was quite puzzling for me. Our conversation ended on the note that I would talk to Anirudh about this in detail and would share the results of the conversation with Vivek. There was no other method to resolve this confusion. 
Poster of  Purana Mandir. Image Courtesy: Beete Hue Din

I met Anirudh Agarwal one Sunday evening on 28th July 2018. He stays near the Shoppers Stop on S V Road in Andheri (West). Our initial informal discussion naturally revolved around Dehradun. I came to know that he belongs to Vikas Nagar (and not Rajpur) which is nearly 40 km from Dehradun city’s at its western border on the banks of river Yamuna. On the other side of Yamuna there, starts the Himachal Pradesh. 

During the informal discussion, when I mentioned the name of Mohammad Iqbal Sheikh, he simply said, “He was a part of the Underworld” and narrated the same things that Vivek Agarwal had told me. He not only told me why Mohammad Iqbal Sheikh was called Purana Mandir but also about the false news of his own death. He was already aware of these news and rumours.  

Anirudh Ji was born on 20th December 1949 at Vikas Nagar. His father was a businessman in Vikas Nagar’s Pahadi Bazaar and was a dealer of potatoes, rajma etc which used to grow in Chakrata and other neighbouring hilly areas. His house was on Cinema Road. They were 5 brothers and 5 sisters of whom Anirudh was the eighth one with both younger ones being sisters. After passing out of 12th in 1967 from Vikas Nagar’s Asaram Inter College, he took admission in Dehradun’s Shri Guru Ram Rai (SGRR) College in the B.Sc. course. Since his house was 40 kilometres away from the college and daily travel was difficult, Anirudh Ji started staying in Dehradun itself. 

Anirudh Ji recalls, “That was the turning point of my life. I got involved in college politics. I used to stay in my father’s maternal uncle’s mansion in Dehradun’s Laxman Chowk which wasn’t very far from my college. Like my other family members, my height had also exceeded 6 feet. I was not wanting for anything and was stylish in everything. People used to think that I belonged to a royal family. At that time Jeetendra and Aparna Sen had come to Dehradun to shoot for their movie Vishwas  (1969). They were staying in the Kwality Hotel. When I went to the Hotel to catch a glimpse of them, I found the whole town there! I felt, I should also do something so that members of the public come to see me too!” 
At that time Jeetendra and Aparna Sen had come to Dehradun to shoot for their movie Vishwas  (1969). They were staying in the Kwality Hotel. When I went to the Hotel to catch a glimpse of them, I found the whole town there! I felt, I should also do something so that members of the public come to see me too!” 
Anirudh Ji studied in Dehradun only for a year. In 1968, he got selected for the Roorkee Engineering College which is now known as IIT Roorkee. Anirudh Ji recalls, “I used to take part in Dramas during my school. I started doing it in Roorkee at the college too. I wanted to do something more than studies so that I become a centre of attraction among my compatriots. As a result, though I successfully completed the first year, I got supplementary during the second year. I could not understand what I should do about it. I applied leave for a year from college citing that I had to earn money for further studies. Then without saying anything at home, I came to Mumbai towards the end of 1969.” 
Actor K N Singh belonged to Dehradun and was known to the Agarwal family. Anirudh Ji got off at Dadar Station and after inquiring with many people reached K N Singh’s house in Matunga. He spent 2-3 days at K N Singh’s house and then went to the house of one of his elder brother’s friends in Andheri. That friend was from Saharanpur and used to work with MTNL at Mumbai. Anirudh Ji remembers, “He called up my brother in Vikas Nagar and informed him that I was at his home. My family members who had been searching for me were surprised by this news. They didn’t even know that I had failed. My elder brother instructed his friend to kick me out of the house, but he kept me there with lots of love and affection. However, after nearly three months he asked me to make alternate residential arrangements.” 
After that Anirudh Ji started staying in a guesthouse at Santacruz. According to him, this was the worst phase of his life. He did not even have enough money to eat. As a result, he had to go without eating for many days. On the other hand, the owner of the guest house started fighting daily for the unpaid dues. He reminisces, “Finally, I had to leave the guest house after two and a half months. I could not go back home. Therefore, I started staying at stations. My circumstances were becoming worse day by day. Suddenly, one day, at Khar station, I came across one of my acquaintances from Roorkee College, Tapodhan Swami Sharma. He was senior to me in college by 3 years and had passed out of college. He was residing at the Khar residence of his close relative and famous writer Pandit Mukhram Sharma. As soon as he saw me, he understood my dire circumstances. He bought a ticket for me and took me back with him. We got off at Meerut, I bathed at his home and then he sent me to Vikas Nagar. This happened at the beginning of 1970.” 
Poster of Holi Aaee Re. Image Courtesy: Beete Hue Din

Anirudh Ji’s attraction towards the film world was increasing day by day. He had decided to take admission at the Film Institute in Pune. He sent an application, came to Mumbai to give an interview in mid-1970, gave an audition which led to him being selected. According to Anirudh Ji, Mithun Chakraborty had also come for an interview and this meeting turned into a friendship. Premendra, a student of the final year was also among those taking the interview. Premendra also became a good friend in the days to come. (Premendra’s full name was Premendra Parasher. He had made his debut as a hero in the 1970 film, Holi Aaee Re. Mala Sinha had starred opposite him in that movie. The same year his movie Deedar had also released. During 1971, his movies Duniya Kya Jaane and Saaz Aur Sanam in which Rekha was opposite him released. Saaz Aur Sanam was the last Hindi movie of the banner Wadia Movietone. Premendra’s film career could not last long. For a few years, he did the business of Chandeliers in Mumbai. After that, he went back to his hometown Fatehpur Sikri where his family had a lot of property. Now he stays in Fatehpur Sikri and takes care of his land and property.)

Anirudh Ji's family told him categorically that he has to complete his engineering degree and that they would not give him a single paisa if he tried to do anything else. As a result, he was forced to return to Roorkee where he resumed his second year of engineering studies in 1971. Anirudh Ji told us, “I put all my efforts into studying now. After completing the second year in 1972, the third year in 1973 and the final year in 1974, I finally graduated with a degree in Civil Engineering. However, as I had led a strike in college, I got zero marks in the discipline. I was afraid that I won’t get any job so I headed back to Mumbai.”

Anirudh Ji stayed at the home of a friend from college in Mumbai. He was two years senior to him and was the college topper. He was working in Mumbai with the IBM company. Anirudh Ji also got a job with a piling company called Foundation Corporation of India in Mumbai. He says, “I started working with builders most of whom were involved in shady dealings. During 1974-75, there was a lot of development happening in Dubai and the builders wanted to send me to Dubai too. I didn’t even know where Dubai was and how the environment there would be. I was also afraid of the shady dealings I would have to get into and I was inclined towards working in Mumbai only. By then, I was completely enamoured by the film industry.”
I went to the Ramsay Brothers’ office. As soon as the 5-6 brothers saw me, they jumped and exclaimed, “We have found who we were looking for!”
Anirudh Ji's life had become settled and he was earning quite well. He had also got married in 1978. He recalls, “My height was 6 Feet 4 Inch and I had an attractive personality. Suddenly, I started feeling as if people were becoming afraid of seeing me. Initially, I could not understand why that was happening. On deep introspection, I realized that my hands, feet and facial features were becoming unnatural and larger in dimension. My nose and chin had started to bulge out. The shape and size of my palms, feet, fingers and ears also had become large. Medical examinations revealed that I had a tumour in my pituitary gland. This happened in 1980.” 
Poster of Saamri. Image Courtesy: Beete Hue Din
(Pituitary gland, which is called Piyush Granthi in Hindi is situated at the root or base of our brain. It is the size of a pea and is believed to control all the other glands of our body. The hormones released by it in our bloodstream are responsible for many of our bodily functions and also control other glands and the hormones released by them. Any kind of problem with the pituitary gland leads to an uncontrolled hormone flow which had started showing its effects of Anirudh Ji's body.

Anirudh Ji recalls, “One day I met a man who inquired if I wanted to work in films and my desires rose up again. On his suggestion, I went to the Ramsay Brothers’ office. As soon as the 5-6 brothers saw me, they jumped and exclaimed, “We have found who we were looking for!”  Actually, their film Purana Mandir had already been shot. Only the scenes of the Demon or Shaitaan were yet to be shot because they were unable to find the right actor for it. Their search for the right actor ended with me. They had found a live ghost! Purana Mandir released in 1984 and proved to be a blockbuster. I played the role of the devil (demon) in two other big movies of the Ramsay Brothers, Saamri and Bandh Darwaza. 
Anirudh Agarwal as seen in Bandh Darwaza. Image Courtesy: Beete Hue Din

Anirudh Ji had left his job in 1982 and had started work in the construction field. He was parallel taking contracts for buildings. He says, “I was active in both fields and my business was doing well. Whenever I would get an opportunity, I would act in films also. I have worked in 40-45 films, the prominent among which are the movies for Ramsay Brothers and Bandit Queen (1994). I had performed the role of Babu Gujjar in that movie. Around the same time, I also worked in the Hollywood movie Jungle Book for which I had to stay in America for 3 months. I had got many more offers there. However, my children were at an age where their career was more important, so I had to return back to India. Jungle Book released in 1994. Before that, in 1993, the superhit TV Serial, Zee Horror Show had brought me to every household.” 

Anirudh Ji's son Aseem had worked in the Hindi film Fight Club in 2006 while his daughter Kapila had worked in Bunty Aur Babli in 2005. Aseem completed his MBA and went to America after marrying an NRI girl. Kapila after completing her engineering went to America for doing her MBA and she also settled in America after marrying an Indian boy there. Now only Anirudh Agarwal and his wife reside in Mumbai. 

Anirudh Ji told me, “After the 2000 release Mela, I started working as a civil contractor for the Bhabha Atomic Research Center (BARC). I did do two movies Talaash (2003) and Bombay To Goa (2007) which till date are the last movies I have acted in. Till 2010, I was so busy with work at BARC that my association with the film world almost got severed.”

In 1990, he had been operated for the tumour, during which a large part of his pituitary gland was removed. This arrested the ill effects he had been suffering from. He started his film career with the stage name Ajay Agarwal because he felt that Anirudh was a bit difficult. However, his friends insisted that Anirudh was a good name and prevailed on him which led to him using his real name in films. Anirudh Ji's family is a prominent family in Vikas Nagar. The post of the Municipality’s Chairman has always remained with the family. His elder brother Chandanlal Agarwal who is now 90 years old, is a close friend and associate of Atal Bihari Vajpayee. He was the chairman for the municipality for many years. At present, the municipality chairman is Anirudh Ji's nephew Neeraj Agarwal.Vikas Nagar, which was earlier called Chohadpur was renamed on the initiative taken by Agrawal family only.

Regarding the various rumours about him, Anirudh Agarwal clarifies, “After me, two more artists Gorilla and Randhir entered the film industry. Both suffered from a similar condition to mine because of which their faces, hands and feet were deformed. This made us all look like each other. Gorilla had worked in the 1988 release Veerana of the Ramsay Brothers but people erroneously thought it was me. Perhaps this was the reason that when he died, false rumours regarding my death started circulating. After few years Randhir also passed away. Randhir Singh was from Bihar who had worked in movies including Loha (1987), Tridev (1989), Jadugar (1989) and Cheekh (1985).”
I did do two movies Talaash (2003) and Bombay To Goa (2007) which till date are the last movies I have acted in.
(After doing some research and talking to people involved with the film world, I came to know that actor Gorilla belonged to Haryana and his real name was R S Malik. He passed away in 1995 due to gangrene. At that time, he was shooting for Subhash Ghai’s movie Trimurti (1974). After his demise, his part in the film was given to Anirudh Ji.)  
According to Anirudh Agarwal, the same thing happened to underworld’s Purana Mandir, that is Mohammad Iqbal Sheikh who also probably suffered from the same condition. Due to his similar face to Anirudh Ji, underworld people started calling him Purana Mandir which led to the myth that Mohammad Iqbal Sheikh had played the demonic role in ‘Purana Mandir’ and he also got associated with the movie Mela. In such a scenario, these things ended up in police records and reached Vivek Agarwal. 

Soon after completing the interview, as promised, I called up Vivek Agarwal and shared the facts with him!

(Part of Shishir Krishna Sharma's Beete Hue Din blog series)

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