Character actors have the unenviable task of supplementing the aura of the star by lending their support, yet they hardly get to enjoy a slice of the stardom themselves. One of the few exceptions to the rule is an actor who became iconic for playing the accomplice of one of the most terrifying villains of all time. For generations of cinema lovers, the face of Mac Mohan would immediately evoke the voice of Gabbar Singh calling out, “Arre o Sambha!”
But Sambha did not harbour any desire to act when he was young. Born on 24 April 1938 in Karachi as Mohan Makhijani, he moved to Lucknow in 1940 when his army-man father got transferred. He was intensely passionate about cricket and was the captain of his school and university cricket team. He also played for the state team of Uttar Pradesh. When his mother fell ill, his father decided to shift to Mumbai. In 1952 Mac Mohan came to Mumbai and immediately resumed the pursuit of a career in cricket. His first stint as an actor came at the request of a friend when he acted in a play for an organisation called Hindi Parishad. Shaukat Azmi, who was also in the play, was impressed by his performance and decided to cast him in the IPTA play Election Ka Ticket. The play’s success and Mohan’s acting caught the eye of P.D. Shenoy, a coach at the Filmalaya Acting School. At his insistence he was admitted into the school where he studied acting for three years.
He made his film debut in Chetan Anand’s stunning war drama Haqeeqat (1964). The film also began the curious series of events that led to his name being shortened to Mac Mohan. L.P. Rao, the editor of Filmfare, in his review of Haqeeqat christened him Mac Mohan, and the name stuck for the rest of his career.
The acting bug had bit him by then. He appeared in the Filmalaya production Aao Pyaar Karen (1964) and assisted Chetan Anand in Aakhri Khat (1966). He played small roles in films like Aya Sawan Jhoom Ke (1969), Suhana Safar (1970), Man Mandir (1971) and Anhonee(1973). But his big break came with Ramesh Sippy’s eternal classic Sholay (1975).
Along with the unforgettable characters and quotable dialogues, Mac Mohan’s Sambha also became a part of pop culture legend. And to think that the actor did not even see the film until six months after its release due to his displeasure over the length of his role! He went on to act in over 200 films in his career. His final role was in the 2009 film Luck By Chance.
Mac Mohan passed away on 10 May 2010 in Mumbai. He is survived by two daughters and a son.