Mumbai: He faced the cameras first when he was 50. At 96, he took to the fashion runway on a wheelchair. At 97, he gave voice-over for an animated film and did a TV show. Age was clearly never a bar for AK Hangal. He lived with an undying passion for his craft almost till his last breath, even when a financial crisis took a heavy toll.
Hangal, who epitomised the phrase once an actor always an actor, passed away here Sunday following a prolonged illness. He was 97.
"I believe there is no age limit to work," Singhal told reporters back in May when he gave a nod for a cameo in a TV show ‘Madhubala’. He was ill by then but he wasn`t willing to give up.
After featuring in over 200 films in an over four-decade career, Hangal was living a life of penury - a fact which came to light in 2011.
He had no income and his only son Vijay, who is 70-plus, had to give up his job due to a severe back ailment. The result was their inability to afford mounting medical bills.
But even then Hangal didn`t give up or sought financial aid. Such was his spirit -- and pride.
Born in Sialkot now in Pakistan, Hangal spent most of his childhood in Peshawar. He grew up to be a tailor but quenched his thirst for acting through theatre.
Post partition, he is said to have moved to Mumbai in 1949. He was with the Left-leaning Indian People`s Theatre Association (IPTA), which also attracted Balraj Sahni, Utpal Dutt, Kaifi Azmi and many others.
He stepped into the Hindi film industry in 1966-67. His initial films included ‘Teesri Kasam’ and ‘Shagird’.
As an actor, who began his tryst with cinema at age 50, he had little options in terms of the variety in his roles.
But he gladly and responsibly played an uncle, father and grandfather to heroes and heroines starting from the 1970s.
Known as a character artist, he is remembered for playing Rahim Chacha in ‘Sholay’. Some of his other memorable movies include ‘Namak Haraam’, ‘Sholay’, ‘Bawarchi’, ‘Chupa Rustam’, ‘Abhimaan’ and ‘Guddi’.
And who can forget his role in ‘Shaukeen’, where he played a retired old man who goes on a holiday with two of his friends to make the best of life.
Most of his films were with Rajesh Khanna, India`s first `superstar` who passed away July 18. They shared screen space in ‘Aap Ki Kasam’, ‘Amar Deep’, ‘Phir Wohi Raat’ and ‘Sautela Bhai’.
Hangal, who stayed with son Vijay in a flat in Santa Cruz, was also seen in Aamir Khan-starrer ‘Lagaan’ (2001) and Shah Rukh Khan`s ‘Paheli’ (2006).
The news of his ill health first surfaced in January 2011. He was unable to afford mounting medical bills for his age-related problems, and his son Vijay couldn`t do much either.
Together, they are said to have had a monthly medical expense of Rs.15,000 and were reportedly having to choose between spending on food and medication.
The Hindi film fraternity came to his rescue.
Jaya Bachchan, who played daughter to him in several films, and her husband Amitabh Bachchan funded a chunk of his medical expenditure. Others like Aamir, Salman Khan and Priyanka Chopra contributed too.
His seniority and respectability in the industry also moved the Maharashtra government and the Cine and TV Artistes Association to lend a helping hand. The humble Hangal was overwhelmed.
A month later, he was already recharged enough to `walk` the ramp in a wheelchair for designer Riyaz Ganji.
A man with a never say no attitude, he maintained his enthusiasm to wear the grease paint when he entered the sets of TV serial ‘Madhubala’ in May this year.
He reached the sets, looked around, and just as he must have done in his prime, he called out: "Make up man!"