Only 90s Kids will Remember: Sumeet Saigal, Avinash Wadhawan, and 50 Shades of Hamming from Forgotten Heroes

Bollywood

Only 90s Kids will Remember: Sumeet Saigal, Avinash Wadhawan, and 50 Shades of Hamming from Forgotten Heroes

Illustration: Akshita Monga

R

ecently, I watched Loveyatri. No, I wouldn’t risk going to a multiplex, standing up for the national anthem and then sitting for a film where Aayush Sharma – Bollywood’s latest nepotistic offering – is fondly called “Susu”. And has to travel abroad to win his love by displaying his garba skills. But I do have an Amazon Prime subscription and suffer from morbid curiosity. I couldn’t stop wondering if Aayush Sharma would be better than Atul Agnihotri, Salman Khan’s other brother-in-law and charity subject. Remember the ’90s hustler who was recognisable by his wooden cuteness and for being a part of several Hindi film outings like Sir, Krantiveer, Veergati and Aatish?

I didn’t have to wait long to have my answer: Aayush Sharma easily left behind Katrina Kaif and Amy Jackson in moonlighting as a statue. But Loveyatri had all the makings of a guilty pleasure; it proudly over-abuses all ’90s film tropes. What it was missing was a stock ’90s hero – someone who was a non-Khan, non-Dutt, non-Kumar and had the inherent talent of hamming. That ’90s hero who could champion patriarchy while celebrating matriarchy; could flex muscles as well as emotions; and become taller, sharper and stronger as the narrative progressed.

Someone who was part of what I like to call, “The Face Pack”. As opposed to the legendary Brat Pack of ’80s Hollywood, members of the Face Pack were used on a dried and dead script to make it rise up like a zombie. This tribe of heroes, who were neither known for their brains nor their brawn but were an essential part of ’90s Bollywood, is now lost. The films they were part of, the songs they lip-synced, have all achieved cult status, but sadly they haven’t.

Allow me to introduce you to the honorary members of the Face Pack: Avinash Wadhawan, Kamal Sadanah, Jay Mehta, Sumeet Saigal, Vicky Arora, Vivek Mushran, Ayub Khan, Asif Sheikh, and Rahul Roy. They are all Sharmaji ke bete. Basically people who managed to score well during an entrance exam, got into a reputed college, managed to get placement but suddenly during appraisal season, they were not deemed worthy anymore. It makes you wonder how the likes of Harman Baweja, Tusshar Kapoor, Jackky Bhagnani, or even Sohail Khan continue having any semblance of a career.

It’s a strange coincidence but the songs were always the USP of all the movies with the the members of the Face Pack.

My fascination with the Face Pack started as a kid. The boom of cable TV was yet to reach my neighbourhood and of course there was no Netflix and chill — it was all Doordarshan and Avtar Gill. And over several late Friday and Saturday night film viewings, I got acquainted with a number of them. I never judged them because I was one of those people who could watch anything that came on TV. It was only when I grew up that I managed to learn that my beloved Face Pack was essentially a group of outcasts.

The first Face Pack member who made a solid impression on me was Asif Sheikh. You know, the guy who played Thakur Suraj Singh from Karan-Arjun? Although, his claim to fame was actually the chartbuster song Bin Tere Sanam from Yaara Dildara (1991), which probably boosted DJ Suketu’s career when he remixed it more than Sheikh’s career. Yaara Dildara (1991) made an attempt to make a chocolate boy out of him, but films like Pyaar Ka Saudagar (1991) and Haque (1991) proved that he was destined to become Dustin Hoffman from The Graduate. It more or less ended his career and he had to do damage control by playing farcical villains and ultimately fading into oblivion.

I can write a paean to the Sakht Launda of the 90s, Puru Rajkumar from Bal Brahmachari (1996), which was made to shame incels. While the film found its way to the canon of cult, Puru did not. He was abandoned, occasionally making thankless appearances in forgettable films like Mission Kashmir (2000), LOC: Kargil (2003) and Veer (2010). And to think that he was a star kid.

But even greater was Jay Mehta, who made a decent debut with Muskurahat (1991), but then ended up as the only superhero who could easily repel all possible emotions and expressions thrown at him. But the holy grail of the Face Pack has to be Vicky Arora. No one had any idea where he came from or how he managed to be in Yalgaar (1992) and got Sanjay Dutt to accept a supporting role in the film. Sadly, Vicky Arora’s career was the same as PM Modi spending time in India between his foreign trips: There for five minutes, but vanishing right after.

Then there is Bijay Anand – recently seen in Karenjit Kaur as Sunny Leone‘s father – whose filmography was inimitable in the ’90s: Kajol’s philandering boyfriend in Pyar To Hona Hi Tha after defying gravity and expectations in the song “Subha Subha Jab Khidki Khole” from Yash.

It’s a strange coincidence but the songs were always the USP of all the movies with the the members of the Face Pack. You may not remember that Avinash Wadhawan was in Meera Ka Mohan (1992), but I can bet “Krishna O Krishna” will sound familiar when you hear it. Ditto with Sumeet Saigal in “Kali Teri Choti Hai Paranda Tera Laal Ni” from Bahaar Aane Taak (1995). It’s probably the only song in the history of Bollywood where the background dancers were more enthusiastic than the leads. My favourite, however was “Chicken Fry” from Rock Dancer (1995). Believe it or not, the song actually tried to challenge the norms of objectification: Kamal Sadanah and Ritu Shivpuri adoringly address each other using names of different food items.

Even though I thoroughly enjoyed the antics of the Face Pack, they failed to capture India’s attention like they managed to capture mine. Maybe they were not able to fit in anymore, they didn’t have a Morpheus to guide their careers or Agent Smith from the Department of Obliteration jinxed their fate by closing in on them.

But I’ll continue to be grateful to them and maybe, even slightly nostalgic. Today, they might be dissed and dismissed. But they were also the ones responsible for colouring up the era with their 50 shades of hamming, if not with their films.

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