The Quiet Genius of Neeraj Vora

Pop Culture

The Quiet Genius of Neeraj Vora

Illustration: Palak Bansal

If you woke up this morning to frantically google “Neeraj Vora”, you’re in solid company. We too wondered why a nearly unknown entity should be making the news. Then we recognised him as that guy from that movie.

Neeraj Vora was a multi-hyphenate: An actor, director, and writer, and he passed away today at 54, after being in a coma for the last one year. In his acting career, Vora appeared in some of our favourite films: Right from playing Aamir Khan’s best friend in Mann and having us in splits with his slapstick comic timing to playing the drunk producer who tries convincing Urmila Matondkar that he gave a break to all of Bollywood’s leading actresses in Rangeela. Vora’s turn as the idiotic village lead Chacko, in the severely underrated Daud, stood out for its impeccable comic timing. Equally fun was his portrayal of a perverted music composer in Satya.

We’ll always remember Vora the actor, but few of us know that he also excelled at writing sharp dialogue. His words were in fact behind a slew of memorable films, including Rangeela, Hera Pheri, Josh, and Golmaal, which has spawned four sequels to date. The multifaceted actor also wore two other hats; that of a director, responsible for giving Akshay Kumar a fan following with Khiladi 420, and composing songs. In fact, Vora has been a constant presence in Akshay Kumar’s career, writing and directing a host of his films, including Ajnabee and Phir Hera Pheri. For his part, Kumar has gone on record stating that Vora was responsible for his foray into comedy.

He had been in a coma before any of us noticed his absence from the screen.

And yet, his name barely rang a bell this morning. It’s the fate of most “character actors”. Think Vijay Raaz, before he achieved a cult familiarity with Monsoon Wedding, and still remained stuck on the fringes of mainstream Bollywood acceptance, save for the rare Delhi Belly or Delhi 6. (Raaz, in fact, also crossed paths with Neeraj Vora when they worked together in the forgettable Deewane Huye Pagal.)

Vora’s last Bollywood appearance was in 2015, in Anees Bazmee’s Welcome Back. He had been in a coma before any of us noticed his absence from the screen. Just like that other guy from that other movie. He might have passed on quietly, but we might remember him now with uproarious laughter… every time we watch a rerun of Rangeela or Phir Hera Pheri.