Remembering Jagdish Raaj: The quintessential policeman of Bollywood

On his death anniversary today, we remember Jagdish Raaj — an actor who epitomised the role of police inspector in Bollywood.

 |  8-minute read |   28-07-2021
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The Ministry of Aviation has exempted VVIPs from the pre-embarkation security check at the civilian airports in the country. Such exemption is granted based on protocol, reciprocity/bilateral agreement in respect of foreign dignitaries, and on security grounds. Dignitaries ranging from the President, Prime Minister, Ambassadors, Chief Ministers, Judges, the Dalai Lama, SPG Protectees, and others are covered.

The list did not cover one name. But informally, that person never had to go through the metal detectors — there was no frisking, no pat-downs. The airport security officials would escort him right to the aircraft. Such was the love and respect they had for him. He was their man, albeit in reel life. But that didn’t matter. He was their hero.

That person would be Jagdish Raaj.

Why only the airport security? Even the traffic policemen would salute him when they saw him in the car; he was never issued a challan. If he broke a traffic rule (which would be rare and unintentional), his fine would be an autograph and a picture with the policeman. The housing society guards, the mall guards and other security personnel, would stand up and acknowledge him with affection. And he would reciprocate with genuine warmth and patience. He did that for five decades.

Why? Because during these decades, he mainly played the role of a police inspector — an astonishing 144 times (you read that right: 144 times!) in over 250 films. Enough number of times to make it to the Guinness Book of World Records as the most typecast actor. So entrenched did he become in this pigeonhole, that the producers were loath to experiment with other roles — though he did play an odd negative role, like in Ek Mahal Ho Sapnon Ka (1975), or as a judge in Dhool Ka Phool (1959) and Insaniyat Ke Devta (1993), or a doctor in Pyaar Ka Sager (1961) and Do Anjaane (1976), or other characters. But his bread-and-butter came from khaki.

main_jagdish-raj_1_072621083116.jpgThe quintessential policeman: Jagdish Raaj holds a Guinness World Record for being the most typecast actor.

Interestingly, it was a Hollywood casting director behind the entry of Jagdish Raaj in the Guinness Book. He called the Guinness Book team to Mumbai for verification after seeing his unending list of films as a policeman. When his name finally achieved official recognition, Jagdish Raaj got the role of Police Commissioner in the films like Loha (1987) and Na-Insaafi (1989), prompting him to quip that the powers that be had at last thought it fit to give him a promotion! In his last film Meri Biwi Ka Jawaab Nahin (2004), he played the role of Deputy Inspector General of Police.  But essentially, he started as an Inspector and remained one, exceptions apart.

If the police were ever to have a national mascot, it would be him. It is a wonder why he wasn’t made an honorary police inspector, or better still, after 50 years of diligent service, an honorary Director General of Police.

It needn’t have been like that. Jagdish Raaj started as a child actor in Ek Hi Raasta in 1939. However, his first actual role was in Seema (1955), in which he played the role of a doctor. He could have been typecast as one. But fate had other plans for him. He played the role of a policeman for the first time in Raj Khosla’s CID (1956) with Dev Anand and Waheeda Rehman where, coincidentally, he played a character named Inspector Jagdish. And that was the launching pad of a career in the police.

Jagdish Raaj was born in Sargodha (now in Pakistan) in 1928. Before joining films, he had donned khaki in real life. He was in the Royal Indian Air Force during World War II but had to leave due to medical reasons. In 1992, in the film Deedar, he would play the role of an Air Force officer.

main_jagdish-raj_3_072621083836.jpgWhen his name finally achieved official recognition, Jagdish Raaj got the role of Police Commissioner in films.

Though I had seen him in many films earlier, his presence in the song O Mere Raja from Johny Mera Naam (1970) made me sit up and take notice. The song, featuring Dev Anand and Hema Malini, was shot in the ruins of Nalanda University and on the ropeway in Rajgir. Jagdish Raaj and his police team follow them, at a close distance. The actors are aware, but go about their business nonchalantly — Hema seeking forgiveness for der se aana and Dev Anand admonishing her for wohi purana tera bahana. While keeping a hawk-eye on the goings-on, Jagdish Raaj would look away at certain parts of the song as if embarrassed or maybe to avoid eye contact. At one point he even smiles. When the couple boards the chairlift of the Rajgir ropeway and leaves the police behind, he looks askance, but in an innocent way. I found his conduct endearing and atypical.

A genteel, but firm, the approach is what Jagdish Raaj came to epitomise. Iron fist in velvet gloves. Never compromising the integrity of the office, yet maintaining decency in official conduct — never a foul word, no intimidation, nor threats, and certainly no third-degree, no extortion, no encounters, no planting of evidence, no malice. Honesty in official dealings. Living on the frugal salary, no protection money, no hafta — playing by the book, in a decent, civilised manner. Your friendly neighbourhood policeman, who knew his IPC and CrPC. This conduct harked back to an era of cultured behaviour.

Some of his memorable films include Kala Bazaar (1960), Hum Dono (1961), Ilzam (1970), Deewar (1975), Aaina (1977), Don (1978), Silsila (1981), Naseeb (1981), Shakti (1982) and Mazdoor (1983).

When you play a police officer on screen day-in-day-out, it’s inevitable that some of the office work finds its way back to the house. Jagdish Raaj got a police uniform stitched, which would be kept crisply ironed in his cupboard. He would reach the shooting wearing the uniform. God knows how many times he must have been mistaken for a real police inspector by people who didn’t know any better!

In the documentary, The Immortals, filmmaker and archivist Shivendra Singh Dungarpur assembled key moments and memorabilia from India's rich film past. He was commissioned by the Busan International Film Festival to direct a commemorative documentary on Indian cinema. The documentary weaved together a history of Indian cinema through objects and fragmented memories. The documentary revealed that Jagdish Raaj’s daughter had retained the uniform that her father had donned in numerous Hindi movies.

I first met Jagdish Raaj in 1974 at the shooting of BR Ishara’s Rahu Ketu (1978) in a scene with Prem Nath. I had just finished school and was in Mumbai for an interview. 20 years later, when I was posted in Mumbai, I would meet him and his family socially and become friends. He was one of the most charming and warm-hearted people I had ever met. The age difference notwithstanding, he treated me as a close friend and regaled me with filmi anecdotes. He had acted with the entire industry and was on excellent terms with each and every one. This was evident when the entire industry turned up at the prayer meeting when his wife passed away. Such was the high regard in which he was held.

Jagdish Raaj died on July 28, 2013, at the age of 85.

His legacy continues through his son, daughter and grandchildren.

His son Bobby Raaj is a producer, director and writer. He has also acted in a film. In 1994, Bobby invited us for the premiere of Zamane Se Kya Darna, starring Sanjay Dutt and Raveena Tandon, which he had directed. Except for Mera Haque (1986) — Bobby Raaj’s first film as producer/ writer — none of the subsequent films that he produced and directed, had Jagdish Raaj. In other films, the scripts would be written to incorporate Jagdish Raaj’s role but in his in-house productions, it was decided that if the script didn’t demand it, Jagdish Raaj would have no role to play. How many actor-producers would have done this?

Jagdish Raaj's daughter, Anita Raaj, made her Bollywood debut in the 1981 film Prem Geet, garnering critical acclaim for her performance. She went on to make a name for herself in the 1980s, starring in a series of successful thrillers opposite Sanjay Dutt, Dharmendra, Vinod Khanna, Shashi Kapoor, Rishi Kapoor, Shatrughan Sinha, Rajinikanth and other stalwarts. She also acted in many TV serials.

Bobby Raaj’s daughter Sonakshi is a much sought-after costume and fashion designer in Bollywood. His other daughter Malvika is a model and acts in Hindi and Telegu films. She will be seen shortly in Squad along with Rinzing Denzongpa.

Tumhen police ne chaaron taraf se gher liya hai. Bachne ka koi raasta nahin hai. Apne aap ko kanoon ke hawaale kar do.” How many times Jagdish Raaj must have shouted this warning through the megaphone to the bad guys! The same could be said about how his uniform did the same thing to him. Today, on his death anniversary, we salute this quintessential policeman who brought dignity and flair to the role.

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Writer

Ajay Mankotia Ajay Mankotia @ajaymankotia

The writer is an author, former revenue official, former NDTV executive and a music aficionado.

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