As Bollywood mourns the disappearance of hardcore anti-heroes from the screen, baddie supreme Ranjeet defends his reputation as the filmdom's ratified rapist over four decades now
Air Force's loss
Born in Amritsar as Gopal Bedi and better known as Goli in film circles, Ranjeet is the nom de screen given to him by Sunil Dutt in his debut venture Reshma Aur Shera. Eldest of a brood of four with two younger brothers and a sister, Gopal was a keen sportsman.
He enjoyed a good game of soccer any time. His father, Dwarakaprasad Bedi, had a factory of electrical accessories in Delhi and was rather orthodox. Young Gopal took the National Defence Academy entrance exam ''just for a lark with a bunch of friends.''
His father came to know of it only when he approached him for the official consent letter. Gopal was training as an Air Force cadet when he got romantically involved with his instructor's daughter - and as a result he was sent home packing. ''Look how destiny led me to films,'' he remarks.
Glorious intro to star-matazz
Back in Delhi, Gopal re-joined his football team and watched Dev Anand's Guide and Hum Dono 20 times each and he could mimic every mannerism and line from the two films. ''I was such a great fan of Dev saab's,'' he adds.
A chance meeting at a party with a UK-based film enthusiast from Kota's royal lineage, Ranbir (Ronny) Singh changed the course of Gopal's life. He offered the 5'11'' tall, fiery young Gopal the lead role in his film Zindagi Ki Rahen, in which he was to play the cleaner boy while Jayant was to play the truck driver.
The film never got launched but it sure led Gopal to Mumbai. Ronny Singh invited him over and in 1968 he flew in to the showbiz capital. ''I requested my father to let me visit Mumbai on the pretext of sightseeing,'' he guffaws.
Since Ronny was well-connected in the industry, Gopal became his constant companion, consequently spending his first night in Mumbai at Chetan Anand's bungalow! ''Imagine, Priya Rajvansh served us slivers of ripe mangoes after dinner,'' he relates.
The second night he was dining with Sunil Dutt and Nargis and the third night was spent in Raj Kapoor's company where he showed them the rough cut of Mera Naam Joker. ''Such was my glorious introduction to Mumbai, but I still had no job or role,'' he observes candidly.
First take with Rekha
Sunil Dutt made him change his name to Ranjeet to suit the rough-hewn Rajput character he was to play in the film. But his first shot was not for Reshma Aur Shera, but for Sawan Bhadon. ''Mehboob Studio was buzzing with activity as it was the first day of the shoot.
I was dressed in pyjamas with dangling drawstrings, a big bamboo in one hand and a lauki (white gourd) in the other. I had the entire scene by heart, I knew my lines as well as Rekha's and Navin Nischal's and director Mohan Segal was so pleased with my first take that he called me a watermelon - baahar kuch, andar kuch,'' he reminisces, happily.
Sawan Bhadon was his debut venture as well as Rekha's. The two struck an instant rapport and even now when they meet, Rekha calls him Goli.
Lamenting a ''rapist'' son
Soon he accompanied Sunil Dutt and his retinue to the deserts of Rajasthan where the entire cast and crew was put up in tents for months.
Ranjeet played the role of Reshma's (Waheeda Rehman) brother married to Raakhee who is shot down by Shera's (Sunil Dutt) brother Chhotu (Amitabh) in a family feud. ''I shared a tent with Amitabh, Ali Raza and Thapa,'' he says.
This lavishly-mounted film turned out to be a box-office dud but by now Raakhee had recommended Ranjeet for the role of a molester in Sharmeelee. ''I invited my entire family for the premiere in Delhi and when they saw me trying to rape the heroine, they walked out of the theatre before the interval.
When I went home that night, I faced the wrath of the family. 'What face do we have to show in Amritsar?' they lamented,'' he recalls, with a laugh. Sharmeelee was a blockbuster and Ranjeet's career was on a roll, albeit as a rapist!
Nothing succeeds like success and nothing thrives like a hit stereotype in Bollywood. So rapist Ranjeet starred in several baddie avatars, ''From a rustic dacoit, urban ruffian to a malicious cop - you name it and I have done it,'' he says.
Soon Ranjeet became what the filmwallahs call ''a compulsory blind''. Producers would tell Hrishikesh Mukherjee to insert a nightmare sequence with my rape scene,'' chortles Ranjeet, adding, ''I laugh it off when people call me filmdom's ratified rapist. That was my job.''
As for competition from other villains, he shrugs off the suggestion, ''No actor lives above the role and no role lives above the director. Why do you think people don't ever talk about any other film than Sholay about Amjad Khan?''
He adds that he had also been offered Gabbar's role after Danny Denzongpa, with whom he was also shooting in Afghanistan for Feroz Khan's Dharmatma. ''I had asked for Danny's 'no objection' certificate which they never got,'' he says.
Production and sanyas
In the late '80s, Ranjeet found himself trapped in the monotony of work. ''I got so busy that I couldn't go and receive my mother at the airport and I couldn't even attend my brother's wedding,'' he relates.
It was during this listless period that Ranjeet wrote the script of Kiske Liye which his well-wishers forced him to call Kaarnaama ('90) instead. ''They felt the earlier title sounded like Gulzar's film and did not go with my action image,'' he says, with a shrug.
He also made Gajab Tamasha ('92) thereafter starring Anu Aggarwal and Rahul Roy, ''But I failed as a businessman,'' he admits. Disillusioned, he decided to call it a day, ''I had 80 films on the floors then, which I completed,'' he clarifies emphatically.
Ranjeet returned to acting in the teleserial Baat Ban Jaye and his Colonel Khanna act made him a household name. He also was seen in two comic plays - Hanky Panky and Papa Don't Preach, ''Theatre calls for plenty of improvisation,'' he says. Currently, he's busy shooting for comedy serial, Jugni Chali Jallandhar on SAB TV.
On the family front, Ranjeet is a happy man. Divyanka, his elder daughter, is a prize-winning fashion designer and son Chiranjeev is a keen Formula One race driver. ''He's still young but in the next two years he will certainly be in films.I have a script in mind for him,'' he informs.