You may possibly have heard about a famous quote that says, imitation is the best form of flattery. To this day, there are tens of thousands of songs that borrow something from the western tunes and then go on to become massive hits. There are mimicry artists, whether one speaks of the man moonwalking in Vegas like MJ or someone imitating Tom Cruise in Hollywood’s walk of fame, LA. Then there are Dev Anand impersonators in Bollywood, India much like one finds an Elvis lookalike who makes a living by charging for photos being clicked by admirers. Truth is, there’s hardly any profession as close to art yet as far from originality than imitation. Perhaps, it may not be entirely incorrect to suggest that there are voice over artists who can sound perfectly like a singer or an actor on a radio show who, on a daily basis, make their careers by basing their very existence on another showman.
Ditto for cinematic renderings. To this day, we remember and with much pleasure and uncontrollable laughter the famous Hera Pheri character of Baburao Apte, aced superbly by Paresh Rawal. We remember the superb comic timing of a movie unforgotten by countless Indians. We stay in awe of Paresh Rawal’s acting genius at giving birth to his Baburao Apte character, which was both- hitherto unseen in the cinematic landscape of India and since then, hasn’t been seen again.
While comic films, there’ve been many since the iconic late-nineties’ Hera Pheri, but none has gone on to reach the cult status of this Sunil Shetty, Akshay Kumar and Paresh Rawal-starrer. Yet, what many of us who fell in love with the adorable Baburao Apte character do not know is that it wasn’t Paresh Rawal or the filmmakers’ original creation; rather borrowed from a real life person.
And where truth stands, then borrowed from a rather known actual personality.
So if there’s anything like the greatest unknown or lesser known Hera Pheri fact, then it is this-
Baburao Apte, the funny comedic middle-class bespectacled Maharashtrian character was actually inspired from a man who’s known to one and all as Rajat Dholakia.
And yet, it’s strange and sad that how little does one know about the driving force behind Rajat Dholakia, that birthed a character that may never be forgotten in times to come.
Popular Bollywood website Bollywood Hungama had the following to note with regards to Baburao Apte’s real life inspiration:
The gentleman happens to be a popular composer of films, theatre and ads. He had written the film along with Neeraj Vora and also played the funny ‘Raapchik maal’ character.
Now, what’s rather interesting is that the news that Baburao Apte was based on Mr. Rajat was brought out by none other than another brilliant comic actor, one who you could say is still very much unsung- Snehal Dabi, best known for movies like Mast and Welcome!
Snehal shared, “The role of Paresh Rawal (Baburao Ganpatrao Apte) was inspired by a music director in Gujarati theatre, Rajat Dholakia. We used to call him Juku. So Juku was exactly like Baburao. Paresh Rawal, Neeraj Vora and I had decided in advance ki Baburao Juku jaisa hi hoga. ‘Arre baba’ (says it in Baburao style)…this is how he talks. The original film, Ramji Rao Calling (1989), wasn’t so funny. We added a lot of madness. We went to meet Juku with drinks and told him ‘Aapko study karna hai.”
What’s interesting is that Rajat Dholakia, son of popular music composer Dilip Dholakia, didn’t mind Hera Pheri basing a character on his life.
Such things, according to Snehal, happened all the time in Gujarati cinema and stage.