Vittal Bapurao Khote, popularly known as Viju Khote was an iconic Indian actor known for his work in more than 440 films and serials in Hindi and Marathi.
A friendly guy, his humour was contagious. I still recall him calling out… ‘Radhaakrishnan’ in a slow, deliberate way when I met him at film parties. Hilarious on stage, iconic on screen and a darling of a human being in real life, Viju was an institution by himself. His stunning screen presence and unique impeccable comic timing entertained.
He made us laugh with his expressions. Passionate and well informed about American films, he was not just a fantastic actor, but professional to the hilt.
Acting seemed to flow in the Khote blood. He was the son of noted theatre and silent movies actor, Nandu Khote, younger brother of popular actor Shubha Khote, nephew of the veteran actress Durga Khote and uncle of Bhavna Balsaver.
Making his silver screen debut with 1964 film Ya Malak; in an over five decade career Viju left a legacy. He also did Marathi theatre and advertisements.
He went on to star in movies like Sholay as the iconic ‘Kaaliya’, Qurbani, Karz, Nagina, Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak, Phir Hera Pheri, Andaz Apna Apna, as the bumbling ‘Raabert’, Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab, Atithi Tum Kab Jaoge, Kahani and Golmaal 3 as the quintessential Bollywood househelp ‘Shambhu Kaka’, National Award-winning Marathi film Ventilator (2016), Garam Masala, Club 60, Pukar, Mela, and China Gate, etc. His last film was Jaane Kyun De Yaaron in 2018.
He is remembered for the popular 90s sitcom, Zabaan Sambhal Ke, an Indian adaptation of the hit British comedy, Mind Your Language and was seen also in Aflatoon, among 30 TV shows.
Despite his body of work, Viju however gained prominence and hearts only with Ramesh Sippy’s 1975 blockbuster Sholay, becoming synonymous as the iconic, bumbling sidekick henchman ‘Kaalia’, of the dreaded dacoit Gabbar Singh, and mouthed one of the most memorable film dialogues, as he reminded his boss of his loyalty.
He caught the public eye with the get up itself. Bushy brows, twirled up moustache with tilak on the forehead and a taweez (talisman) around the neck. It leads on to the long, iconic sequence, involving Kaalia’s timid and frightful exchange with a livid Gabbar: “Tera kya hoga Kaalia? … Sardar, maine aapka namak khaya hai … Ab goli kha.” Another scene Gabbar questioning Kaalia about a raid gone wrong, “Kitne aadmi thhe?”
The character left a deep impression on viewers’ hearts. Gabbar wouldn’t have been Gabbar and Sholay wouldn’t have been Sholay without Viju’s Kaalia. An entire generation, for whom the film has been a cinematic Bible of sorts, easily recall even today, the chain of events and the dialogues on screen.
Just these two scenes in an over three hour-long film were all Viju had to do to make an indelible impact. In an interview he revealed that the scenes involved ten days of shoot and fetched him a royal pay packet of Rs. 2,500/- as well as the pain of falling down an unruly horse, not once, but six times.
Sometimes it just takes a small role or two to make an artiste immortal. But it could also become a cross to bear, covering up the many other talents, accomplishments and achievements.
Notwithstanding the role of a dacoit turning him famous, Viju went on to get circumscribed by comic appearances. His next unforgettable role was in Rajkumar Santoshi’s 1994 comedy, Andaz Apna Apna, where, as the affable dim ‘Raabert’, the actor got a catch-phrase which has left a strong pop-culture footprint: “Galti se mistake hogaya.”
He turned the silly into sublime with a wisecrack and goofily made Sharbat-E-Jannat the drink to raise a toast with for the giddy-headed. Thus two of his iconic roles have a common thread of transcending generations. Viju comfortable in comedy roles, gradually shifted from villainous to comedy and character roles later.
Viju Khote passed away on September 30, at the age of 77, at his Mumbai home due to multiple organ failure.