At the age of two, he decided to start shaving, and put a razor to his mouth. He cut his mouth open and gave himself a scar that he is still identified with.
His father wanted him to be a doctor. But he felt he was not even fit to be a compounder. He decided to be an actor instead, joined FTII in Pune against his father’s wishes, and became one of Bollywood’s most popular stars. After a career spanning four decades in Indian cinema, the man who was unfit to be a compounder became India’s health minister in 2003.
Other actors had cosmetic surgery to hide their scars. He chose to flaunt his. The scar below his right lip is his trademark. So is his devil-may-care attitude, his robust sense of humor, his characteristic swagger and his habit of calling a spade a spade. He turned 68 two days ago, but the brash Bihari from Patna still flaunts his facial scar and still uses his words like bullets.
That’s why they call him Shotgun Sinha.
After graduating from FTII Pune, Shatrughan Sinha moved to Bombay and took up bit roles in movies like Prem Pujari, Saajan and several others. The role that turned his career around was in Mere Apne in 1971. Mere Apne was largely dominated by Meena Kumari, in one of her best roles. Shatru was cast against Vinod Khanna and many other established actors. But he made a huge impression as Chainu, a bad-ass gang leader.
With Mere Apne, Shatrughan Sinha made his mark as an unconventional villain in Bollywood. He brought his own unique style to the screen. His mannerisms, his open shirt, his bent left arm, his swagger, his dialog delivery, were all lapped up by the front-benchers. The audience would actually applaud when he beat up the hero.
With his roles in Kalicharan (1976) and Vishwanath (1978), Shatru became an unconventional hero as well, and one who could take on major stars, including the Big B himself. Shatru shared the screen with Amitabh Bachchan in several movies, and stole his thunder every time. Watch Dostana, Shaan or Naseeb, and you’ll see what I mean. Shatru was equally good at comedy, as he proved in Naram Garam, as the hilarious Kalishankar Bajpai. And just as good in character roles, as in Aa Gale Lagja, Kaala Patthar and Kranti, to name a handful.
What I really like about Shotgun (in addition to his outspoken nature) is that he is a genuine family man. He has been remarkably free of scandals, unlike many of his contemporaries. In 1973, Shatru starred as lead hero with Poonam in Sabak. He married her soon after, and has remained with her life-long.
Did you know: Shatru turned down lead roles in Sholay and Deewar, both of which were given to Amitabh instead.
Shatru also turned down the lead role in Farz, India’s first Bond movie. The role went to Jeetendra instead, and launched his career.
His favorite star was Raj Kapoor. In fact, Shatru was inspired to become an actor after watching Raj Kapoor in Shree 420. Shatru finally realised his lifelong dream of working with Raj Kapoor in the movie Khan Dost (1976). I wasn’t very happy with the movie though.
And guess what – Thalaiva Rajnikanth regards Shatrughan Sinha as his style guru! Rajnikanth developed his own style after repeatedly watching Shatru’s movies. How about that?
Shatrughan Sinha still appears on the silver screen and is still going strong in Indian politics, in spite of a recent heart attack. And, on December 21, Shotgun Sinha will receive a Lifetime Achievement Award, for his work in Bollywood and politics.
The Shotgun has plenty of shots left to fire! Happy Birthday, Shotgun. Keep shooting!
Cheers … Srini.
Here’s Shatru with his wife Poonam, in Sabak (1973). Playback is by Shatru’s favorite singer, Mukesh.