Remembering Satish Kaushik: Comic star, character actor, creative genius

The revered artiste, best remembered for his role as ‘Calendar’ in Mr India, passed away at 66
Satish Kaushik
Satish Kaushik

One can’t help but notice the hilarious peculiarity of Satish Kaushik’s character names in 90s Bollywood. There is the rhyme-spewing ‘tapori’ don ‘Pappu Pager’ (from the 1997 David Dhawan comedy Deewana Mastana) who is probably called that because of a little black telecommunications device he carries everywhere. In the classic Mr India, in which Kaushik laboured as the chief assistant director apart from essaying the memorable role of a cook, Anil Kapoor asks him, “Why did your parents name you ‘Calendar?’” “They wanted to give me an English name,” Kaushik replies in his quintessential cheery way. In Swarg (1990), he explains to a curious Govinda why he is called ‘Airport’. “I work in film production. My job is to escort celebrities to and from the airport, but sadly, I have never taken a flight.”

Satish Chandra Kaushik passed away in Gurugram on Thursday. As per his close friend, actor Anupam Kher, he had gone to the capital to celebrate Holi. He was at a friend’s house when he felt uneasy and was being taken to a hospital in a car when he suffered a heart attack. He was 66.

Kaushik was born on April 13, 1956, in Haryana’s (Then East Punjab) Mahendragarh. He graduated from Delhi’s Kirori Mal College and went on to become an alumnus of the National School of Drama (NSD) and the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII). He came to Mumbai in 1980 with just Rs 800 in his pocket. In 1983 he started off as Shekhar Kapur’s assistant director for Masoom. The same year he bagged the role of scheming contractor Tarneja’s (Pankaj Kapur) shrill-voiced assistant Ashok Namboodirippad in Kundan Shah’s satire Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro. In an iconic scene from the film, Kaushik talks to Naseeruddin Shah’s photographer/ hustler Vinod Chopra on a dial-up phone while they stand in the same room, back-to-back. When Kaushik spots him in a mirror, he asks, “You didn’t listen to our conversation, right?” Shah replies in the negative. Kaushik goes back to the call. A comedy star is born.

In the ensuing decades, Kaushik, just like Kader Khan, became the regular banterer in Govinda leads like Rajaji (1998), Hadh Kar Di Aapne (2000) and Kyo Kii…Main Jhuth Nahi Bolta (2001), among others. While he was being typecast in comic roles, he was shaping an individual path as a director. After his debut directorial dud Roop Ki Rani Choron Ka Raja (1993) starring Anil Kapoor and Sridevi, he gave Salman Khan a much-needed hit with Tere Naam (2003). Kaushik, as a director, was willing to explore controversial subjects. His 2009 film Teree Sang dealt with teen pregnancy and its aftermath.

Since the advent of OTT, Kaushik has been getting more diverse roles. He reunited with his best friend Anil Kapoor for Netflix’s neo-western Thar (2022), played a foul-mouthed businessman in Prime Video’s Guilty Minds (2022), he also essayed the role of stock market king Manu Mundra in Scam 1992: The Harshad Mehta story.

Veteran actor Neena Gupta, in her memoir Sach Kahun Toh, wrote about her long friendship with Kaushik. When she became pregnant out of wedlock with cricketer Vivian Richards's child, the actor offered to marry her. He assured Neena, “If the child is born with dark skin, just tell everyone it’s mine, and we’ll get married. Don’t worry. I am there.”

After his untimely death, many condolences poured in on social media. Akshay Kumar remembered his ‘Chanda Mama’, a character Kaushik played in Kumar’s Mr & Mrs Khiladi (1997). Kangana Ranaut wrote that she loved directing him in her upcoming film Emergency, in which Kaushik will appear posthumously as former defence minister Jagjivan Ram. Director Hansal Mehta, in an interview after Kaushik’s demise, said that they had plans of working together again after Scam and Chhalaang (2020).

The film was going to be titled Death of a Director.

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