Govinda makes me smile. Or should I say "made", now that he's off the charts and has been for a while? Then again, he has never been off my personal comic radar, and I often flash back to what he used to be, especially when I see so-called big-name stars trying to "do" comedy, and appearing fake and forced. That guy who sported the flashiest colour combos in the history of Bollywood — screaming red teamed with canary yellow with a splash of green — was a primary actor, completely suited to primary colours. When he was at the top of his game, there was no one quite like him.
I am talking of the Govinda of the '90s, when he was nimble and agile and capable of generating the kind of laughter that was happy, unself-conscious, and above all, free. He had been lurking on the periphery of Bollywood since the mid-'80s in a string of no-account films (Tan Badan, Love 86, Sada Suhagan) and then graduating to semi-successful singing-dancing parts, which started to bring that chokra from Virar (the suburb his family lived in) to our attention. But he really went mega when he teamed up with director David Dhawan for a series of earthy, frothing, rolling-in-the-aisles-funny entertainers.
Conventional film wisdom cautions actors from performing alongside animals and children, because they are natural scene stealers. In Aankhen, one of my favourite Govinda films, he shared screen space with a monkey (and Chunky Pandey, not a comic slouch himself, and Neelam and Raageshwari, the kind of leading ladies that became a Govinda hallmark, giggly and flighty and happy to play third and fourth fiddle), and out-monkeyed the simian.
In a conversation I had with David Dhawan several years ago, he told me why he liked working with Govinda. "He is completely in tune with the way I think. Very often, we are on the set, he senses exactly what I want him to do, and he does just that," he said. That business of picking things from the director's head is not an exaggeration: from what I heard, going by the standard working style of Dhawan, there were no bound scripts (there were occasions Dhawan wrote lines on the back of a cigarette packet just before the shot, I was told by people who were there); most of the time, they were improvising madly.
A sighting of the man around this time when