Some actors are destined to perform their greatest roles off camera. One such actor is Rituraj Singh, or Rituraj as he is referred to, who was last seen in the role of Badrinath's father in Badrinath Ki Dulhania (2017). Best remembered for his role in Banegi Apni Baat, the popular TV series from the early 1990s, Rituraj's entire career as a professional actor can perhaps be defined by a single word — mistimed. The year when Rituraj made a mark with Banegi Apni Baat (1993-1997), one of his contemporaries from his Delhi theater days, Shah Rukh Khan, featured in two films (Darr, Baazigar) that transformed him into a bona fide film star. While Khan went on to become one of the biggest film stars in the world, the former, Rituraj, came to be known as the man who couldn’t be SRK. Watching Rituraj, for want of a better expression, is like watching a poor man’s Shah Rukh. Being a dead ringer for Shah Rukh Khan — right from the hairstyle to the mannerisms — could have been one of the big reasons why Rituraj could never manage to carve his own identity but the similarities between the two might not have been simply fortuitous.
There is a direct relationship between the success of any film star and the urban legends surrounding them. Needless to say, the bigger the star, greater the folklore. Rituraj and Shah Rukh first met each other during their days with acting guru Barry John where both were a part of the John’s Theatre Action Group (TAG) and often competed for the same roles. Rituraj had joined TAG when he was just 12 years old and had spent five years there before Shah Rukh became a part of the group. There is a popular fable in Delhi theater circles that Khan was so taken in by the Rituraj’s acting prowess that he couldn’t help but model himself on Rituraj’s style both externally in terms of his physicality as well as internally when it came to interpreting a character. It is said that Khan often looked up to Rituraj and for what it’s worth Rituraj, too, never shied away from helping his fellow actor. In other words, Khan shaped his persona on Rituraj’s. While no one knows just how true this is but looking at the two you can make out there are far too many similarities.
Things changed the moment Khan featured in the television show Fauji (1988). Thanks to his floppy hair, his devil-may-care attitude and an acting style that didn’t adhere to the standards then prevalent in television, Khan couldn’t be confused with anyone else and the surprise success of the show put him in a different league. The shows that followed such as Dil Dariya (1988), Circus (1989), Doosra Keval (1989) and a brief appearance in Wagle Ki Duniya (1988) made him a star in his own right even before he graduated to films with Raj Kanwar’s Deewana (1992). Rituraj first appeared on television as the host of the game show Tol Mol Ke Bol (1993) on Zee TV where participants got to keep a product if they guessed its price right. The world began to notice the similarities between Rituraj and Shah Rukh once Banegi Apni Baat started towards the end of 1993. The more popular the show got the more people started referring to Rituraj as ‘other Shah Rukh.’ Interestingly enough Banegi Apni Baat was also the first major breakthrough for many young and new actors and some of them went on to become immensely successful. Besides Rituraj this show also ‘discovered’ Irrfan Khan, Shefali Chhaya, Firdaus Dadi, Sadiya Siddiqui, Divya Seth, Varun Badola, Rakhee Tandon and R Madhavan, who made his debut on the show.
Banegi Apni Baat ran for 4 years but by the time it ended in 1997 it did precious little to change Rituraj’s ‘just a Shah Rukh clone’ status. Perhaps the biggest thing that Banegi Apni Baat managed for Rituraj was a film called Mr. Shrimati (1994), where he played the second lead to Javed Jaffery. Originally planned as a TV series, Mr. Shrimatiwas produced by Prakash Mehra and eventually ended up being a TV movie where Jaffery played two characters — a man on the run from a smuggler and a girl called Suzie who marries Rituraj to avoid getting caught. The film was a disaster and it ended the film prospects of the so-called ‘Shah Rukh lookalike'. Intriguingly enough the film had one of the last Kishore Kumar songs, ‘Ashiq ki hai baraat’ that was featured on Rituraj. It was ironic that almost everyone mistook the song to be a Kumar Sanu number as Kishore da had been dead for over half a decade.
Even after twenty-five years, the similarities between Rituraj and Shah Rukh Khan are too conspicuous. Rituraj's acting in Badrinath Ki Dulhania is so reminiscent of SRK that you could be mistaken for imagining Khan and not Rituraj as the senior Bansal in the film. In fact, at places hearing Rituraj’s voice, which also has the same crests and troughs as Shah Rukh’s dialogue delivery, almost convinces you that post his leading man days Khan wouldn’t be too bad a prospect as a ‘character’ actor. Of course, this particular role isn't something that even someone like Rituraj would have died for; the role appears to have fashioned on the lines of the character that Amitabh Bachchan played in Sarkar (2005) but when executed, resembles a bad copy of the parody that Rajpal Yadav portrayed in Apna Sapna Money Money(2006). But watching Rituraj in Badrinath Ki Dulhaniya is the closest to watching Shah Rukh Khan playing a true supporting role in the foreseeable future.
Many times actors come in pairs — Robert De Niro and Harvey Keitel, Amitabh Bachchan and Vinod Khanna, Anil Kapoor and Jackie Shroff, etc. and invariably their luck and fortune rub off on the other. For Martin Scorsese, De Niro was always second to Harvey Keitel till Mean Streets (1973) where Keitel has the author backed part but post-Mean Streets De Niro replaced Keitel not just for the legendary filmmaker but to a great extent even for the audiences. Many film observers have concluded that the difference between De Niro and Keitel’s career is that the roles De Niro was not gutsy enough for ended up going to Keitel. Luck and timing have played a great role in how actors are viewed. Take for instance Anil Kapoor was nearly crowned as the new box office king once Bachchan forayed into politics and couldn’t find his rhythm upon his return. Kapoor also delivered the biggest hit of the years where Aamir and Salman Khans arrived on the scene– Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak (1988) and Maine Pyar Kiya (1988) with Tezaab (1988) and Ram Lakhan (1989). The change in the audience demography and the kind of films that were made changed in the late 1980s made Kapoor a misfit between the Bachchan generation and the one that had Aamir and Salman, and later Shah Rukh Khan, and Akshay Kumar as the poster boys.
Could the course of Rituraj, and by that argument Shah Rukh Khan’s lives be different had the former managed to appear on TV or in films before the latter? Maybe not. Who knows if Rituraj vied for Fauji — for it might not have been a role up his alley — or if he did, and got rejected? Even Shah Rukh Khan’s initial foray into films comprised roles that had been rejected by others right from Deewana, Chamatkar (1992), Darr and Baazigar that were passed over by likes of Armaan Kohli, Deepak Malhotra, Aamir Khan and Salman Khan. Obviously, there is more to Shah Rukh Khan than just timing and his singularity as a star and an actor cannot be attributed to just luck. And, in the same vein, Rituraj Singh is not the greatest actor to have missed the boat but the bittersweet thought that his similarities with Shah Rukh Khan would always remain the first thing that comes to mind when his name is mentioned makes you wonder about the bad hand that fate deals at times.
Published Date: Mar 27, 2017 03:20 pm | Updated Date: Mar 27, 2017 03:20 pm