One of the many blessings that Apradh brought to my life was finally putting this man on my radar. I watched him strutting around, barrel-chest thrust forward, acting his heart out, and thought: I must know his name. Not many people can out-chew Prem Chopra when it comes to the scenery, but Shyam Kumar gave his Boss some serious competition. He didn’t move so much as strike aggressive poses, and all of his dialogue was shouted at a point beyond the camera. His facial expressions ran the gamut of smarmy evil from A to B.
I knew I had seen this thespian before!
And his wardrobe enchanted me. That necklace of huge gold loops! The orange shirt with carefully contrasting purple tie and handkerchief!
Little did I know.
There WAS no costume too embarrassing for Shyam Kumar to wear.
I love people who aren’t afraid to look foolish (it’s why I love Halloween), and he was most definitely never afraid to look foolish.
His outfits varied from crazy tribal to crazy military to crazy Arabian Nights to relatively sane tuxedos and suits, but he rocked them all with confidence and the knowledge that he was contributing, dammit!—and that was all that mattered. He was always enormously pleased with himself whatever his ridiculous circumstances.
To every scene, he brought his all. Every word he spoke, every look that he cast, every fist he put on his hips, was suffused with his particular brand of enthusiasm. He maintained his intensity even when he was just a figure in the background.
This never ever changed, from his first films in the 1940s to his final films in the 1970s. His list of credits on imdb number 57, but I’ve seen him in at least that many. I would bet the true total is triple that, if not much more.
He was henchman to many leading villainous lights in Hindi cinema, from KN Singh to Prem Chopra. He’s been beaten up by Dara and Dharmendra; he has leered at Helen and Laxmi Chhaya; he has menaced Madhubala and Mumtaz.
He was a pirate, an international chor:
and a dueller for bread—beginning a downward spiral for Rajesh Khanna in Roti.
He could never be called handsome or a good actor (not even by me!); but with a stout silhouette as distinctive as Moolchand’s, a histrionic technique which drew attention no matter whom he shared screen space with, and a very long list of films spanning four decades to his credit, Shyam Kumar is definitely one of a cracktastic kind. His zeal remains undiminished. Sadly, there is not much about him on the internet that I can find besides a series of very incomplete filmographies.
I would be SO happy to learn more about the man who always added color—even to black-and-white—and who has become to me the dangerously unstable brother I never had.
Bless him, wherever he is.
Updated to add: Thanks to readers maheshks and Sunil D I have been informed that Shyam Kumar also sang playback! See comments below for more detail (and confusion on my part, sorry about that). Here he is singing in Dillagi with Suraiya, somewhat confusingly pictured on lead actor Shyam:
I didn’t think I could love him any more than I already did…but how fabulous is that?