One of the most enduring and endearing enigmas over the centuries has been the role of the also-ran in society. He remains neck and neck with the ultimate winner and almost wins the day but for reasons known and unknown, he falls at the last post.
And he forever remains a number two at best or a side-kick at worst. There are numerous examples of such persons, a prime one being the most charming superstar Shashi Kapoor. Ironically, his demise has brought him into the limelight as never before and paeans are being sung about his qualities of head and heart. But while he was a leading hero of the 60s, 70s and 80s, and continued acting much beyond, he never quite became the numero uno of Hindi Films. His handsome visage and his quaintly crooked smile set many a heart aflutter on screen and off it. But he was never quite able to match the likes of Shammi Kapoor, Rajesh Khanna and Amitabh Bachchan in scaling the Mount Everest of Bollywood.
Long time co-star Sharmila Tagore has rightly called him the most desirable of all heroes she has worked with. His portrayal of a passionate lover in movies like Junoon and Satyam Shivam Sundaram allowed him to explore his acting qualities as never before. His contribution to the world of films and of theatre will never be forgotten. Amitabh Bachchan sums up the great man’s humane qualities thus- “He fondly addressed me as ‘babbua’ and with him have gone many incredible unread chapters of his and my life.”
Yet, in mega movies like Deewaar and Shaan, Shashi Kapoor was the brother or friend of Amitabh Bachchan . He was not the main protagonist.
And if Shashi Kapoor could be in the realm of the also-rans, then what of fourth placed finishers like the magnificent Milkha Singh and the redoubtable PT Usha? Life throws up many instances before us wherein we find our own selves among the ranks of losers even though we deserved to win.
If great players like Ken Rosewall and Ivan Lendl could never win Wimbledon though they won everything else, and Sachin Tendulkar never scored a Test century at Lord’s though he conquered the world, does that diminish their greatness? Definitely not. But there is an added charm to the life of even a Don Bradman when he fails to score a run in his last Test innings and ends up with a Test average of 99.94 instead of 100.
Failure to win is indeed a charming and lovable aspect of our life in a way. It pecks at a champion’s seeming invincibility, it punctures a perfect record, and it takes something away from an aura that hitherto had refused to stop beaming at us.
There some who seem to turn everything they touch into gold, but one day their luck is bound to run out. It could be fading years or diminished physical prowess. It could also be that they tend to take their foot off the pedal when they are zooming up the golden highway of success.
But the side-kick is as worthy of celebration in our world’s drama, as a life-long number two or a champion who fails at last. He is the king-maker who never became king, the defender who never scored a goal, and the so-called character-actor who never got to run around trees with beauteous heroines.
The brilliant Rahul Dravid was unfortunate to be the one who played that role in the shadow of Tendulkar’s glittering career. Cheteshwar Pujara is in a similar spot when compared to the James Bond like persona of Virat Kohli.
The perennial 2-IC thus needs to be feted by us all. It is he who often holds the fort when the champ fails or errs. It is he who lends a shoulder to the hero in his moments of weakness. And it is he who is the invisible hero behind the one who is visibly so. But the cruel truth is that life allows only one real winner, and as Paul Dietzel memorably put it, “The difference between a hero and an also-ran is the guy who holds on for one last gasp!”