'Yamraj', 'Gabbar' Stalk Kolkata Streets, Issue Dire Warnings & Amuse Amid Coronavirus Lockdown

Kolkata: "Sabdhane thak noile ami eshe niye jabo" (Stay safe or I will come and take you away), hollers 'Yamaraj', the lord of death, his handlebar moustache twitching and bloodshot eyes popping out menacingly.

"Ghar chala ja nahin toh Gabbar aa jayega" (Go home or else Gabbar will come), yells another man in olive green military uniform at a milling crowd in a Dumdum market, before breaking into a wicked smile.

Men dressed like 'Yamraj' and 'Gabbar Singh', the darling devil character of iconic Hindi film 'Sholay', are striding the streets of Kolkata issuing dire warnings to lockdown violators and those not following the social distancing norm.

Several community clubs in Kolkata and North 24 Parganas districts have hired burly men to dress and act like mythical and fictional characters to spread awareness about the necessity to remain indoors and, at the same time, lift the spirits of the people under lockdown.

Donning the role of 'Yamraj', 23-year-old Abhijit Sadhukhan visits markets in Bon Hooghly area every morning.

Besides explaining to people the hazards of aimlessly loitering during the coronavirus outbreak, he also hands over masks to those moving around without covering their faces.

Sadhukhan, an out-of-job bouncer at a bar, makes Rs 600 for a two-hour performance. He has to feed a family of six.

"I became jobless after the bar I was employed at shut due to the lockdown. It was my only source of income. I was looking for another job when a local man offered me the role of Yamraj.

"I readily agreed as I could earn some money and also serve the society," Sadhukhan, a resident of Khardah in North 24 Parganas district said.

In the last one month, Sadhukhan, with his beefed up body and baritone voice, has been hired by quite a few clubs in Kolkata and North 24 Parganas for playing the role of 'Yamraj'.

"Before becoming a bouncer, I had acted as demon in several plays in my neighbourhood and now the experience has stood me in good stead," he said.

Babu, a member of a club that has hired Sadhukhan, said, "I knew him for a long time and pitched the idea to my club in Bon Hooghly which readily agreed to my proposal. This was part of our initiative to create awareness among people, but with a touch of humour."

Thirty eight-year-old Ashok Dey, who has donned the role of Gabbar Singh, is a part-time artiste and acts in local plays.

For him, too, his new role has opened up an avenue for earning money in these troubled times.

"Ever since the lockdown was imposed, I was looking for an alternative source of income as staging plays stopped completely. I was contacted by a local club to dress like Lord Hanuman and Gabbar Singh to enact scenes from movies and TV soaps outside apartments in the locality to create awareness and lift people's spirits at the same time," Dey said.

The character of Gabbar Singh and his dialogues became instant hit, he said.

"I get Rs 500 for a one-hour trip in the morning. I am hired once or twice a week," Dey said.

With a cartridge belt hanging on his shoulder, 'Gabbar Singh' stands atop a vehicle and delivers frightful dialogues over the public address system usually around 10 am when the shops are open in the locality.

On other days, Dey also plays 'Mogambo', the fictional character made famous by Amrish Puri in 'Mr India'.

"I tell people to maintain social distancing while shopping as it makes Mogambo happy," he said, laughing heartily.