Kanpur-born Srivastava suffered a heart attack in the middle of his morning exercise in a gym on August 10. The actor collapsed on a treadmill and was rushed to AIIMS, where he underwent angioplasty and battled complications for 42 days. With his condition remaining critical, he was in the ICU.
Srivastava acted in at least 25 films. But he revelled primarily on television and stage. He was among the first stand-up comics who became a star. A versatile artist, Srivastava cracked jokes, mimicked celebrities and common people, danced unself-consciously and converted everyday situations into zesty social commentary.
His yarns and witticism often evoked memories and images of the milieu he grew up in. Srivastava occasionally also indulged in burlesque but his digs were never vitriolic. And he was a master at establishing rapport with the audience. Fans would refer to him as Gajodhar bhaiya, a character he played.
One of Srivastava’s more remembered works happened on the tv show, ‘The Great Laughter Challenge (2005)’, where he acted out how different members of a girl’s family behave during a wedding. The skit was a blend of everything his funny-face persona encapsulated: smart lines, perfect comic timing and uproarious acting. Dozens of such videos are available on YouTube; some have over 20 million views.
The actor was born in a middle-class family to a poet father and was named Satyaprakash Srivastava. He was a good mimic even as a child. “Raju would imitate teachers in school and copy Indira Gandhi, Dilip Kumar and Om Prakash. He was fond of taking part in cultural programmes on Independence Day and would be invited for commentary in local cricket tournaments,” recalled businessman and friend Gyanesh Mishra. Later, he would also do a fine imitation of Amitabh Bachchan, which would always draw peals of laughter.
In Mumbai, Srivastava landed small parts in superhits such as ‘Maine Pyaar Kiya’ (1989) and ‘Baazigar’ (1993). His song-based dialogue with Govinda in ‘Aamdani Atthanni Kharcha Rupaiya’ (2001) gave a glimpse of his talent. With passing years, he got meatier roles in films like ‘Journey Bombay to Goa: Laughter Unlimited’ (2007).
But the actor’s full comic range only came to the fore on tv, ‘The Great Laughter Challenge’ (2005), ‘Raju Haazir Ho’ (2008) and in the hundreds of live shows he performed on stage in India and abroad. He was also one of the contestants on ‘Bigg Boss’ Season 3.
Mishra also revealed that the actor would often aid the needy. “He financially helped two girls who had lost their parents to Covid-19. He would assist the sick whenever he came to Kanpur,” he recalled.
Srivastava was offered a ticket by Samajwadi Party to contest the Lok Sabha polls in 2014. He returned the ticket and joined the BJP. He was the current chairman of Film Development Council, Uttar Pradesh.
His death was widely mourned on social media. Among those who expressed their condolences and tributes on social media were a host of top BJP leaders, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and film star Hrithik Roshan.
“Raju Srivastava brightened our lives with laughter, humour and positivity. He leaves us too soon but he will continue to live in the hearts of countless people thanks to his rich work over the years. His demise is saddening. Condolences to his family and admirers,” Modi tweeted.
The actor is survived by his wife Shikha and two children, Antara and Ayushman.