Nine-year-old Muddu was rather strong for his age. Even the older kids didn’t dare to mess with him. But the boy wasn’t really as tough as he looked. He spent a lot of time playing with other kids, and was especially kind to the weaklings. And like every normal child, he enjoyed playing and hated books. His father was getting worried. This son of his was not interested in studies, and nor was he ready to work. In a family like theirs, children had to start contributing as early as possible. But with Muddu, there wasn’t a lot of hope in that department. What was to be his future? This was the 1940s, and Bombay was the city of dreams, and it was the city of the future. Muddu’s father boarded him on a train bound for Bombay.
Scouring the streets of Bombay for food, Muddu realised he had to work really hard to keep his belly full. Somehow, after quite a bit of struggle and sleeping hungry for days, he got a job doing the dishes and waiting tables at the Tata Oil Mills. Now that there was food on the table and things seemed to be back on track, Muddu realised that his passion was something else entirely.
The Hoige Bazaar locality of Mangalore once housed a popular gymnasium, and its most famous alumnus was a man called Mendon. Over the years, Mendon had acquired quite the reputation as a skilled physical trainer. Wrestling, bodybuilding and similar pursuits had a sheen for young men those days. Everyone wanted to be a Samson or Dara Singh. Muddu had found a lifelong passion in bodybuilding. Mendon saw a bit of himself in the lad, and took him under his wings. Muddu learned the intricacies of boxing and bodybuilding from him. Soon, a grown up Muddu Babu Shetty was regularly seen in various tournaments, winning medals and trophies almost every time. He was the undefeated boxing champion of Bombay.
Bhagwan Dada was a familiar face in films from the 70s & 80s, deigning to make people laugh at his expense. But long before this, when he had just stepped into the arc-lights, Bhagwan Dada used to star in action films of the time, known as “stunt films”. One of India’s earliest fight instructors and stunt-men, Baburao Pehelwan used to help with most of the stunts, and they struck up a friendship which survived the vagaries of time. The two friends once went to watch a boxing match, and Muddu Babu was there in the ring. They were extremely impressed by Muddu’s skills. Baburao called him to the studio and shot a minor fight scene with the boy. He was handed a bunch of crisp notes, amounting to a princely Rs. 200. Now it was Muddu’s turn to be impressed. He decided to leave everything and join the movies as a “fight master” (stuntman/ action choreographer). He tutored under Shaikh Azim aka Azim Bhai, another esteemed fight master from the 50s.
Soon, Muddu Babu Shetty was composing elaborate fight scenes, also appearing as on-screen stunt doubles of buffed-up actors like Premnath, Pradeep Kumar and Pran. He had an imposing personality and a distinctive look. There’s a bit of a back story there too. M.B. was playing a bald-headed baddie for the film Night in London (1967). Ironically, he was at the same time shooting for the similarly titled An Evening in Paris (1967) where he was supposed to play a goon with a headful of hair. But continuity became such a big mess that director of the latter film, Shakti Samanta, let him shoot with a bald head. While Night in London sank like a piece of rock, An Evening in Paris became a runaway hit and the “look” stayed. Now mostly referred to by his last name Shetty, Muddu Babu went on to become one of the most iconic on-screen henchmen, being roughed up by everyone from Bachchan to Dharmendra to Jeetendra.
Around the late 70s, something happened that sealed Shetty’s fate. Shetty was shooting for a film called Bombay 405 Miles (1980), starring Vinod Khanna and Shatrughan Sinha and directed by Brij Sadanah (Kamal Sadanah’s father). In one of the action scenes, a boy named Mansoor was playing the stunt double for Shatru. A petrol bomb was supposed to explode near him. Unlike today, safety measures on the set were rudimentary and injuries were commonplace. But this got particularly messy. The bomb was flung at Mansoor but before he could jump away, the bomb hit his body and went off. Mansoor died on the spot.
Shetty was very close to his coterie of stuntmen and fighters, they were like his sons. He felt responsible for Monsoor and went into mourning. Alcoholism took over and he spent most of his days at the bottom of bottles. The countless broken bones in his body did the rest. On 23rd January 1982, Muddu Babu Shetty aka M.B. Shetty aka Fight Master Shetty passed away, almost penniless.
He had two sons and two daughters by his first wife Vinodini. One of them, Hriday Shetty grew up to be a director, debuting with the Sanjay Dutt-starrer Plan. He also had a son with his other wife Ratna. This son became a massively successful film director, even more successful and popular than his father. Much like his father, Rohit Shetty works with stuntmen and ensures they are employed (safely) in all his films. Including Sooryavanshi (2021).