The actor who won hearts but no awards

Aradhika Sharma

Dharmendra, one of the most beloved icons of Punjab and amongst the most popular film stars of Bollywood, recently celebrated his 83rd birthday. To mark it, he released his biography.

In 1950, this iconic Punjab da puttar arrived in the City of Dreams from Lalton Kalan village, with a wish: “My big dream and my prayer to God was my pictures being present everywhere, just like those of my idols... Dilip (Kumar) saab, Raj (Kapoor) saab and even heroines like Nargis, Madhubala and Vyjayanthimala”. The film bug had bitten young Dharam in his teens and drove him to Bombay twice. The first time he had to return home, unsuccessful. But five years later he was back to participate in the Filmfare-United Producers’ contest for new entrants. 

In the days of struggle, Dharmendra was untutored in acting and unaware of his drop-dead good looks but was fueled by the ambition of owning “one flat and one Fiat (car)”. He prevailed in the industry, quite amazed when he started receiving offers because of his handsomeness.

Vijaykar’s affectionate biography traces the career graph of the star who because of his machismo later came to be known as Garam Dharam. He intersperses the defining moments of the Padma Bhushan awardee’s career path with accounts of his personal life — his two marriages and subsequent offspring from both marriages. The biography has a warmth that probably reflects the personality and life of its subject. Vijaykar paints the picture of a loving father and a poet; a man of honour and compassion and an extremely versatile actor, who worked with the most experimental directors of the day like Bimal Roy, Basu Chatterjee and Hrishikesh Mukherjee. 

Dharmendra played some extremely sensitive and challenging roles in the first 15 years of his career. The first role offered to him was by Bimal Roy in Bandini where he played the prison doctor, Devendra, in love with a woman (Nutan) accused of killing her lover’s wife. That was possibly the most defining moment of the actor’s life. Thereafter, he worked in O. P. Ralhan’s Phool aur Pathar where he played Shaka, a negative role, but which catapulted him to stardom.

His other remarkable roles were in Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s films,  Satyakam, where he played the upright Satyapriya and Chupke Chupke where he was the lovable and hilarious Parimal/Pyare Mohan. His role as a Sanskrit teacher in Basu Chatterjee’s Dillagi was enacted with the lightest of touches and who can forget the romantic, Robin Hood like philanthropist in Pramod Chakravorty’s Jugnu or Guddi where he played himself? Not to mention the super tough, super funny Veeru in Ramesh Sippy’s Sholay.  Vijaykar is passionate about insisting that Dharmendra was an actor for all seasons and it would be an injustice to typecast him as merely a ‘He-Man’ or Garam Dharam.

Vijaykar takes pains to insist that contrary to public perception, in the Meena Kumari romance, Dharmendra did not use his connections with the senior actress to further his career. The popular actor played lead roles till well into his fifties. Thereafter, he started doing some B-grade movies which took him out of the Bollywood major league. 

However, Dharmendra is one of the most loved stars of all times. Even though he never won an award for any of his films, he says “Par isska mujhe koi dukh nahin, because people loved me a lot and they still do. This is a field in which people forget what you have done. Within five years, the slate is wiped clean. But after fifty years, I still have the people with me.”

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