He’s crossed 75. His debut film was released over 50 years ago. But Dharmendra’s sheer enthusiasm has only increased. His simple nature is at odds with his sustained mega successful career and superstar status. Garam Dharam prefers to be loved by people and he loves them in return. As he says, four days after Yamla Pagla Deewana opens and is declared a bumper hit, “It’s the love of my fans that makes me feel younger!”
How does he feel about the success of Yamla Pagla Deewana? “I am excited, but I am scared of the responsibility of doing even better. That’s what a film star’s career is all about. Apne was big, Yamla… is much bigger, and now, we Deols, have to make something even better for the audience,” he quips.
As warm as ever, Dharmendra is a little more candid than he normally is. We speak first of his highly evolved comic talent. He smiles and says, “I enjoy doing comedy, but it is much more difficult than doing romantic scenes. Timing is all-important and so is spontaneity. I love adding my own lines and my touches to the script, often at the last moment.” He goes on, “Comedy always works on the element of surprise. Mehmood was a master at improvisation and I had to learn to be one too. He would change his lines and actions so spontaneously that I had to just react!”
Few are aware of the actor’s significant inputs into his famous comic sequences. “In Sholay, Salim-Javed had not thought of that special inflection on ji in the famous line, “Main aa rahaa hoon, mausi-ji!” But that small addition of mine made it famous!” says the actor. “Similarly, in Mera Gaon Mera Desh, I penned a small dialogue for the scene where I approach Asha Parekh, disguised as a sadhu and say, “Sona, yaane man ka chain khona,” he adds.
He attributes his exceptional talent to a special force. “None of my comic performances in films like Seeta Aur Geeta, Chupke Chupke, Pratiggya, Sholay, Ghazab and Nauker Biwi Ka were even remotely similar to each other. I am blessed.” He explains that when an actor intersperses emotions into comedy, it helps build a greater connect with audiences. “I had kept this in mind, which is why the comedy in Yamla Pagla Deewana has an emotional core to it,” says Dharmendra.
Interestingly, he discloses that while he plays a conman in the film, he also conned his way into the film. “The original story had only Sunny and Bobby as leads and the film was titled Double Trouble. But another producer had already registered the title and would not part with it. Therefore, I jokingly told my sons that we should title the film Triple Trouble and star in it too as I was longing to get back in front of the camera after Apne. Sunny and Bobby loved the idea and the rest is history,” he says.
Why doesn’t he do more films then? “For 20 long years, I worked in double-shifts and performed in varied films to earn money and also because I loved acting,” says the actor. “But now, I have a more disciplined schedule. I wake up early, do my yoga, write poetry and lead a relaxed life. I am loving it,” he adds.
Dharmendra has a few regrets though. One being that he did not spend enough time with his parents. “When parents grow old, they want to see their children successful. They do not expect material gifts. All they want is quality time with their children. And when my children spend time with me, discuss their work, plans and achievements in life, I feel blessed that they are doing something, which maybe, I didn’t do for my parents.”
As an actor, Dharmendra has never promoted himself. He says, “How can I brag about myself? Over 50 of my films ran for 25 to 100 weeks on the big screen, but I never made a conscious attempt to benefit from their success. People have always loved me and they still do. This sentiment is extremely important to me because in the glamour business, popularity is short-lived; success isn’t something you experience for ever, but I still have loyal fans even after completing 50 years in the film industry. I regard this as my biggest achievement.”
He confesses his amusement at the marketing and promotional activities they had to conduct before the release of Yamla Pagla Deewana. “In our time, we always maintained a low profile unlike today where stars are seen everywhere — on the big screen, on television, promoting their films all the time, even after a film has released! But it’s fun,” he says.
Writer in the making
Dharmendra will soon reunite professionally with Hema Malini in Tell Me O Khuda (Malini’s directorial venture) and will be seen for the first time on screen with his daughter Esha Deol. The actor had once said that Esha would never face the camera.
Dharmendra, however, denies giving this statement. “Every father wants his children, especially his daughters, to have a stress-free life. Acting is a profession where you run from one illusion to another. I remember my mother’s pain when she would see me struggle, rise and battle failure. ‘You are living for and dying with every film,’ she once said,” remembers Dharmendra.
The emotional dad raves about his daughter’s talent. “Esha is the daughter of a divine lady and has Jat blood too! She has to be good! It was so touching to watch her act that I would go and cry alone in my make-up room.” What about Ahana? “She’s finding her forte still. She’s an athlete and a football player. She is exploring other career options as well.”
We then talk about his hidden talent of writing poetry. “I have put my deepest feelings and thoughts on paper for decades,” he replies. “There has always been a writer in me. I have written a song in Yamla Pagla Deewana and I am writing a film script called Portable Lover, which is about an aspiring film star.”
The emotional actor is happy that his children have inherited his simplicity and sentimental outlook. “I love people and I don’t like to hurt anyone. If anyone hurts me, I go and tell them about it very frankly. We Deols try and give back whatever affection we get. But, whatever we give is not because we expect something in return.”
And who are his friends in the industry? “I have always got along with everyone. But Shatrughan Sinha and Danny Denzongpa are very close to me,” says the actor.