Man of the masses

Man of the masses

bollywood legend

Man of the masses

If there’s an actor in the Hindi film industry who values human relationships more than anything else, then it’s none other than Dharmendra. Rajiv vijayakar talks to this veteran actor about his experiences in the industry, and his newfound love for ‘shaayari’.

It’s been 53 years since his first release, Dil Bhi Tera Hum Bhi Tere. At that point in time in 1960, Dharmendra walked from the place in which he was staying to the nearest suburban station to catch a local train to the venue of the Mumbai premiere of that maiden film — and no one recognised him.

From here to superstardom and notable performances in enduring classic blockbusters (Phool Aur Patthar, Shikar, Mera Gaon Mera Desh, Jeevan Mrityu, Seeta Aur Geeta, Yaadon Ki Baraat, Sholay, Chupke Chupke, Ghazab, Dharam-Veer and more) has been a long haul.

Garam Dharam (as he is affectionately been termed for his soft-hearted brawn blended with huge box-office power) has since produced films unofficially (Satyakam, Pratiggya, Betaab) and officially (Ghayal), built studios and even written a song for Yamla Pagla Deewana, besides developing a yen for shaayari that he remembers by heart — as it is from the heart.

On the eve of the release of Yamla Pagla Deewana 2, Dharmendra settles down, on the terrace lawns of his studio Sunny Super Sounds, for a relaxed conversation punctuated by wafts of a cool evening breeze.

“These 53 years have passed as if in a flash,” smiles Dharmendra. “It’s been such an eventful and memorable journey with lots to learn.”

Changing times

The world, and Mumbai, he ruminates, have changed beyond imagination. “The population has spiralled. In this neighbourhood, I remember only three bungalows. Earlier, I would often swim and dream about owning a property here.”

He goes onto a different yet related track. “I see kids today getting so much freedom from their parents. Then of course there are computers, from which both good and bad things have come up. The sabhyata and tehzeeb for which we were known have also gone.”

He gets a shade serious and adds, “I cannot believe that Dev Anand is no more and Dilip Kumar is inactive. They were my idols. At that time, I never thought that they would age or that Dev-saab and Raj-saab would go. You like to think of your idols as those who have drunk the elixir of eternal youth. I miss them a lot.”

Showbiz, he tells you, is “showoff biz” now. “But it is still bigger than the biggest business, and also the best. I remember tears in a fan’s eyes when we finished a brief conversation at an airport abroad. What can be the name you can give to this relationship? But that warmth has gone within the industry, like the time when one could call up colleagues if one was upset about something.”

Proud father & grandfather

He is very proud of his sons Sunny Deol and Bobby Deol for the sanskaar they have acquired, and continue to propagate. “We are all still learning about life every day. We are all becoming better human beings.” His voice turns soft as he dwells on his grandson, Sunny’s son Karan Deol, who’s soon to take his first steps in acting. “Uss mein mera khoon hai — he will become something,” he states. “He wrote a very meaningful rap in Hinglish for his father’s birthday, and has also written something for Yamla Pagla Deewana 2.”

What about his own newfound love for shaayari? “I never thought I could write my own thoughts like this and suddenly become a shaayar. I still think that my pen writes what I feel on its own.” he smiles. A sher follows.

Dharmendra has never been a trained actor. “I learnt on the job. I never even knew what ‘underplay’ was when I was praised for several of my performances where they said I had underplayed, like in Bandini, Anupama or Satyakam. Being a good observer, I tended to be spontaneous. I remember my friend Mehmood stating, ‘Don’t mimic me!’ during the shoot of Neela Akash.”
Spontaneous actor

Later, says the actor, there were many sequences where he thought of spontaneous changes or modifications to the script. “I suggested the peculiar intonation of ji in my line mausi-ji in the famous sequence in Sholay,” he reminisces. “There were touches I suggested in Mera Gaon Mera Desh and Nauker Biwi Ka. Later, when dubbing came in, I would make such changes too.”

The same extends to his dancing, whether it is in Pratiggya or the two films in the Yamla Pagla Deewana franchise. How was the cult song from Pratiggya that spawned the franchise created? “Oh, that was all (lyricist) Anand Bakshi and (composers) Laxmikant-Pyarelal,” he smiles. “The phrase Main jat yamla pagla deewana (I am a crazy Jat) was framed by Bakshi according to the situation we gave him. I think the tune was made later, but I do not remember. (Mohammed) Rafi-saab added his magic and I loved what was made. My choreographer just told me, ‘Do what you want’ and I did just that!”

For the actor, Yamla Pagla Deewana 2 is, as always, about connecting with people. “When I listen to any narration, including my own films, it is as an audience. It is they who have made me what I am today, and continue to love me. Because of their acceptance, I got everything I dreamt of, and much more. We have tried to make a film that can be enjoyed with the entire family. And we are now marketing it as per today’s trends.”

The actor, for whom human relationships matter most, turned down a request to attend an important function as his mentor and first director Arjun Hingorani was being felicitated and they wanted Dharmendra to do the honours on the same day. “These are small but important things that give you a lot of satisfaction and shanti. Apart from being responsible for my break, Arjun-saab worked only with me right till his last film Kaise Kahoon Ke Pyar Hai in 2002.”

Lacing it up with a thoughtfully penned long shaayari, the actor recollects his own beginnings in his village in Punjab. “I told my mother that I wanted to become an actor in Mumbai. She was such a simple soul that she thought it was some job and told me, ‘Send an application, you will get the job.’ A few days later, I actually saw a Filmfare talent contest advertisement and sent in my application. I came down to Mumbai in 1958 and actually won it. It was all my mother’s blessings.”

Dharmendra’s spectacular innings is a classic case of mega success being possible minus manipulations and politics. “I was on great terms with all my filmmakers, co-stars and even the other heroes, though not all were emotional bonds. If some of them did something to me that they should not have, I never bothered. Khudi se jiyo zindagi sudhar jaayegi (Live life your own way, you will never regret it),” he adds his own line of wisdom.

God definitely broke the mould after he made Dharmendra.

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