Unmatched hero

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Unmatched hero

His first film, Dil Bhi Tera Hum Bhi Tere, was released 65 years ago. His latest film as a leading man, Double Di Trouble, is a huge hit and marks his debut in the cinema of his mother tongue, Punjabi, and has him in a dual role. This is Subhash Ghai’s first hit as a producer in years, and the filmmaker thought of him 33 years after he had directed Dharmendra in Krodhi, in an angry avenger’s role.

Dharmendra’s next film will be Second-Hand Husband, a comedy starring Poonam Dhillon, Kulraj Randhawa, Gippy Grewal and others. On this note, we ask him why he has been doing only comedies since Yamla Pagla Deewana (2011). The actor laughs as he replies, “Let me do a comedy or two more, then I will do a serious role and film.”

He also reveals his plans for remaking Double… in Hindi. “I would prefer to get it dubbed. My fans love me from the bottom of their hearts, and I reciprocate that, because that’s why I am still here. They want me to do more films, and I do not want to disappoint them,” he says.

Comic timing

Dharmendra’s penchant for comedy has been there from the start of his career, witnessed in movies like Seeta Aur Geeta, Pratiggya, Chupke Chupke, Sholay and Ghazab. “I enjoy doing comedy, and it is much more difficult than doing romantic scenes,” he admits candidly. “Timing is important in comedy, and so is spontaneity. I love adding my own lines and my touches to the script and to the director’s inputs, often at the last moment. “

He goes on, “Comedy always works on the element of surprise. I did a lot of films starting with Neela Akash all the way to Jugnu with Mehmood, and he was a master at improvisation and I had to learn to be one too. I would often tell him to at least tell me the last word, just so I could get a cue to start my lines, but he would change his lines and actions so spontaneously that I had to just react.

Mehmood was blacklisted by many other heroes because they felt he overshadowed them, but that’s a myth, you know, because no actor ever overshadows any other actor. It’s the character, the situations and the lines that project one actor more than the other.”

Dharmendra narrates how, in Sholay, Salim-Javed had not written that special inflection on ‘ji’ in the famous line “Main aa rahaa hoon, mausi-ji!” “But that spontaneous addition of mine was what made it famous,” he says. “Similarly, in Mera Gaon Mera Desh, when I come dressed as a sadhu to my heroine Asha Parekh and say, ‘Sona, yaane man ka chain khona’, it was my line, and the bathroom sequence in Nauker Biwi Ka with the dice was my improvisation. A good director and a good actor can work wonders together.”

Was he always aware of this comic ability or did some director help discover it? “As a youngster in my village in Punjab, I was always a maha chaalu (mischievous and shrewd) guy. I was witty, naughty, as well as paradoxically shy because of my rustic roots. I would blush at any kind of praise about my looks or anything else and yet would make people laugh instantly with my humour. Good directors sense your qualities and help you discover your true potential. But emotions must come into comedy for a greater connect,” he stresses.

Everything about this evergreen gentleman is natural and genuine: his acting talent that shows a rare range, his easygoing warmth and the way he speaks from his heart. We recall Dharmendra’s narration of the changing times when, years ago, he wanted to visit purana yaar (old friend) Shashi Kapoor when the latter was ailing in a hospital.

Away from the limelight

“Manoj (Kumar) and I had decided to go on a particular day, but that morning I saw a newspaper picture of a top star taken outside the hospital when he had gone to see Shashi. I called up Manoj and cancelled my plan — I did not want people to think that we were doing this for publicity.” That is the essence of Dharmendra: the actor who has much more to him than an awesome assembly of hits and golden jubilees among over 250 released films.

Dharmendra is also the first hero to co-exist as a saleable star in the era of his son Sunny Deol’s stardom, after he launched him ambitiously in Betaab (1983). In 2007, Apne completed Garam-Dharam’s (as he was affectionately called) dream of working in a subject tailor-made for the three Deols — Sunny, Bobby (whom he had launched equally ambitiously in Barsaat in 1995) and himself. Yamla… and its sequel Yamla Pagla Deewana 2 reprised this dream twice over. “People love watching us together, and if the right script comes, we will be back together,” he promises.

We note also the many heroines he has had in common with son Sunny — Dimple Kapadia, Sridevi, Jaya Prada, Amrita Singh, Poonam Dhillon and Farha, and the really remarkable part that he serenaded some of them on screen actually after his son did so. Laughs the actor, “Yes, I know that! Right now, I am compiling a book of photographs of all my heroines with me in my films. I must have worked with more heroines than anyone else in the world,” he says with uncharacteristic pride.

And yet this unique combination of brawn, sexuality and innocence rose to his peak time height only after an arduous struggle, and the actor recalls how he was not even recognised at the premiere of his debut film, Dil Bhi Tera Hum Bhi Tere, in 1960. “We struggled together — Manoj, Shashi, a couple of actors who never made it big, and would share meals and give small loans or help finance some small expenses for each other,” he recollects. “We were never rivals.”

Dharmendra’s superstardom lasted long indeed, studded with blockbusters like Devar, Ayee Milan Ki Bela, Aaye Din Bahaar Ke, Shikar, Jeevan Mrityu, Sharafat, Mera Gaon Mera Desh, Loafer, Raja Jani, Kahani Kismat Ki, Jugnu, Yaadon Ki Baraat, Dharam-Veer, Hukumat and dozens of other hits.

But if there was anything wanting in this spectacular saga of sustained success, it was the fact that Dharmendra’s natural mode of acting did not garner sufficient critical appreciation. He did get limited acknowledgement of his talent in films like his Hrishikesh Mukherjee-directed home-production Satyakam and Dulal Guha’s Dost. “My Bengali directors — Bimal Roy, Hrishi-da, Asit Sen and Dulal Guha brought out the best of me as an actor,” he says generously. “They made me underplay my roles when I did not understand the meaning of that term.”

However, as he put it while graciously accepting one such trophy, “All I got was Lifetime Achievement awards. But I will continue working. Films are my life!”

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