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Dharmendra: The Beginning of his Journey

07 Dec, 2020 | Book Excerpts by Rajiv Vijayakar
Dharmendra. Image Courtesy: Cinemaazi archives

A teacher’s son from the hinterlands of Punjab who dreamt of doing what Dilip Kumar, Dev Anand and Raj Kapoor did on screen, and expecting to own ‘a flat and a Fiat’ consequently, has emerged as one of the most loved icons of Hindi cinema.

This ever-humble Jat attributes his hard-earned superstardom and global following to parental blessings, the Power Above, and the love of the people. It’s been over fifty-five years of blockbusters like Phool Aur Patthar, Mera Gaon Mera Desh, Sholay, Yaadon Ki Baaraat, Pratiggya, Chupke Chupke and Dharam-Veer, with fabulous performances in many of these, and notable productions including Satyakam, Betaab and Ghayal.

What’s more, this Padma Bhushan awardee has also dabbled sincerely albeit fruitlessly in politics, and writes poetry that comes straight from his heart. There may be a million stars, but there can be only one Dharmendra.

The following is an excerpt from Rajiv Vijayakar's book Dharmendra: Not Just A He-Man. 


Thaam Le Tu Mast Pawan Ka Lehrata Aanchal / O Manjhi Chal

Today, there is one frequently asked question: Do the contestants of various reality shows on acting, music and more, actually get platforms and end up with successful careers? Gulzar recalls a personable young man who actually won the first position in one such contest but never went anywhere, whereas Dharmendra, at second position, scored high in life. Dharmendra remembers that the young man was Suresh Puri, while three girls, Nimman, Usha and Eva, were the remaining finalists.

The story goes that Dharmendra went to the nearby (30 kilometres!) town of Maler Kotla and got his friend Jaan Mohammed, who owned the photography shop 'John & Sons' (a British era hangover perversion of his name Jaan!), to click photographs of him. He went to the post office and mailed them to Filmfare, after paying to register the post.

Dharmendra remembers a choking sensation in his throat after getting the news, because he suddenly began to wonder what would happen if things just failed to work out.
Dharam was yet again disgruntled upon not hearing anything from the contest in response. In sheer frustration, he went and cut his hair very short! Not long after, he was going back from work when he saw his friend cycling towards him with a letter for him. That was how he received a letter from Filmfare asking him to go to Mumbai. He was to stay there for a week and would be looked after by the magazine—that is, they would pay for his first-class fare to Mumbai and make him stay in a five-star hotel there!

Dharmendra remembers a choking sensation in his throat after getting the news, because he suddenly began to wonder what would happen if things just failed to work out. His mother took him to a doctor, who checked him out and stated that the alarming symptom was only his anxiety! ‘I was the eldest in my family, and always had a sense of responsibility,' he confessed in a recent video interview.

And here came the ironic twist: In the photographs that he had sent to the magazine, he had much longer hair. So when he alighted from the train, he was not recognized because of the change in his appearance! Gulshan Ewing of Filmfare, and later editor of Star & Style, had gone to receive him.
And here came the ironic twist: In the photographs that he had sent to the magazine, he had much longer hair. So when he alighted from the train, he was not recognized because of the change in his appearance!
`It was a Sunday and I alighted at Victoria Terminus (Mumbai's rail terminal), which was opposite the Times of India House,' Dharmendra says. 'I called up the Filmfare office and luckily Ewing had come in. When we met, she extended her hand, our maine apna haath sharmaate sharmaate uss ki taraf badhaayaa (and I shyly extended my hand too). I was from a village, and my plus point was the basic sabhyata (civility) ingrained within me. I also blushed, and this habit of blushing is not something that can be forced into you!' he smiled. 

Dharam was taken to a hotel. But the air-conditioned room suffocated the actor and despite being a Punjab da puttar, he shivered in the artificial cold. It took the young Dharam a good while to make friends with the city and the sea! 

When it came down to business, he was put in a bus full of young men (and women), nervously cracking their fingers and chewing on their nails. They were all contestants of the first-ever Filmfare Talent Hunt. It was on this bus that he finally was to meet his destiny! A young man named Arjun Hingorani, a dental surgeon by qualification, had accompanied a female candidate, and was struck by his looks. At that point, Dharam could have never guessed that he would one day be everlastingly grateful to this man. 
A young man named Arjun Hingorani, a dental surgeon by qualification, had accompanied a female candidate, and was struck by his looks. At that point, Dharam could have never guessed that he would one day be everlastingly grateful to this man. 
The Filmfare phase created a mélange of memories for him. One more pleasant memory again pertained to Dilip Kumar. He was introduced to his sister Farida, who was in charge of doing make-up for the contestants. Dharam declared his adulation for her brother and she actually arranged a meeting between Dharam and his idol the next day. It was winter and Kumar gave Dharam a jacket to protect himself. It was manufactured in Paris and was obviously expensive, and Dharam preserved it for a long time as a memento. 
One more pleasant memory again pertained to Dilip Kumar. He was introduced to his sister Farida, who was in charge of doing make-up for the contestants. Dharam declared his adulation for her brother and she actually arranged a meeting between Dharam and his idol the next day.
The Dilip Kumar-Dharmendra friendship continues to this day, with the actor still an avid fan of the senior legend. It pains him now to see his idol and inspiration be so unwell and frail, and it pains him even more that Dev Anand and Raj Kapoor are no more.

It was not an easy phase for Dharmendra, whom Gulzar describes as someone who, even now, remains an innocent child at heart. Insults, heartbreaks, humiliations and setbacks are part and parcel of every human being's struggle package. For this soft-natured young man from the hinterlands of Punjab, it was, arguably, a shade more intense, a tad more unsettling and demoralizing. 
 


This has been reproduced from the book Dharmendra: Not Just A He-Man. 
The banner image did not appear with the original publication and may not be reproduced without permission. 

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About the Author

Rajiv Vijayakar has been an entertainment journalist for over twenty-six years, and has twice been National Film Awards Jury member. He is also a consultant at India’s first music-based museum at Bangalore. An authority on Indian films, he is the author of The History of Indian Film Music.

Other Articles by Rajiv Vijayakar