indian cinema heritage foundation

‘Dukh To Apna Saathi Hai’ – Sushil Kumar

15 Apr, 2020 | Beete Hue Din by Shishir Krishna Sharma
Image Courtesy: Beete Hue Din

Office of the famous program Suhana Safar With Annu Kapoor on radio channel BIG FM 92.7s received a letter from a listener from Gwalior in the 3rd week of June, who wanted to know the whereabouts of the main lead actors Sushil Kumar and Sudhir Kumar of 1964 release hit movie Dosti.  Being associated with the program as researcher and writer, that mail was forwarded to me. This was a tricky question as I knew nothing about them except what was being told since my childhood that they had been murdered. I checked all the reference books, magazines and paper cuttings but found nothing about these two actors. And Google search gave me some more spicy information that they were really murdered by a very big star of that era. ( )
Such baseless information is only to be laughed at !!! 

So as usual, I saw a saviour in Shri Harish Raghuwanshi Ji who is an integral part of the blog Beete Hue Din and is a Surat-based very senior film historian. As expected, I received his immediate reply. Though he too didn't have much information about these two actors yet, his short reply did come as a ray of hope to me. Harish Ji wrote, “Sushil Kumar was Sindhi and possibly acted in one more film, Sudhir Kumar was Maharashtrian, he acted, later on, one of them died, who died I don't know.” 
Poster of Dosti. Image Courtesy: Beete Hue Din
 And I got the answer to this question of who died? from the movie Dosti's child artist Baby Farida who is today known as a famous character artist Farida Dadi. Farida Ji said, “Sudhir Kumar is no more, he died long back” but she didn't have any information about Sushil Kumar's whereabouts. 

The Gwalior based listeners query was like a challenge to me and I wasn't ready to provide him with incomplete and apocryphal information. Thus hoping for something new I once again checked the internet. And this time I met with success when I saw the following comment online - “Sushil Kumar is very much alive. He lives in Chembur, Mumbai, India”. ( )

This comment was posted by one Ms. Sharmila Belani Zutshi and the confidence behind the comment was enough to imply that she knew Sushil Kumar Ji personally. On the other hand, Harish Raghuwanshi Ji's reply that Sushil Kumar was Sindhi and the Sindhi surname Belani attached with Sharmila were enough to intensify my instinct about her comment. 

Now the biggest question that posed itself was, how do I contact Sharmila Ji? and in today's technically vibrant age this problem was solved by none other than Facebook! I found Ms. Sharmila Belani Zutshi through the Facebook search page. I sent her a message along with my brief introduction and surprisingly in no time, I received her reply. Thanks to Sharmila Ji, Sushil Kumar Ji's mobile and landline numbers had reached me within an hours time. 

It was impossible for us to reach Sushil Kumar Ji without the kind support and help from Ms. Sharmila Belani Zutshi. Team Beete Hue Din is indeed grateful to Sharmila ji for her kindness. 

Friday 11th July 2014. Evening:
Sushil Kumar Ji's flat is at Chemburs well known Navjivan Society. Sushil Kumar Ji played the crippled character Ramnath (on crutches) in the movie Dosti. I spent three and a half hours with him during which he spoke in details about his personal and professional lives. Here we present Sushil Kumar Ji's story in his own words – 

“I was born on 4th July 1945 in Karachi. Ours was a joint family consisting of my grandparents, parents, two uncles, their wives and children. We lived in a palatial house and had a thriving and flourishing business of dry fruits. My father's name was Kishen Chand Somaya and mother was called Tulsi Bai. Though we were Sindhi's yet we had a deep impact of Kachchh-Gujarat's culture on our language, food habits and the traditions. I was hardly two and a half years old when the partition took place and we had to run away from Karachi leaving behind everything we had. We migrated to Gujarat's Navsari city where we started our dry fruits business afresh. But our business failed to take off in the new place and due to continuous losses, we had to leave Navsari within 6 years. We shifted to Mumbai in the year 1953 and started living in a chawl in Mahim. I was admitted to a municipal school in Mahim in 3rd standard as I had already passed 2nd from Navsari. But we hadn't seen the worst of days which were destined for us. 

Having lived a prosperous and luxurious life, my grandfather, father and both the uncles couldn't cope with the shock of bankruptcy and within a year they all had died. Our financial conditions went from bad to worse and our joint family got scattered. My maternal aunt and her husband (Mausi-Mausa) lived in Chembur. They had directly migrated to Mumbai after partition and were well settled here during all these years. Our family was now left with my mother and us 3 siblings. I was the eldest, and then came my sister and the youngest was our brother. 
Prithviraj Kapoor with the cast of Dosti. Image Courtesy: Beete Hue Din

Mausi-Mausa proved to be a great support to us. They called us from Mahim to Chembur to live near them. I was just 9 years old at that time. We started living in a barrack in Chembur Camp and I got admitted to a municipal school. My Mausa was in service with a Danish company Lumas. My mother also got a job with Larson & Toubro (L&T) which helped us bring our financial condition under control to some extent. 

I loved dancing and enthusiastically participated in the dance programs organized during the Ganpati festival. One day our old family friend from Karachi Kishen Lal Bajaj came to our home. He was a Multani and his whole family had migrated to Delhi after partition. Kishen Lal Bajaj lived in Mumbai and worked as an extra in films. He offered my mother to get me roles in films against a 20% commission which my mother happily accepted. 

My debut movie as a child artist was Abana, made in Sindhi in the year 1958. This was actress Sadhna's debut movie as well. Abana was directed by Dharam Kumar who, with the screen name of Deepak Asha had played the main villain in the Lahore production Paraye Bas Me (1946). Dharam Kumar also directed Hindi movies Ghamand (1955), Road No.303 (1960), Sangdil (1967) and Murder On-Highway (1970). Along with Abana I acted in another Sindhi movie Insaaf Kithe Aa which was released in 1959. 

As a child artist I did many movies like Phir Subah Hogi (1958), Dhool Ka Phool, Maine Jeena Seekh Liya (both 1959), Kala Bazar, Shriman Satyawadi, Dil Bhi Tera Hum Bhi Tere (all 1960), Sanjog, Sampoorna Ramayan, Ek Ladki Saat Ladke (all 1961), Phool Bane Angaare (1963) and Saheli (1965). Meanwhile, Kishen Lal Bajaj returned to Delhi after Ek Ladki Saat Ladke where he died sometime later.

Rajshri Productions owner Mr Tarachand Barjatya was looking for two teenage boys of 17-18 for the main lead of Dosti which he was planning to produce as the remake of 1959 release Bangla movie Lalu-Bhulu in Hindi. His daughter Rajshri had already seen me in the movie Phool Bane Angaare and she was very much impressed with my work. She suggested my name to her father and one fine day, a person from Rajshri Productions came searching for me at my home. 

I was introduced to director Satyen Bose and actor Sudhir Kumar at the Rajshri Productions office. Satyen Bose took us to Shri Sound Studio at Dadar where our makeup was done for a screen test. Both of us were tested on camera with dialogues for both the roles (of the blind and the crippled). The next day we were shown the Bangla movie Lalu Bhulu at Bombay Lab. Eventually, I was selected for the role of crippled and Sushir Kumar for the blind. We signed a 3 years contract with the company for Rs.300/- per month salary.

Released in the year 1964, Dosti was a big hit. Actor Sanjay Khan debuted with this movie. This was the debut Hindi movie of Pune based Marathi (?) actress Uma Rajoo as well. Apart from The Best Movie Filmfare Award for the year 1964, Dosti also won the Filmfare for the best music, story, dialogues, playback and the lyrics. I was given the Maharashtra States Best Actor Award for the same film. I was studying in 12th standard in Jai Hind College at the time after passing my 11th from the municipal school. Tarachand Barjatya had started planning for his next production with Sudhir Kumar and me in the main lead again and we received our salary Rs.300/- every month which used to be a handsome amount at that time.
"As far as my character in Dosti is concerned it has a lot of resemblance with me in my real life. Like Ramnath in the movie, I also faced lots of hardships, acute poverty, and sorrows in real life since my childhood."
Meanwhile, Sudhir was offered a role by the A.V.M. company of Madras in the movie Laadla (1966) for which he got the contract with Rajshri Productions cancelled. He even paid the compensation as per the terms of the contract to the Rajshri Productions. I was in Moscow at that time for the promotion of Dosti which was to be shown in the International Children Film Festival -1965 being held there. Sudhir Kumar's action compelled Rajshri Productions to abandon the idea of making another film with both of us actors and the company had to cancel the contract with me as well. Bur Tarachand Ji promised me that he would call me soon.

On the other hand, producer-director Devi Sharma and producer R. Laxman called me for their films Gunahon Ka Devta (1967) and Anokhi Raat (1968) respectively. But despite calling me again and again they failed to reach any decision. Due to such insecurities, I started feeling dejected from the films. I focused on my studies. Meanwhile, as per his promise, Tarachand Badjatya Ji called me for an important role in the movie Taqdeer which released in the year 1968 and proved to be a hit. But I had already decided to bid adieu to the film world. 

I passed B.A. from Jay Hind College. Sometime later I got the job of a flight purser in Air India. Though I was seen as a flight purser in a scene which was shot inside an aeroplane in Dev Anand's 1973 movie Heera Panna I still never looked back at films. 

I served for Air India from the year 1971 to 2003 and then took retirement. During my service, I saw the whole world. I married my childhood friend Koshi Kotwani who was my neighbour in Mahin and was from a well to do family. Kotwanis had a family business of dry fruits and an Ice factory in Mumbai's Masjid Bandar area. Our only child, a daughter Kiran lives in Florida in U.S. Her husband Ravi Nagpal is a software engineer. I and my wife live in Mumbai though we often visit our daughter as well. My younger brother, sister, my cousins and their families are all in Mumbai and the majority of them stay nearby around Chembur itself. 

As far as my character in Dosti is concerned it has a lot of resemblance with me in my real life. Like Ramnath in the movie, I also faced lots of hardships, acute poverty and sorrows in real life since my childhood. As such I identify very closely with a song of the movie which goes something like this – Sukh hai ik chhaaon dhalti, aati hai jaati hai, dukh to apna saathi hai. 

Sudhir Kumar 

(Blind singer Mohan of the movie Dosti

Sudhir Kumar and I became close pals during the shoot of Dosti. He was around two and a half years younger to me and his full name was Sudhir Kumar Sawant. He was a Maharashtrian and lived in Lalbaag, Parel. We were family friends who often visited each other's homes. Sudhir's family consisted of his parents, one elder sister Shobha and one younger sister Chitra. He passed S.S.C. from the Aryabhattam School. His maternal uncle (mama) Prabhakar was the chief makeup man at V.Shantaram's company Rajkamal Kalamandir.  

Prior to Dosti, Sudhir had acted in the movie Sant Gyaneshwar which also released in the year 1964. Later he acted in Jeene Ki Raah (1969) and a Marathi movie Gharchi Rani (1968) besides Laadla (1966) but his career failed to take off. He married by the end of the 1960s decade. But he didn't get a single movie after marriage and he was almost out of the film world. On the other hand because of my hectic job we started losing touch. 
Sudhir Kumar and Sushil Kumar. Image Courtesy: Beete Hue Din

It was in the year 1994 when I met one of my colleagues from Air India in London when I was on the way back to India from Canada. He was also a Maharashtrian. He informed me about the death of Sudhir Kumar which came as a shock to me. On reaching Mumbai I went to Sudhir Kumar's home. His father had died long back. Both his sisters had gone to their respective homes after marriage. I met his mother, wife and daughter. His mother informed me that during the 1993 Mumbai riots; Sudhir suffered an injury to his throat due to a chicken bone being lodged in his throat while eating food. 

He couldn't be given immediate treatment as the area was under curfew. Subsequently, his injury went from bad to worse and it became very difficult for him to swallow food. Circumstances turned so bad that he had to be admitted to the Tata Hospital. For months he was given liquid food through the pipe but he could not survive. Some years later I again went to Sudhir's home to know about the wellbeing of his mother, wife and daughter and came to know that they had already left Mumbai long back. Sudhir's younger sister Chitra lived in Pune and she had taken her mother, sister in law and the niece along. 

It is said that false news about someone's death enhances his/her age. 

Unfortunately, this belief proved to be wrong for Sudhir Kumar as after the grand success of the movie Dosti there a rumour spread that Sudhir Kumar and I had been murdered, surprisingly enough I fail to understand even today who was behind this rumour and what exactly was their motive”.  

(Part of Shishir Krishna Sharma's Beete Hue Din blog series)

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