Character artists are the backbone of cinema. With their brief yet pivotal roles, they often share an essential relationship with their audience. One of the most prolific character actors in Indian cinema, Jeevan was born Omkar Nath Dar in a Kashmiri Muslim families. A master of unique mannerisms, he remained active in films from the mid-1930s to 1986.
Jeevan’s journey to becoming an actor was marked by a unique coincidence. During his college vacations, Jeevan travelled to Bombay to learn the craft of photography, since he dreamt of starting a photo studio back home in Kashmir. However, fate had something else in mind for the young man. His brother was acquainted with the famous lyricist D.N. Madhok, and through him, he got work at a film studio in Bombay. After working for one and a half months, with only thirteen days of his vacation left, he and his friend Dwarka Divecha—who would later go on to become a widely recognized cinematographer who worked on Sholay (1975)—were told to paste silver sheets on plywood reflectors and place them in the shade. In the studio compound he noticed a group of young newcomers practicing a scene for an under-production film. They happened to be short of one actor, and Jeevan stood in for him at the request of the director Mohan Sinha. Jeevan decided to recite a passage from a play based on the Mahabharata written by Pandit Narayan Prasad ‘Betaab’. As he was performing, the sun’s position shifted and the light bouncing off the reflectors hit his eyes directly. His eyes welled up, but he was was quick to improvise and started reciting an emotional passage from Agha Hashr Kashmiri’s play Nek Parveen. By the time he finished, the audience was stunned into silence and Mohan Sinha was won over. This brought him his first role in a feature film called Fashionable India (1935). Soon, Jeevan became a household name and his roles in films like Romantic India (1935), Station Master (1942) and Afsana (1946) were widely popular, even beyond his own expectations.
While still a beginner, Jeevan was already working alongside top stars of the day like Prithviraj, Ashok Kumar, Leela Chitnis and Devika Rani. In no time he became the ‘bad boy’ of Hindi cinema, expanding his diverse filmography with Dilip Kumar, Raj Kapoor, Dev Anand, Meena Kumari and many more. Always experimenting with his roles, he was part of many popular mainstream Hindi films like Mela (1948), Tarana (1951), Waqt (1965), Johny Mera Naam (1970), Suhaag (1979), Lawaaris (1981), and so on. He also starred in various Punjabi films like Morni (1975), Teri Meri Ik Jindni (1975), Daaj (1976) and Sukhi Parivar (1979). His feat of portraying Naarad in more than 60 mythological films is utterly incomparable. Jeevan’s unique way of adding a dash of comedy to his villainous characters (Dharmatma, Amar Akbar Anthony, Dharam Veer) also lent him a distinct appeal, as did his inimitable dialogue delivery. The long monologue in his brief yet impactful role that sets the plot of B.R. Chopra’s Kanoon (1960) in motion stands testimony to his remarkable skills. Leaving behind the legacy of an incredibly long career spanning over four decades, Jeevan passed away in Mumbai on 10th June 1987.