The rich tradition of stunt cinema in India has seen two bona fide superstars. The first was the whip-wielding stunt queen Fearless Nadia who ruled the roost from the 30’s till the 50’s. The second was the titanic figure of Dara Singh who stepped onto the silver screen from the world of akharas. Already a wrestling superstar around the world, Dara Singh’s transition to cinema gave the B film circuit a much needed shot-in-the-arm. Such was the legend surrounding the man that the name Dara Singh became an epithet for bravado and strength.
Dara Singh was born Deedar Singh Randhawa in his maternal home in Ratangarh. His family were farmers from Dharamchuk in Amritsar. Due to financial constraints, his father and paternal uncle often had to travel to Singapore. At the age of 18 Dara Singh travelled to Singapore with them. His name was shortened to Dara Singh in his documentation at Madras.
Wrestling was tremendously popular in Singapore. Dara Singh’s impressive stature led him to enlist in the ‘Great World’ akhara under the tutelage of Ustad Harnam Singh. Dara Singh’s intense dedication to his craft paid off, and he soon ascended to the top of the wrestling world. His notable achievements included defeating the famous Hungarian wrestler King Kong in 1951 and winning the World Championship in 1968.
Dara Singh’s entry into the world of films came in the form of a cameo in Pehli Jhalak (1954) where Om Prakash dreams of fighting with Dara Singh. Six years later, he appeared in the film Bhakt Raj (1960) in a scene with Bhagwan Dada.
Dara Singh’s film career initially had to face certain obstacles. To begin with, Dara Singh had reservations about an acting career as wrestlers were not allowed to see films. His thick accent also prevented him from speaking dialogues clearly. As a result his voice in some of his early films had to be dubbed. But he was also concerned about his prospects regarding his wrestling career. As a result when producer Devi Sharma approached him for a film based on wrestling he agreed.
The resultant film was King Kong (1962) which became a super-hit and opened the doors of the film world for Dara Singh. Even as his film career took off, he did not lose sight of his wrestling commitments. He would work in films only when he got time away from wrestling.
In Faulad (1963), a young Mumtaz was given her break as a lead actress. The film was a success and Mumtaz went on to star with Dara Singh in twelve more films. Another notable pairing was with the actress Nishi. Some of Dara Singh’s popular films were Samson (1964), Mahabharat (1965), Sherdil (1965), Lootera (1965), Sangdil (1967), Nasihat (1967), Thakur Jernail Singh (1966), The Killers (1969), Har Har Mahadev (1974) and Hari Darshan (1972). From the eighties onwards, he transitioned into playing character roles in films like Mard (1985) and Karma (1986). He also earned plaudits for his portrayal of Hanuman in Ramanand Sagar’s hit serial Ramayana. He later turned producer for nearly a dozen Hindi and Punjabi films. His last film was Ata Pata Laapata (2012).
Dara Singh’s career is a testament to someone from a different walk of life reaching the pinnacle of stardom in the industry. Even though stunt films were looked down upon by elite audiences, Dara Singh’s popularity could not be denied. The legendary figure passed away on 12 July 2012 in Mumbai.