Title: Dharmendra - Not just a He-Man
Author: Rajiv Vijaykar
I’ve always found it debatable whether a public figure’s biography is more worth reading if penned by a fan or by an objective acquaintance. This one is by a real die-hard fan and there’s nothing wrong in that except it might have been a better read if it was not so full of adulation.
The biography reads like a Wikipedia-like compilation of his films and the reader’s curiosity to learn something new about the star actor remains unfulfilled.
Dharmendra’s affectionate, emotional nature is reiterated in every chapter, his love for the film fraternity, for his fans and for his Punjabi brethren more so.
The irony is that despite his good looks, Dharmendra remained for the better part of his almost 6-decade-long career, at best the number two even when his films were doing well and he was at the peak of his stardom.
He was obviously the only action hero at one point who had an emotional side to him. That made him something of a rarity. His plus point was that he never modelled himself on anyone, never copied even his favourite stars and remained a power within himself. “The boy is an original, he does not copy anybody,” said Abrar Alvi, the noted film writer, actor and director.
Though classed as an action hero, Dharmendra’s best performances came in serious roles in films like Satyakam, Anupama, Shola aur shabnam, Bandini, etc. By his own admission, it was comedy that was his forte!
We have heard forever that he keeps an open house and practically everybody who knows him from Punjab has stayed or is staying with him. Dharmendra remained grounded and more elusive than most actors who made it as stars. Yet when you meet him, there is no aloofness. There is, instead, perhaps an iota of shyness.
Despite legendary tales of his affair with the iconic Meena Kumari and later his obsessive affair and subsequent marriage to co-star Hema Malini, Dharmendra remains a simple Punjabi at heart.
But cinema lovers and his fans are aware of all of this. Vijaykar gives us a few funny incidents narrated by the star himself. Once as a newcomer, he decided to pay his idol Dilip Kumar a visit. He walked into his house in Bandra’s Pali Hill without being stopped by anyone and opened a bedroom door to find himself staring at the megastar lying in bed!
The biography is engaging for its account of Dharmendra’s first wife Parkash who still rules his house while remaining in the background. She remains his anchor in life
Though action and comedy are mentioned as his strengths, the actor was always appreciated in romantic roles. Emotions remained his anchor. His ability to underplay and internalise his roles was always underappreciated in the loud and dramatic film industry. He received less honours and awards and little recognition as compared to his peers but he always had the love of his fans.
As this late age, Dharmendra has discovered a love for words and writes poetry, some of which is surprisingly good. He is now expressing himself through another medium and excelling at it.
One major criticism of his long career has been his occasional foray into B-grade movies. Dharmendra had to earn enough to look after his extended family which resides with him and thus, at times, had to pick such films. If he had a Sholay in his kitty, he also had The Burning Train. If he had a mega hit in Dharam Veer in which the macho star is seen in skirts, he also had a disaster in Chaitali.
What worked for the star’s fan base was his intrinsic simplicity, almost verging on innocence. Unlike others, he wasn’t the partying kind and one rarely ran into him flaunting his starriness. So, people craved to see him. His acting was so natural that he didn’t seem to be putting on an act and that delighted the audience. Some of the songs he lent his lips to are unforgettable: “Aap ke haseen rukh pe aaj naya nor hai” or “Dil to pehle hee se madhosh hai” or “Jaane kya dhoondhti rehti hai yeh aankhen mujhme.” Mohammad Rafi sang most of his songs and most of them are unforgettable gems.
The biography is engaging for its account of Dharmendra’s first wife Parkash who still rules his house while remaining in the background. She remains his anchor in life.
One can perhaps see Dharmendra clearly in his own words: “Aaj ki taarikh mein log accha dikhna chahte hain, accha banna nahin chahte” or indeed the beautiful “Pehchaana mujhe? Nahin? Main teri doosri maa-tanhaai hoon.” They effectively contradict the stereotype of the brawny farmer and transforms him into a sensitive soul.