Today is Dharmendra’s birthday so check out his Filmfare Interview from December 2000.
Dharmendra’s life has been a roller coaster ride. The several ups and downs in his career, his struggle and the following success have their own story to tell. The second half of the 20th century saw the emergence of several superstars in Hindi cinema. Dharmendra was one of them. Having made his debut in 1960 in ‘Dil Bhi Tera Hum Bhi Tere’, he has survived as an actor since proving his abilities repeatedly. His films and the characters he portrayed are still very much alive in public memory. I met up with the veteran actor to ask him about his experiences in the industry
Everyone prays to their favourite gods to help them succeed. Whom did you pray to when you first joined the film industry?
(Laughs) Don’t laugh. I know you’re supposed to pray to deities but I prayed to the Frontier Mail that it should speed me to Bombay. I was petrified of my father. So when I came across a copy of Filmfare which announced the United Producers talent contest, I hid it under my shirt and smuggled it into the house. I filled up the form and quietly sent it off. But I was very close to my mother. I’d told her how I dreamt of becoming a film star. My father came around too eventually. He advised me not to get lost among the teeming masses in Bombay. That I should make my mark even though the journey was going to be tough.
You said you were close to your mother…
Yes, that’s right. I could talk to her about all my hopes and fears. Once when I had flu and was aching all over, she sat next to me and put her hand on my forehead. It was so comforting. Believe me, my temperature miraculously became normal within minutes. Maa loved me a lot. She came down to Bombay to meet me when I’d just begun to make a name for myself. She fell ill on the train.
Govinda’s wife kept looking at my pictures because she wanted her child to look exactly like me. I was touched
Her blood pressure plummetted. When I went to receive her at the station, she saw people pointing at me and whispering. Then she saw the posters of my films on the way home. By the time we reached home she was perfectly all right. She was that thrilled about my success.
You’ve often mentioned you were a great fan of Dilip Kumar before you came to Bombay.
Yes, I was a die-hard fan of Dilip saab’s. I always wanted to meet him. And I got the opportunity during the Filmfare talent contest. Sayeeda Khan, Dilip saab’s sister, was doing my make-up. I pleaded with her to introduce me to her brother. That’s how I first met my idol. What an actor. A good human being too. Though I had met him for the first time, he made me sit and have lunch with him. He was so affectionate. I can never forget that. It seems like it happened just yesterday.
You were a child when India won her freedom. Do you remember the freedom struggle?
I can recall my childhood before Independence. My father was a teacher. My mother would often tell me stories of how our leaders were struggling to free us from British rule. Our family also helped those involved in the freedom struggle. I was eight years old then. I remember taking part in a procession wearing a khadi topi and holding the tiraanga aloft. If I’d been older, perhaps I’d have been more joshila in my approach for the cause. As a child, I didn’t really understand much of what was going on.
I’d love to play Satyapriya Acharya again if Satyakam is remade. That was easily the strongest role of my career
You’ve been on a winning streak for the last four decades.
All this is because of the audiences’ love for me. They’re the ones who’ve given me the evergreen image. They’ve kept my spirits up by labelling me a HE-man. I’ve done a variety of roles in my attempt to reach out to the audience. I’m fortunate that I’ve succeeded in finding a place in their hearts. I want to stay there forever.
You’ve attempted a gamut of roles… is there something you still yearn to do?
I tried my best to add colour to all the roles I’ve had the opportunity to portray. But I’m still waiting for a film in which I have an intense role. I wish I could once again work with some of the legendary directors like Hrishikesh Mukherjee and Bimal Roy with whom I’ve worked with in my earlier days.
In Satyakam you played a very strong character. Wouldn’t something like that be relevant even today?
Satyakam highlighted the difficulties faced by a man who has an idealistic approach to life. Yes, that would be relevant even today. I’d love to play Satyapriya Acharya again, if the film is remade. That was easily the strongest role of my career.
Hemant Kumar, Mukesh, Mohammad Rafi, Kishore Kumar… all of them provided playback for you. Whose voice suited you the best?
Mohammad Rafi’s contribution to my career is immense. From numbers like Jaane kya dhoondti rehti hain yeh aankhen mujh mein (‘Shola Aur Shabnam’) right till Main jat yamla pagla deewana (‘Pratigyaa’) have remained evergreen. The other singers have also made huge contributions to my career. I can never forget that. But Rafi saab is a personal favourite.
Did you have a godfather?
P.L.Rao of Filmfare was like a godfather to me. Without him, I wouldn’t have been able to attain such heights of success. The struggle I faced as a newcomer slowly eased out. As I met with success people’s attitude changed. I’m thankful to my fans for their support.
Other singers have made huge contributions to my career. But Rafi saab is a personal favourite
As Dharmendra what would you like to say about yourself?
I thank God a million times. Two decades ago my name featured on the list of the seven most attractive men in the world… I was labelled a he-man. That’s when I found out how much these labels mattered. Men and women slept with my photograph under their pillow… they wanted to be like me. One fan had me completely shell-shocked when he put a tilak on my forehead with his blood. When Govinda’s wife, Sunita, was to deliver a child, she had given an interview to Filmfare where she stated that she kept looking at my pictures because she wanted her child to look exactly like me. I was touched. I called her up and gave her my aashirwad. This love, these feelings are my only true assets.