Happy Birthday, Dharam Paaji!

His boyish smile and his manly chest made women swoon, his temper was legendary and so was his generosity, while his immense talent took him to the top echelon and kept him there through his forty-year career in Indian cinema.

The one memory I have of Padma Bhushan Dharmendra Singh Deol is the huge grin he gave me as he overtook my taxi at the traffic signal near Everard Nagar, Bombay, one winter evening in 1987. His muscular Jat frame completely filled the little Fiat he was driving and as he pulled past us, he glanced at me. And he grinned.

That was Garam Dharam for you. Down-to-earth, fun-loving and large-hearted, Dharam Paaji is my personal favorite. With his American crew-cut looks and rugged physique, Dharmendra in his prime was regarded as the hottest hero in Bollywood. He was the first real hunk of Bollywood, and to my mind, he is still the best.

It was his 78th birthday on December 8th, but this handsome Jat from Phagwara still wows the ladies. Neither his grin, nor his hairline, have changed one bit!

The son of a schoolteacher, Dharmendra married very early in life, at the age of nineteen. That didn’t stop him from pursuing his dream of making it big in Bollywood. First noticed for his good looks after he won a Filmfare talent contest, Dharmendra bagged roles in many romantic movies of the sixties, like Dil bhi tera hum bhi tere, Bandini and Anpadh. Like Raaj Kumar, Dharmendra too became associated with Meena Kumari as a romantic hero, especially after Phool aur Paththar in 1966. Through the sixties, he starred in action roles as well, and he was successfully paired up with all the leading ladies of the day, like Mala Sinha, Sharmila Tagore, Rekha, Mumtaz and Saira Banu.

Dharmendra formed his best partnership with Hema Malini. From their first movie together, Sharafat in 1970, the chemistry between Dharmendra and Hema Malini Sharafat_1970was obvious, both on the screen and off it. That chemistry reached a peak in the most successful movie made in India – Sholay. The story goes that during his scenes with Hema, Dharmendra would bribe the camerman and the lightboys to deliberately mess up the shots, so that he could hold on to her longer!

Soon after Sholay, the two married in a secret ceremony in June 1979, reportedly conducted in Madras by a Tamil priest called Srinivas Acharya.

Apart from his fondness for the bottle, Dharmendra’s temper and readiness to use his fists were well known. Times of India published a famous photo of journalist Krishna with a swollen face, after Dharmendra beat him up for writing adverse articles about him and Hema. With Devyani Chaubal, the virulent gossip columnist of Star & Style, Dharmendra didn’t use his fists but he made his anger against her very clear and very public.

Garam Dharam’s drinking escapades and his numerous attempts to quit booze, were equally well-known and gleefully reported by the media. Finally, in 2010, he officially quit drinking, and has stayed off till date.

Dharmendra was one artiste who was blessed with a happy mixture of talents – he had the ruggedness of Dara Singh, the sensitive grace of Dev Anand, the acting prowess of Dilip Kumar and the versatility of Sanjeev Kumar.

With equal ease, he could be a thug in Phool aur Patthar, a love-struck doctor in Bandini, a brooding heart-broken mental patient in Khamoshi (in which role his face was not even shown), a suave spy in Aankhen, a dashing Robin Hood in Jugnu, a hilarious professor-cum-chauffeur in Chupke Chupke, and the rough-and-tough anti-hero in Sholay. And fans like me adored him in all these movies, as we watched them again and again.

But his finest performance was brought out of him by director Hrishikesh Mukherjee in satyakamSatyakam, made in 1969. His performance as the moralistic and rigidly honest Satyapriya is by far his best work.

Dharamendra had many talents, but the one thing he could not do, was dance. His inability to make his rugged body sway to music was cheerfully acknowledged by Dharamendra himself, and his stiff-armed dancing style is still widely imitated by comedians.

Here is a dance number from Pratigya (1975) that only Garam Dharam could carry off, in his typically rambunctious style. Note how gorgeous Hema Malini looks. No wonder he lost his Jat heart to her!

Cheers … Srini.


4 thoughts on “Happy Birthday, Dharam Paaji!

  1. Your writing is super! Reminds me of my mom’s stories (another Mumbaikar) about the dozen chance encounters that she has had with so many of the Bollywood stars (Prem Nath, Rakesh Roshan, Amitabh, Pran, etc..)

    Keep up the good work!


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