On 86th birthday, Dharmendra looks back at life so far: Grateful a Punjab boy with no connections was able to make it
'Both Shabana Azmi and Jaya Bachchan are among the best actresses of Indian cinema. I have to be on my toes working with them,' says Dharmendra on starring with his contemporaries in Karan Johar's Rocky Aur Rani Ki Prem Kahani.
On Dharmendra's 86th birthday on 8 December, the veteran actor talks to Firstpost about his life so far, favourite movies and co-stars, and starring in Karan Johar's next directorial, Rocky Aur Rani Ki Prem Kahani. Excerpts from an exclusive interview below:
You are turning 86 this month. What are your thoughts at this stage of your life?
Waqt kaise nikal gaya pata hi nahin chala (I never knew how time flew by). It is the love of the people, my friends, family, fans that has kept me going for so long. Otherwise people of my age are long gone.
I do not know of anyone in the film industry who has an unkind word for you.
Yeh unki mohabbat hi meri oxygen hai (Their love is my oxygen). I don’t know why, but I feel so much love everywhere I go. And I am not talking about only the film industry. Even strangers meet me with so much affection as if they know me so closely.
That is because you give off such agreeable vibes. Hema Malini (his wife) is also warm. But no stranger would dare to approach her.
(laughs) Yes, she is reserved, and people are scared of her. I would rather be loved than feared. I don’t know why but I always feel I was born on this earth to spread love.
You share your birthday with another of my favourites, Sharmila Tagore.
Yes. We have done so many films together. We often used to cut a cake together on the sets of our films. She is a lovely person, and a terrific co-star. She was my leading lady in two of my most favourite films.
Satyakam and Chupke Chupke?
That’s right. Both were directed by one my favourite directors, Hrishikesh Mukherjee. And such contrasting films, yet classics. One was a very serious film on the theme of corruption. Satyakam is so relevant even today. Chupke Chupke is everyone’s favourite comedy.
Which are your other favourite films from your repertoire?
It’s hard to recall. I was lucky enough to work with some of the greatest directors. Bimal Roy, who was Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s guru, gave me Bandini with one of the loveliest and most talented co-stars, Nutanji. Dulal Guha was another favourite of mine. I did Dost, Pratiggya, and Do Dishayen with Dulalda. I love Pratiggya the most because it was a really tough role. I had to play a truck driver who masquerades as a cop. It was like playing a role within a role. It was a layered character with lots of emotions and drama. I had made to make people laugh all the way. But there was an undercurrent of emotions. It was a challenge. And people loved me in it.
Though Satyakam is one of own favourite films, my all-time favourite film is Pratiggya. It came during the same year, 1975, as Sholay, so it went eclipsed. But let me tell you, Pratiggya was a super hit in spite of competition from Sholay. Just as in 1971, when Naya Zamana clicked in spite of blockbusters like Mera Gaon Mera Desh. They were such different films. I am very fond of Naya Zamana because it was based on Bengali literature. The film had beautiful dialogues.
Besides Hemaji, who are your favourite co-stars?
They were all fantastic human beings, beautiful and lovely to work with. With Asha Parekh, I did some of my biggest hits, Aaye Din Bahaar Ke and Mera Gaon Mera Desh. I’ve even worked with Suchitra Sen (in Mamta), and Jayalalitha (in Izzat).
And now, you are working with two of the most talented actresses, Shabana Azmi and Jaya Bachchan, in Karan Johar’s Rocky Aur Rani Ki Prem Kahani?
Yes (brightens up). I am really enjoying myself. Karan apne ghar ka bachcha hai. I didn’t know he was such a good director. Do you know I was supposed to do a film with Shabana in the 1980s, which Sai Paranjpye was to direct. It was called Bichchoo. With Jaya, I did her first film Guddi.
Like Guddi, Jaya Bachhan is a big fan of yours?
So she says. She is such a talented actress. Both Shabana and Jaya are among the best actresses of Indian cinema. I have to be on my toes working with them. Dono bachche Ranveer Singh Alia Bhatt bahot pyare hain. (Both the kids, Ranveer Singh and Alia Bhatt, are lovely). I feel so much love around Karan’s set.
Looking back at your life so far, how do you feel?
Grateful that a boy from Punjab with no connections in the film industry was able to make it in this industry. Grateful to have received so much love from everyone. Grateful that I am still here talking to you.
Subhash K Jha is a Patna-based journalist. He has been writing about Bollywood for long enough to know the industry inside out.
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"I want to say that this is the beginning and I want to thank the people of India for whose sake people from abroad are recognizing our people today," she added.