Not everyone can claim to have spent his birthday in the company of wild cats. But then, not everyone is Dharmendra, the He-man of the Hindi screen.
In the late seventies, it was a working salgirah for Dharamji who at 40-plus was one of the busiest actors in Bollywood. That day, he was shooting for Mohan Segal’s 1979 action-adventure Kartavya. A remake of the Kannada film Gandhada Gudi, it had him playing an upright and fearless forest officer, Vijay, who not only takes on the poachers and land sharks, but also wrestles bare-bodied with the wild cats.
One of the scenes required him to fight panthers, not computer generated ones, but real, ferocious beasts. A cage lowered him into a pit with nothing more than a pitchfork which in minutes was snatched away and chewed up the cats, leaving him defenseless. As they glared at him balefully, he could see in their eyes that they were thinking of making a meal of him next. Playing a superhero was of little consequence at that moment. what mattered was his own life. “I shouted for the cage to be lowered again and jumped into it. The panthers jumped against it it too,” he had shared once.
Fortunately for all of us, he was whisked to safety. Just in time to celebrate another birthday.
Today, December 8. 2021, Dharamji will bring in his 86th birthday. And what is incredible is that he’s still wooing his first love, acting, diligently shooting for Karan Johar’s Rocky Aur Rani KI Prem Kahani.
The film that open on February 10, 2023, has Alia Bhatt and Ranveer Singh in the romantic lead, and Dharmendra, Shabana Azmi and his ‘Guddi’, Jaya Bachchan, in strong supporting roles.
Filmmaker Ketan Anand had once confided how when he had first seen Dharamji, in Sonmarg, in uniform, he had immediately asked his father, Chetan Anand, who the handsome army officer was. Chetan sahab had laughed and told him he was Dharmendra aka Captain Bahadur Singh, the hero of the 1964 war drama, Haqeeqat.
More recently, when Shabana was asked about her co-star, she pointed out that he was his soft, gentle self and looking very good. Just about everyone will agree that Dharmendra who was voted as one of the most handsome men in the seventies, is still a heartbreaker. And that’s because he doesn’t leave everything to the genes he has inherited from his parents. Just before he started shooting for his new film, he posted videos of himself in his farmhouse, doing water aerobics twice a day.
Dharamji spent a large part of the lockdown, brought on by the Coronavirus triggered pandemic, away from the city. But he didn’t sit idle or mope. He was up with the birds, driving his jeep through his farm, proudly showing off his produce, feeding peacocks, and urging everyone to remain positive in these negative times.
Perhaps that’s why he still remains everyone’s Darling D, a term that he has coined himself.
His mother, Satwant Kaur, was a poet. After she moved to Bombay to be with her son, she would sit up till late in the night, playing solitary card games, and waiting for Dharamji to return from shooting. He always stopped by her room for a chat, and once in a while, she would read out some lines of poetry that she had written.
Inspired by her writings, Dharmendra who studied Urdu when he was a child, started writing too in 2001. Today, on this special day, I will borrow one of his own verses to describe the evergreen actor who had made a place in people’s hearts…
Nahin chahte jo,
Unhe bhi chahoonga,
Aaise jo hoon, aise hi rahoonga,
Badle nahin badalti fitrat,
Main kaise badloonga…