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Aging action hero to poet
Dharmendra was the original shirtless wonder much before Salman Khan went topless and cricketer Sourav Ganguly did the same at Lord's. When Sunny Deol's papa took off his shirt and gave it to a destitute woman in Phool Aur Pathar (1966), thereby baring his broad chest, men sighed and women, quietly, swooned. The considerable box-office tremors caused by the film ensured that the actor's soft face and tough physique would sell millions of movie tickets in thefollowing decades.
Now, at 75, Dharmendra may have lost the look that endeared him to a generation but he continues to ooze charm. And he is expanding his creative frontiers. In his latest film, Yamla Pagla Deewana, the actor has penned a song. But more than that, he has been writing poetry and would like to bring out a collection of poems in the near future.
On request, he recites a few lines from one of his poems titled, Main kaun hoon: Mohabbat hai khuda aur khuda hai mohabbat/ Khuda ki mohabbat ka ek farman hu main/ Pyar, mohabbat duayein apki sejti hai jazbaat ko mere/ Isi liye aaj bhi jawaan hu main/ Khata gar ho jaye baksh dena yaron/ Galtion ka putla aakhir ek insaan hu main (Love is God and God is love/ I am a product of God's love/ Your love, affection and prayers nurture my emotions/ That's why I'm still young/ Please forgive me if I've erred ever/ After all I am only human)
The actor understands that considering his image people find it hard to believe that he writes poetry. In fact, he has written a poem to that effect as well: Ba kalam khud alfaz mere ashar hain/ Nahi aata khud ko bhi yakeen/ Shayad issi liye ki zamane ko bharosa hai/ Dharam shayar ho sakta nahi (I am unable to believe that those words are mine/ May be that's why the world believes that Dharam cannot be a poet)
There is a simplicity to Dharmendra's poetry, a mix of Hindi and Urdu. "My poetry is the voice of my soul. Every day when I get up, some thoughts and reflections cross my mind. I jot them down. That's all there is to my creativity, " he says.
As a child, though, Dharmendra only dreamt of being a film star. The young boy from Phagwara wanted to make it big in the Bombay film industry. But his modest upbringing as the son of a headmaster, Kewal Singh Deol and wife Satwant Kaur, of village Lalton (Ludhiana where the family later moved), made it nearly impossible for him to think big. "When I was a young man, every breath I took was like a prayer. My every act was a prayer to God to get me a break in the Hindi film industry. "
As someone who grew up watching films of his idols Motilal and Dilip Kumar, Dharmendra left for Mumbai in the mid-1950 s and waited in long queues outside film studios hoping to meet a director. "I still have fond memories of my contemporaries Manoj Kumar (Manno) and Shashi Kapoor - the three of us sitting on a bench at Filmistan Studios, waiting for a break in the movies. We suffered a lot of humiliation and insult but were determined to go ahead. At one time I got so frustrated that I contemplated returning home by Frontier Mail. It was Manno who prevented me from doing this and asked me to be patient. Till date I can't forget his gesture, " he recalls, with warmth in his eyes.
The actor has worked with directors like Bimal Roy to Phani Majumdar, Chetan Anand, Abrar Alvi, and later Hrishikesh Mukherjee and also with every big co-star of his time. He has warm memories of them all. "I cannot forget the angel-like person that Bimal Roy was. I always remember him and the fact that he spotted me in a Filmfare Talent Contest at Mehboob Studios in 1958. Also how Dev Anand - who was a top star then - encouraged me by personally inviting me to his makeup room, sharing his lunch and telling me he saw a lot of potential in me. I remember each and every co-star, director and producer that I've worked with, " says the romantic hero of Bandini (1963), Anupama and Baharen Phir Bhi Ayegi (1966).
Remembering the shirtless scene from Phool Aur Pathar, Dharmendra recalls how he told the director that taking off his shirt and putting it on Leela Chitins, playing a poor old woman, would underline the character's sensitivity. "Since then, ek trend chal pada. Ask Salman who loves that film, " says Dharmendra who grew to iconic status with action films like Sholay and Dharam Veer.
The original He-Man doesn't look any older than 60. With no botox shots, laser therapy or face lifts, the actor shyly admits that his Punjabi lifestyle - a penchant for good food, a happy disposition, and regular evening Scotch - does the job for him.
His comic timing that first displayed in Chupke Chupke (1975) has now been put to test again in Yamla Pagla Deewana (YPD), his second film with sons Sunny and Bobby Deol after Apne (2007). "YPD is a situational comedy with a lot of emotion, " says the veteran actor who's turned lyricist with the film. The song, sung by Sukhvinder, goes like this: Kadd ke bottle dabjo, Jat muh na lag jave, dafli baaje aapo aap, nasha sar nu chad jave.
It's been an eventful 50 years in Bollywood for Dharmendra and he's glad success hasn't changed him. "Main seena taan ke chala, par gardan mein kabhi akad nahi aayi aur paer hamesha dharti pe tike rahe, " he signs off, almost poetically.d
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