In the year 2012, Garam Dharam was honoured with the prestigious Padma Bhushan by the Indian Government. Be it, “Basanti in kutto ke samne mat nachna” or the famous ‘gaon walo’ scene where a drunk Viru climbs a water tank and create a riot of laughter saying, “When I dead, police coming … police coming, budiya going jail … in jail budiya chakki peesing, and peesing, and peesing, and peesing, and peesing” or the delivered-to-perfection dialogue- “Kutte, kameene, main tera khoon pee jaoonga”, Dharmendra has given us evergreen moments to cherish.

Dharmendra's charm has spanned 3 generations

Dharmendra’s charm has spanned 3 generations

In 1991, Dharmendra was given the National Film Award in the ‘Best Popular Film Providing Wholesome Entertainment’ category for the movie ‘Ghayal’, for which he was the producer. Same year ‘Ghayal’ (1990) received the Filmfare Best Movie Award as well. Six years later in 1997, Dharmendra was honoured with the Filmfare Lifetime Achievement Award for his significant contribution to the Indian film industry.There are two types of actors – the ones who look effortless and the ones who take great pains to appear effortless. Between the two varieties some become successful, some stars, some icons and some legends and some lost to memory only to be recalled on special occasions. In Hindi cinema Dharmendra would perhaps be the only one who would be equally at home every category, yet even after doing every conceivable role in every imaginable genre across decades in over 250 films his greatness as an actor would be an addendum. One of the most enduring mysteries of Hindi cinema is the manner in which it chose to sideline an actor and a superstar such as Dharmendra, who unlike many of his contemporaries could don a dhoti with the same ease with which he could sport a Roman Toga, he could be smoldering in a tuxedo and set a million hearts ablaze in a bundi and could make you laugh, sigh, cry without making a big deal of it.
In an essay on Dharmendra, a renowned author observed that Dharmendra’s towering talent got overlooked because the industry didn’t know how to deal with his Greek god looks. He articulated that traditionally Hindi cinema critics saw “Actorly ability as a compensatory talent” and maybe that’s why it didn’t celebrate Dharmendra as much as the unconventionally attractive (Amitabh Bachchan, Nasseruddin Shah) or the everyman reminiscent (Sanjeev Kumar, Om Puri). While Kesavan has a valid point considering that good looks meant something entirely different before and after Dharmendra but could it be possible that Hindi cinema pundits and observers weren’t able to comprehend the essence of the actor?
Between the first generation of stars following India’s independence – Dilip Kumar, Raj Kapoor and Dev Anand – till the advent of a post-Aradhana Rajesh Khanna in the late 1960s every new star was seen as a replacement for the fabled trio. Therefore it’s not difficult to imagine a Rajendra Kumar trying to fit into the Dilip Kumar mould, similarly Manoj Kumar trying to strike a note between Dilip Kumar and Raj Kapoor or a Shammi Kapoor happily being an afterthought to Dev Anand. Even the second-tier of stars from that era such as Raaj Kumar or Sunil Dutt couldn’t break the die and Dharmendra was the only one from that period who didn’t consciously model himself on anyone. His initial films with Shola Aur Shabnam (1961), Anpadh (1962), Bandini (1963), Ayee Milan Ki Bela (1964), Haqeeqat (1964), and Kaajal (1965) made him a known face but it wasn’t certain if Dharmendra would transform into a major star or be considered an actor-actor like Balraj Sahni. With his famous shirtless number in Phool Aur Patthar (1966), perhaps the very first instance where a male in Hindi cinema who wasn’t an action or stunt or B-film hero appeared comfortable being bare chested, Dharmendra found himself unshackled and started to create a unique place for himself. Between 1966 and 1969 Dharmendra featured in a bevy of films that showcased his immense range right – Anupama (1966), Aaye Din Bahar Ke (1966), Majhli Didi (1967), Shikar (1968), Mere Hamdam Mere Dost (1968) and Aaya Sawan Jhoom Ke (1969). He was on his way to becoming the first star whose persona didn’t pay the customary obeisance to the holy Dilip-Raj-Dev trinity and it was around this time that Dharmendra showed signs of coming into his own with a performance that ironically ranks as one of the greatest ever witnessed in popular Hindi cinema and at the same is also one of the most overlooked ones. In, Satyakam (1969) Dharmendra played an idealist torn between his ideals and the changing world and in many ways redefined the definition of hero for the transitory world between Nehruvian socialism and Indira Gandhian absolutism. What’s interesting is that Dharmendra produced Satyakam himself, which could be seen as a sign how much he believed this to be a role that he wouldn’t have been given otherwise by the ‘powers be’. The fact that both National Film Awards as well as Filmfare ignored his performance only validates it.

Between 1970-75, the year of Sholay, Dharmendra, it seemed stopped caring and decided to have fun. He formed an unforgettable onscreen pair with Hema Malini, whom he would later marry, and enjoyed a spate of hits Jeevan Mrityu (1970), Sharafat (1970), Mera Gaon Mera Desh (1971), Guddi (1971), where he played himself, Seeta Aur Geeta (1972), Do Chor (1972), Loafer (1973), Yaadon Ki Baraat (1973), Jugnu (1973), Kahani Kismat Ki (1973), Black Mail (1973), Dost (1974) and Resham Ki Dor (1974) to name a few. Even in 1975 where he played Veeru, his most memorable role, in Sholay Dharmendra also played the innocent trucker posing as a cop in Pratigya (1975) and Dr Parimal Tripathi in Chupke Chupke (1975) where his comic timing practically anchored the entire film. For almost a decade till the late 1980s Dharmendra was relegated to second-rung in spite of being one of the most popular stars and in 1987 had seven hits in a single year including Hukumat (1987), Loha (1987), Aag Hi Aag (1987), Watan Ke Rakhwale (1987) and Khatron Ke Khiladi (1987). Throughout his career Dharmendra collaborated with many directors on multiple occasions and in the 1980s some of his best outings were with JP Dutta – Ghulami (1985), Batwara (1989), and the highly underrated urban crime thriller Hathyar (1989).

dharmendra the original macho paaji

dharmendra the original macho paaji

But beyond the hits, and god knows that Dharmendra has a ton of those, and the critical acclaim, which has always been showered upon him albeit silently, and the awards, that came too little too late, the actor’s greatest achievement is that he enabled Hindi cinema to look beyond the usual. For a man who was once voted amongst the seven most good-looking men in the world, he was never truly thought of as a heartbreaker and as action star he was usually sidelined to don the mantle of the angry young man (Dharmendra, incidentally refused Zanjeer (1973), the film that created the template) and yet prepared the audiences to brace for the new kind of star. It’s Dharmendra who made it possible for someone like Govinda, who could do everything and yet never got the call, to enjoy a great run and it’s this legacy that had now been inherited by Salman Khan. Like Dharmendra, Salman Khan, too, enjoys great fan following, huge box office hits and like Dharmendra is also ignored by critics and awards. Of course, it would be naive to compare Dharmendra with either Govinda or Salman or even a Bachchan because with films like Life in a Metro (2007) and Johnny Gaddaar (2007) a great performance is still a cinch for him. The man still packs it and how! Here’s looking forward to a few more good ones from the original He-Man of Hindi cinema.

Fridaybrands.com feels that notwithstanding everything that has been said about this  iconic actor he i

s still Garam Dharam. No wonder, even today brand Dharmendra is representing Haryana Tourism, he’s also associated with Okaya Batteries, heat and eat brand Yummy Chef , Sambandh Desi ghee and a host of other brands…

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