Although his career graph has dipped in places over the years, and he (in my opinion) hasn’t received the accolades he deserves for some of the fantastic work he’s done, it’s unquestionable that Dharam has had a terrific career. Over the next few days, I thought it would be fun to take a quick look at his work over the past 5 decades.
Much as I love Dharmendra, there’s A LOT about him that I don’t know, and A LOT of his movies that I’m yet to see, so please don’t except a thrilling and informative series! I’ll just talk generally about each decade, selecting one film per decade as a reference point, and hopefully picking up some new info as I go along. Ladies and gentlemen, I hereby present ‘The Decades of Dharam’. Here’s to the next one!
The 60s – A Star Is Born
Dharmendra made over 40 films in the swinging sixties, and by the end of that decade, he was already established as one of the industry’s leading actors. Dharam kicked off his career with a role in ‘Dil Bhi Tera, Hum Bhi Tere’ (1960). Dustedoff has a great review of the film here. Young and gawky as he looked, by the time of this movie, Dharam had already been married for several years, to Prakash Kaur, who remains a mysterious figure, which is probably just the way she likes it! Anyway, back to Dharam - he was even a daddy by the time he made his first film - his older son, Sunny, was already toddling around.
‘Dil Bhi Tera, Hum Bhi Tere’ was an unremarkable but promising start, and before long, Dharmendra was working with reputable directors like Bimal Roy (‘Bandini’, in 1963) and Hrishikesh Mukherjee, with whom he worked on several movies in the 60s. Many of the films Dharam made in the early 60s were forgettable, with a few exceptions. ‘Bandini’ and ‘Soorat Aur Seerat’ were probably the most noteworthy. The rest weren’t terrible films, either, though. They gave Dharmendra a nice bit of exposure and experience... and he built on that foundation to become the confident and polished performer that emerged by the end of the 60s.
By the early to mid 60s, Dharam was also already co-starring with more established actors such as Mala Sinha (‘Anpadh’, ‘Pooja Ke Phool’, ‘Baharen Phir Bhi Aayengi’, ‘Jab Yaad Kisi Ki Aati Hai’), Balraj Sahni (‘Bandini’, ‘Anpadh’, 'Haqeeqat'), Nutan Behl (‘Bandini’, ‘Soorat Aur Seerat’, ‘Dulhan Ek Raat Ki’) and Ashok Kumar (‘Bandini’). It doesn't seem like he exploded onto the scene or anything, but the young man from Sahnewal was off to a pretty good start. His fame grew steadily through the 60s, and by the late 60s, he was very bankable (despite the meteoric rise to fame of megastar Rajesh Khanna, in 1969).
The 60s are also notable for at least one relationship that made a huge impact on the young Dharmendra both personally and professionally… in 1964, ‘Maain Bhi Ladki Hun’, his first film opposite Meena Kumari, was released. It is said that it was around this time that a newly divorced Meena and a very married Dharmendra began a romantic relationship that would last several years. By the time she met Dharam and worked with him on ‘Maain Bhi Ladki Hun’, Meena was already a huge star… in fact, some would argue that most of her best work was already behind her, and following her split from her husband, Kamaal Amrohi, she had begun to battle alcoholism and depression.
Dharmendra and Meena made several other movies together in the 60s: ‘Purnima’ (1965), ‘Kaajal’ (1965), O. P. Ralhan’s classic ‘Phool Aur Patthar’ (1966), ‘Majhli Didi’ (1967), ‘Chandan Ka Palna’ (1967) and ‘Baharon Ki Manzil' (1967). ‘Phool Aur Patthar’ and ‘Kaajal’ were probably the most successful of these Dharam/Meena films, but most viewers are of the opinion that Dharam and Meena did not make a great onscreen jodi. Not having seen any of these movies (I have ‘Phool Aur Patthar’ and ‘Kaajal’ but haven’t gotten round to watching them), I don't have a take on this yet.
The relationship between Dharmendra and Meena Kumari was apparently the subject of much controversy in those days, it seems, and there’s still much said about it today. Some allege that Dharam used Meena and her massive fame to further his fledgling career, taking advantage of her despondency and alcoholism, then callously moving on when it was over. Others are of the opinion that Meena used Dharam to boost her ego and revive her career for a while. Still others feel that both actors used each other. Some say there was genuine love and affection between the pair, and that it was not the mercenary relationship it’s often painted as. Who knows? Whatever they may have meant to each other in their years together, though, it would seem that their liaison brought neither of them lasting joy.
Dharmendra did enjoy some less... momentous professional pairings with actresses in the 60s though. I’ve already mentioned his work with the gorgeous Nutan andwith Mala Sinha. He starred opposite the talented Vyjayanthimala (‘Pyar Hi Pyar’). He made some films with Asha Parekh (‘Shikar’, ‘Aya Sawan Jhoom Ke’). He also worked with Saira Banu on films like ‘Ayee Milan Ki Bela’, ‘Aadmi Aur Insaan’ and ‘Shaadi’; and in the mid-60s, one my very favourite pairings, the stylish and gorgeous Dharmendra/Sharmila jodi, was born. In the 60s, Dharam and Sharmila Tagore worked together on ‘Devar’, ‘Anupama’, ‘Satyakam’, ‘Yakeen’ and ‘Mere Humdum Mere Dost’.
Which brings me to my film choice for this decade – ‘Satyakam’, in which Dharam stars with Sharmila Tagore and Ashok Kumar. It’s a serious, slightly melancholic, sometimes heavy-handed film, helmed by the late Hrishikesh Mukherjee, my all-time favourite Hindi film director. Light years away from the lighter masala fare that Dharam would make in the 1970s, it is dark, somber and complex (if you’re interested, read my lengthy thoughts on it here). And, despite the fact that I generally don’t like sad films, I love it.
‘Anupama’, also directed by Mukherjee and co-starring ‘Dharmila’ (sorry, I just had to go there!), is much simpler, and far less oppressive in tone, with better music (‘Ya Dil Ki Suno Duniyawalon’ is simply divine). The cinematography in ‘Anupama’ is also just gorgeous, but I’ve chosen ‘Satyakam’ over it because I think it captures and represents the mature, gutsy and confident actor that Dharam had become by the end of the 60s. He took on a character that many would consider unlikeable in his inflexibility, and he depicted him truthfully and gracefully, without playing to the gallery. His performance was beautifully restrained, thoughtful, thought-provoking, multi-layered. And he looked gorgeous as always. Who could possibly ask for more?
In the 60s, Dharmendra played lots of different roles - from students and lawyers, to teachers and doctors, to secret agents and policemen, with even a couple of villains thrown in... but one thing is sure, he always looked delicious doing whatever the script required. His sex symbol reputation definitely took hold during this decade. He was viewed as a handsome, romantic leading man with a difference –he could look and act tough, but he definitely had a softer, more sensitive side. And the fans swooned!
Dharam started off the 60s making more serious, ‘social commentary’ type films, and although by the end of the 60s he was still making serious films like ‘Satyakam’, he also started doing the ‘fun stuff’ that he would do a lot more of in the 70s – he made spy flicks ‘Yakeen’ and ‘Ankhen’ in the late 60s. He also took on thrillers like ‘Baazi’, (opposite Waheeda Rehman).
Up next… the 70s, possibly Dharam’s best decade… and definitely my favourite!!!