I realize that I am very much in the minority on this, but my favourite decade when it comes to Dharmendra movies is definitely the 1970s. This is possibly because I’ve seen a fair number (but by no means most) of his 70s films, and not too many of his films from the 60s (the films which most people tend to prefer). It’s also possibly because I (again, this is a minority view) personally find him more handsome in the 70s (especially the period from 1970-75). There’s no denying that Dharam was absolutely gorgeous in the 60s, but I tend to prefer his more mature, slightly rougher, more buff 70s look… in the 60s (and the early 60s in particular), he was sometimes a little too smoothly beautiful for me, if that makes any sense. By his mid 30s, he was still devastating but had a little more 'character' in his face.
I also think that by the 70s, Dharmendra had really hit his stride as an actor – he was more confident and self-assured, and that definitely came through in his demeanour. He had a little strut and swagger going. I like that. Another reason why this decade is my fave when it comes to Dharam's work is that in keeping with the general spirit of the decade, he made such fun films in the 70s. I know he made some fun flicks in the 60s (particularly the late 60s), but there's no question about his 70's movies being more fun and less serious. Nothing against serious movies, they can be absolutely awesome, but it's the fun ones that tend to keep me coming back for more.
But enough about my personal predilection for 70s Dharam… let’s take a look at his body of work in that decade. Dharam ended the 60s well, and by 1970 he was still riding that high, despite the mania that had erupted over a certain actor by the name of Rajesh Khanna. I think it's a mark of how consistently good his work was that Dharmendra was definitely one of the biggest Hindi movie stars of the 70s, despite the Rajesh-frenzy that began in the late 60s with 'Aradhana' (1969) and continued well into the 70s.
In 1970, Dharmendra’s first film of the decade, ‘Sharafat’, was released. This is a notable film because it marked his first encounter with a beautiful young actress by the name of Hema Malini, who was just beginning her own illustrious career in the movies. Dharmendra’s meeting with Hema would have a lasting impact not only on his career, but on his entire life… but more on that later. For more on 'Sharafat', which I haven’t seen, please check out Veraciously’s thought-provoking review….
In 1970, other Dharam releases included a cameo as the dashing ringmaster in Raj Kapoor’s bloated, overly self-indulgent opus, ‘Mera Naam Joker’; the wonderfully, wonderfully romantic ‘Jeevan Mrityu’ (opposite a luminous Rakhee - definitely worth seeing if you haven't - check out Memsaab's review); and the fun caper 'Kab? Kyoon? Aur Kahaan', reviewed by bollywooddeewana here. Dharmendra also made another 1970s release opposite Hema Malini, 'Tum Haseen Main Jawan', a fun masala flick about a baby on a navy ship (amongst other things). With these films, Dharmendra had begun the 70s in grand style.
In 1971, ‘Mera Gaon Mera Desh’, co-starring Asha Parekh, a feisty Laxmi Chhaya and a ridiculously hot Vinod Khanna, was released. Although Dharmendra does a great job and Asha is good, I think Laxmi and Vinod are the real stars of this show, a tale of a reformed criminal saving a village from the terrors of a terribly evil (but oh, so sexy) dacoit, Jabbar Singh, and his gang. ‘Mera Gaon Mera Desh’ is a great foreshadowing of a classic film that Dharmendra would star in just a few years later, a fact which the fabulous Sita-ji explores in her great post here.
Another great film from 1971 that featured Dharmendra was Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s delightful ‘Guddi’, but it would be wrong to call it a Dharmendra film. A young and utterly captivating Jaya Bhaduri completely ruled this one, with a beautiful performance opposite Utpal Dutt. Dharmendra had an extended cameo as himself, the object of Guddi’s schoolgirl obsession, and he pulled it off with great class and charm. I love this film.
In 1972, Dharmendra and Hema co-starred in the engaging ‘Raja Jani’, and Dharmendra played second fiddle (a very cute and funny second fiddle, though), to Hema Malini, who totally owned ‘Seeta Aur Geeta’, a very fun remake of Dilip Kumar’s ‘Ram Aur Shyam’. In it, Hema gave a wonderfully memorable performance as the eponymous twins of the title, one timid and one feisty.
Dharam’s 1973 releases included 'Kahani Kismat Ki' and ‘Yaadon Ki Baarat’, a lost-and-found-siblings tale best known for the classic tune ‘Churaliya Hai Tumne’, picturised on a gorgeous Zeenat Aman (and a harp). ‘Yaadon Ki Baarat’ also featured a pint-sized Aamir Khan. In the same year, the utterly, wonderfully romantic ‘Black Mail’, directed by Vijay Anand, was released, in which a dreamy Dharam co-starred with a radiant Rakhee. This film has gorgeous music, gorgeous stars, gorgeous romance… it’s all just gorgeous.
Another 1973 release for Dharam was the fun caper ‘Jugnu’, opposite Hema Malini, in a role that maximized her considerable talents as a leading lady. Hema was much more than a pretty face in her prime – she had it all: looks, comic timing, screen presence, dancing ability; and she did some really great feisty roles… but I’m veering off topic! Back to ‘Jugnu’… I was actually largely underwhelmed by it and am planning to watch it again soon to see if my views change… but there are plenty of people that love it and have written about it.
In 1974, Dharam’s releases included ‘Patthar Aur Payal’, ‘Pocket Maar, ‘Dost’ and ‘International Crook’, the theme tune to which is now indelibly imprinted upon my brain. (Thanks, Memsaab!)
Two of my very favourite Dharmendra films were released in 1975. I ADORE Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s romantic comedy ‘Chupke Chupke’, in which Dharmendra and Sharmila Tagore star as an adorable married couple playing naughty little games with each other (who can blame them though?), all under the pretext of pulling off an elaborate hoax on an uncle (yeah right!) ‘Dharmila’ do a great job with this one – they charmed my socks off and made me laugh endlessly.
One of my favourite movies. I also think Dharam is so gorgeous in this film….
‘Sholay’ is a film on which volumes have been written, and very deservedly so. It has everything you could want in a movie – bromance, romance, dance (on shards of glass, no less), and lashings (and lashings) of angst. Brilliantly scripted by the genius team of Javed Akhtar and Salim Khan, tautly directed by Ramesh Sippy, and lovingly set to music by the great RD Burman, ‘Sholay’ is a meal well worth savouring over and over. Dharam gets to show off his considerable comic talents opposite a sparky Hema Malini (as the talkative Basanti). To round off the main cast, Amitabh Bachchan hands in a brilliantly intense performance as Jai, Amjad Khan is utterly spine-chilling as Gabbar Singh (none of the sexiness of Jabbar Singh from 'Mera Gaon Mera Desh' here), Sanjeev Kumar is great as the tortured Thakur, and Jaya Bhaduri is hauntingly pitch-perfect as Radha.
Rumour has it that, although there was a mutual attraction between them almost from the get-go, Dharmendra and Hema really fell in love (although they seem to have initially fought it) while working on 'Sholay'… there was a lot happening on that set, wasn’t there? Jaya, Amitabh's wife, was pregnant with daughter Shweta, Dharam and Hema were falling in love, and poor Sanjeev was no doubt pining for Hema….
I don't think anyone was very surprised that Dharmendra became involved with Hema when it all began - he was the stereotypical young, hard-drinking 'man's man' living and working in the glamorous world of 70s Bollywood, and I think he (along with every other young virile superstar) was 'expected' to cheat on his wife. He had after all already been linked with Meena Kumari and other women, and he acknowledged openly in interviews that he was not a faithful husband (the whole eyeroll-inducing 'men are naturally not monogamous, yada yada' spiel).
But Hema Malini on the other hand.. now she was a young, angel-faced, never-married woman, with a squeaky-clean reputation. The famous 'Dream Girl' of Hindi cinema, she had a very 'India's sweetheart' image, by all accounts, and in the 70s she ruled the Indian box office as a leading lady, without being involved in any untoward controversies. Hema had millions of men eating out of her hand, and she could have had just about any man she wanted - including charming movie stars like Sanjeev Kumar (who, the story goes, never married because he remained deeply in love with her until the very end) and Jeetendra. Sanjeez and Jeetendra both proposed, and Jeetendra seems to have been in with a chance for a while - Hema is rumoured to have almost become Mrs. Ravi Kapoor - there's a story about Dharmendra swooping in and spiriting her away at the last minute, but I have no idea how true this is.
Ironically, though, Hema also says that it was Dharmendra’s similarities to her mother that drew him to her – she loved the fact that he was ‘strong and silent’, like her maa. She also noted that he did not woo her with ‘roses or moonlight drives’, but ‘made her feel special’ just by looking at her. Whatever it was, Hema couldn’t resist it, and facing down all the opposition, married her man in August 1979.
Dharmendra never divorced Prakash Kaur, who he married as a teenager, although of course, Prakash and Hema live separately. I remember writing about the Dharmendra/Hema marriage in the early days of this blog and receiving a few strongly-worded responses condemning the couple in no uncertain terms and telling me not to call Ms. Malini 'Dharam's wife'. I think the fact that people still feel so strongly about this is an indication of what the reaction must have been like back then. I find the virulence of the reaction really interesting, as I guess I am less fazed by polygamy than a lot of people, because although I'm very much opposed to it personally, it's really not considered a 'big deal' in my culture and society (this is slowly changing, though).
Anyway, before I move on from this topic, please check out these scans, graciously provided by Karen, of a 1976 interview in which Dharmendra and Hema speak (very frankly indeed!) about their feelings for each other. It’s all very passionate and romantic, the stuff of filmi forbidden-love stories, but you can’t help but wonder how Prakash Kaur has dealt with all this – all you can do is wonder though, as she and her children are (wisely, in my opinion) fiercely protective of her privacy.
Now, moving on from Dharam’s love life… Dharmendra’s other 1975 releases included the fun ‘curry western’ ‘Pratiggya’, reviewed by Memsaab in hilarious detail here, renowned for the song ‘Main Jatt yamla pagla deewana’, which showed off Dharam’s trademark dance steps (if they can be called that!), and ‘Apne Dushman’.
After the big, star-studded productions of ’75, Dharmendra’s 1976 releases were a little less exciting – there was ‘Maa’, ‘Charas’ and a few others. In 1977, things picked up again, with ‘Dream Girl’, the film which earned Hema a lasting sobriquet; the Manmohan Desai masala masterpiece ‘Dharam Veer’, ‘Khel Khilari Ka’ and a few others.
By 1978, Dharmendra was making fewer movies and getting less exciting roles. His age (a very well-preserved 43) was starting to show, the younger Amitabh Bachchan was dominating the box office, and after almost 2 decades of ‘active duty’, Dharmendra was looking just a teeny tiny bit out of date.
There were still a few memorable Dharmendra movies in these last few years of the 70s though – I really like Basu Chatterjee’s comedy ‘Dillagi’ (1978), in which Dharam plays Swarnkamal, a college professor in love with Phoolrenu, a seriously uptight schoolteacher (played by Hema Malini). Dharmendra’s age may be showing a little in this one, but he’s still very dishy, so my big question while watching this was why Swarnkamal was even interested in the boring and repressed Phoolrenu. Between Hema’s sourpuss act in this and Dharam’s constant phool-sniffing, this movie wearied me a bit, but there were enough fun, comedic bits in it to keep me nicely in the loop.
So, at the end of the rocking 70s, we leave Dharam at a rather low ebb, not the peak we left him on at the end of the 60s. Oh well… one must consider that he’d had two long decades in film at this time, and some of those movies were truly unforgettable. He’d had a pretty good run. And hey, even if he didn’t own the box office and hadn’t received the critical acclaim he so deserved for some of the great performances he delivered in the 60s and 70s, from ‘Anupama’ to ‘Sholay’, at least he had the gorgeous and graceful Hema Malini firmly esconced in his arms by the end of the 70s. (In 1979, the year of their marriage, a measly two Dharmendra films were released!) I can’t imagine that he was too badly bummed out.
Before I get there though, I will linger a little longer in the fun 70s, with another 70s week post coming up before the week runs out….