This post is the third part of my ‘Decades of Dharam’ series – here are my posts on the 60s and 70s... this part has been a very long time coming because... the 80s were not at all the greatest period of Dharam’s career, in my opinion. I really think that he did his very best work in the 60s and 70s, and although there are some definite gems in his 80s filmography, there seem to be a lot of... less-than-stellar films there too.
Also, I have to say that I am, generally speaking, not a huge fan of 80s Bollywood. Growing up in the 80s in Lagos, Nigeria, I watched (and enjoyed) a few classic 80s Bollywood films... Disco Dancer and Mard are the ones I remember best... they were crazy and ridiculous, but also fun and entertaining. Since re-discovering Bollywood movies in 2005, though... I’ve definitely come across a good number of Hindi films from the 80s that I just adore (both loopy, fun films and more serious ones), but I’ve also seen many that have just... really, really annoyed me. And I’m sure that in seeking to avoid those bad 80s movies, I have also missed out on some of the decade’s better fare. This is why I love bloggers like Bollystalgia and Bollywood Deewana that celebrate a lot of the fun, freedom and entertainment that 80s Bollywood offers. (There’s a great post on this over on Shahrukh is Love, by the way).
All this means, of course, that I have seen only very few of Dharmendra’s 80s films (although I recently purchased a few more and will probably watch them sometime this year), and so I feel hugely unqualified to write this post (and so will really need you all to help me out in the comments section as always)... but anyway here goes....
The 70s ended fairly well for Dharmendra, as I noted in my previous post in this series... he finally married his paramour, Hema Malini, and although his output declined a little, the films he did make were modestly successful. He started out the 80s with 5 films released in 1980: Chunaoti, The Burning Train, Ram Balram, Shalimar and Ali Baba Aur 40 Chor. (He also made a special appearance in Insaaf Ka Tarazu.) Shalimar and Ali Baba Aur 40 Chor were lavish productions – Shalimar, famously billed as a Hollywood-Bollywood collaboration, featured British actor Rex Harrison, alongside Dharmendra and Zeenat Aman (Zeenat would turn out to be one of Dharmendra’s more frequent leading ladies in the early to mid 80s) in a story about international jewel theft. Despite the enormous expense that apparently went into making the film, it was very poorly received, but has since become something of a cult classic. Ali Baba Aur 40 Chor, based on the popular legend, was another international collaboration – this time with Russian partners.
Like Shalimar and Ali Baba..., The Burning Train (also known to me as The Film That Made Me Fall In Love With Dharmendra), was a massive production, an ambitious thriller about a train headed for the destruction and how the lives of 3 men are linked to the train and its fate. I LOVE this movie, and not just because of Dharmendra. It has EXCELLENT music (some of RD Burman’s best work, in my opinion), a great star cast (Dharmendra, Hema Malini, Vinod Khanna, Parveen Babi, Danny Denzongpa, Jeetendra, Neetu Singh, Vinod Mehra and others), and a really good storyline. Unfortunately, Indian audiences seem to have been less than impressed, as the film did not fare particularly well at the box office. It did very well elsewhere though... although I never saw it growing up, it was one of the more popular Bollywood movies in Nigeria back in the 80s – I knew the melody of ‘Teri Hai Zameen, Tera Aasman’, the schoolchildren’s prayer from the film, years before I ever saw it myself.
Ram Balram, another 1980 release, was notable for reuniting Dharmendra with his Sholay co-star Amitabh Bachchan in a film about two brothers, ‘ek chor, ek sipahee’. Dharam played the crook of course, and Amitabh the cop, while Ajit played their abusive and controlling uncle. Zeenat Aman (again) and Rekha co-starred as their love interests. Ram Balram is really not a good film in my opinion, but I found it watchable – mostly for Ajit’s camp performance and the way Dharam and Amitabh hilariously cower away from him at the slightest threat. Quite amusing. The film is a bit boring though, the storyline is full of holes, Dharam and Zeenat’s chemistry falls a little flat, and the attempt to recreate the magic of ‘Yeh Dosti’ was manful but just not good enough. For what it is though, it’s not too bad.
So, although a couple of Dharmendra’s 1980 releases did not live up to their blockbuster billing, it was a good year for him movie-wise – a good start to the decade. Moving on to 1981, and Dharmendra’s more notable releases included Aas Paas (one of his more noteworthy romances opposite Hema Malini – also notable for having Mohammed Rafi’s last recorded song on its soundtrack) and Professor Pyarelal, which Memsaab reviewed wonderfully here. He also had a fun, dance-y cameo in the ‘John Jaani Janardhan’ song from Naseeb (the inspiration for Farah Khan’s ‘Deewangi Deewangi’ number from Om Shanti Om).
In 1982, Dharmendra’s releases included the kitschy but very entertaining Ghazab (opposite Rekha), wonderfully reviewed by Bollywood Deewana here, the epic Rajput (with Rajesh Khanna and Vinod Khanna), and the dramas Teesri Aankh (with Shatrughan Sinha and – again – Zeenat Aman) and Badle Ki Aag (with Sunil Dutt, Jeetendra and Reena Roy).
Dharmendra’s first release of 1983 was Razia Sultan – notable for many things, one of which is the sensual ‘Khwaab Bankar Koi Aayega’, picturised on Hema Malini and Parveen Babi with hints of same-sex eroticism. It was also the last film to be written and directed by Kamal Amrohi, who also wrote and directed the classic tragedy Pakeezah. In one of several films in which he had his skin darkened (I might do a post on that sometime...), Dharmendra played Yakut, the dark-skinned, lowborn love interest of Razia Bano (played by Hema Malini). It has been speculated that Kamal Amrohi cast Dharmendra in this role to humiliate him, as payback for Dharam’s treatment of Amrohi’s late wife, legendary actress Meena Kumari (I talked about this briefly in my post on Dharmendra’s 60s career). I have no idea how true or false this is (and I don’t really think Dharmendra was humiliated by his role in Razia Sultan), but I do know that despite the huge budget of this lavish production, and its truly magnificent music, Razia Sultan didn’t resonate with audiences, and was not a hit.
Jaani Dost, reviewed by Bollystalgia here, was also released in 1983, as was Naukar Biwi Ka, which I really dislike, but which has some really fun songs. I should also mention that in 1983, Dharmendra’s first son launched his career. With Betaab, Sunny had a very successful debut and went on to make loads of well-received movies.
In 1984, Baazi, a revenge/action flick with Dharmendra, Mithun Chakraborthy and Rekha, was released, and by this time, Dharmendra’s penchant for law enforcement roles in action flicks, which he would take into the 90s as well, was pretty well-established. In 1985, there was the star-studded and very successful Ghulami, in which Dharam, along with Smita Patil, Reena Roy, Naseeruddin Shah, Mithun Chakraborthy and Kulbushan Kharbanda, sparkled in JP Dutta’s debut commercial production.
Sultanat, which marked Juhi Chawla’s debut, was released in 1986. Apparently, it’s not a great film (I refer again to Ness's awesome post), but I’d still like to see it, just to see Juhi in her first movie, and also because I love Sridevi, and she's in it too. As Dharmendra moved into the late 80s, director Anil Sharma (who would turn out to be quite the Deol favourite) gave him a hit with Hukumat (1987), and his other 1987 releases (including Watan Ke Rakhwale, which reunited Dharam with Sunil Dutt and Mithun) did quite well too.
I won’t bother talking much about Dharmendra’s 1988 and 1989 films, especially as I haven't seen them, but from all accounts, they were pretty standard 80s fare and not exactly riveting stuff. One must bear in mind though, that by the mid-to-late 80s our dear Dharam was well into his 50s... and still playing the action hero in many of his films... perhaps that says it all. I haven’t seen most of Dharam’s films from this period (the late 80s), and I really can’t confess to any particular longing to do so, especially since I still have quite a lot of his older work to look forward to. Being a little crazy about the guy though, I suspect that I will eventually get to even the most obnoxious 80s stuff, and I also suspect that I will even find a way to enjoy some of it, just because it’s Dharam. Not just yet, though.
So, we leave Dharam at the end of the 80s in his mid-50s, a little the worse for wear and rough around the edges, and possibly, finally (resilient though he was) starting to feel the after-effects of all that 'life'.... His loyal fans were still enjoying his movies, as shown by his hits in 1987, and he was still churning out movies that were very much in keeping with the cinematic style of 80s Bollywood.
In his personal life, his oldest child had joined him in the movie-making business, and his second wife, Hema Malini, had given birth to two daughters, Esha (born in 1981 – or 1982, depending on the source) and Ahana. By the way, Hema, interestingly, kept acting right through the 80s (unlike many other ‘star wives’) and had a very decent run that decade (especially with her successful, sparky jodi opposite Amitabh Bachchan in films like Naseeb, Satte Pe Satta, Nastik and Desh Premee) which was perhaps not all that surprising – she was still so young, vivacious and beautiful in the 80s, and plenty of people still wanted to watch her.
The film I’m picking as my Dharmendra-related reference point for this decade has to be The Burning Train, of course, with a fit, 45 year old Dharam looking years younger and saving lives with noble humility and all the calloused sensitivity of a broken heart. Such melodrama, such angst, such... Bollywood-ness. I love it!
As always, I would love to hear from you, especially if you have a different (and perhaps less bleak?) perspective with respect to Dharmendra’s 80s filmography. I would love to hear about which of Dharmendra’s 80s films you’ve particularly enjoyed (or not). As a matter of fact, one of the pleasant surprises I encountered when preparing this post was these comments on Bollywood Deewana's blog by Dharmendra fan GKK, who assures me that I'm totally wrong about Dharmendra's 80s films, and that he did some of his best work in the 80s. The truth is, as GKK rightly says, I really haven't seen enough of Dharam's 80s films to categorically dispute this. Perhaps I really am just parroting the conventional wisdom. And I am rather hoping that GKK is right, really... on this occasion, I would love to be proven wrong!
I’m taking another break from the Decades of Dharam series now, but I will be back soon with another Deol Dhamaka post. I am absolutely loving the month of March!!