Birthday Boy Dharmendra: The Uncelebrated Adonis of Hindi Cinema
Bollywood never really knew how to deal with an attractive beast like Dharam paji.
When you see Jef Costello, the impeccably dressed hitman, moving in the cold delights of Parisian vista in Le Samourai (1967), you can’t possibly escape the cleverness of Jean-Pierre Melville’s deadpan treatment. As the film lore goes, Melville’s direction chose to make Alain Delon a poker face, because he was so devastatingly handsome, because anything else would have taken the viewer away from the film. But this only added to the enigma of Delon’s legendary beauty.
If you look at the pantheon of Hindi film stars, there are a handful of actors who could switch the heat wave on with just their smouldering good looks. Dharmendra, who turns a year older today (December 8), remains one of the magnificent examples of this brigade.
It is perhaps a little sad that Dharmendra, never worked with a director like Melville in his entire film career. Or any director who could have been aware of his beauty, and made a film that knew how to deal with an attractive beast.
Though he was an earlier exponent of the bare-chested positioning as early as 1966 in Phool Aur Patthar, no director managed to comprehend the possible repercussions of it, in an era when heroes preferred to be fully clothed, and let the heroines do the sexed-up work.
From his start as the winner of Filmfare magazine’s new talent award to his vast oeuvre consisting of hundreds of films, he was always preferred as the guy who could be the man of action, the rugged fella like Veeru of Sholay who could beat the villains and bring a happy ending to the narrative. If one end of directors treated him as the action hero, the other end, especially Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s genteel body of work understood the effortless charm that he embodies.
What Bimal Roy did with Dharmendra in Bandini, Mukherjee extended the idea in his films, giving the yamla pagla deewana a chance to explore the tender, funnier side to him in Satyakam and Chupke Chupke. But both the camps chose to be unaware of Dharmendra’s sculpted bodily excellence throughout.
After the golden run of the trio ― Raj Kapoor, Dilip Kumar, and Dev Anand, it was Rajesh Khanna who became the superstar of Hindi cinema only to be toppled by Amitabh Bachchan for his long run as the angry young man. Dharmendra who worked during the reign of Khanna and Bachchan was also a very successful leading man, but he could never achieve the gargantuan stature of the two.
Looking back, one can’t help but wonder what could have happened if Hindi cinema knew how to deal with a fine-looking creature like him. His acting abilities are well established, but if the filmmakers saw his Greek God looks with a different gaze, history would have been different. Perhaps a gorgeous history.
(This story is from The Quint’s archives and was first published on 8 December 2015 to mark Dharmendra’s birth anniversary.)
(The writer is a journalist and a screenwriter who believes in the insanity of words, in print or otherwise. Follow him on Twitter: @RanjibMazumder)
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