Ranveer Singh, Vidya Balan are Dharmendra's favourites

In an exclusive conversation with, the Hindi cinema veteran revealed that legendary filmmaker Kamal Amrohi wanted to make Bajirao Mastani with him in the lead many years ago.

(Photo: Shutterbugs Images)

Mayur Lookhar

He-Man, macho man, garam Dharam, Greek god. Over the years, Hindi film veteran Dharmendra has been conferred with various titles by fans and scribes. However, nothing is dearer to him than being a good human being. Dharam Paaji, as the film industry knows him, is all heart, and that is what makes him the beloved of all generations even today.

The legend turned 81 on Thursday (8 December), which also happened to be the birthday of Sharmila Tagore with whom Dharmendra starred in as many as nine films, including Anupama (1966), Satyakam (1969) and Chupke Chupke (1975). The great man took time out from his celebrations to speak exclusively to about his career, Tagore, and why awards mean little to him. Excerpts:

Many happy returns of the day, sir. Today the hashtag Dhamendra was trending on Twitter. Usually, it's the youth who are largely active on social media.  The fact that your name was trending, isn’t it reflective of your popularity that cuts across all ages?

I have always been humbled by this love and affection. I am grateful to the almighty and to you all. You are blessed with everything in life once you receive the love and affection of the people. I shower love endlessly. Main pyaar ka lootera hoon, aur baat-ta rehta hoon. [I give and receive love]. However, when I get such love, I’m also conscious that I don’t lose it and hope it remains forever. 

Today is also the birthday of Sharmila Tagore. Is that why you were destined to work together in many films?

I guess our parents must have planned it that way (laughs).

I wished her earlier today. She is going to become a grandmother again. My wishes are with the family.

I recall how we celebrated our birthdays on the sets of Anupama and Devar (1966). We ate cake and celebrated with the entire crew. The atmosphere [on the sets] was very warm. We celebrated together, we had food together. Those were the good old days. 

The two of you came together in 1966 with Anupama and Devar. Which was the first film you shot for?

We shot for Anupama first, but soon we were shooting simultaneously for both films. After that we shot for Mere Humdum Mere Dost (1968) and Yakeen (1969). When I worked with a heroine, often I would end up doing 10-15 films with her. I must have worked with almost 50 heroines.

What was was your first impression of Sharmilaji?

Sharmila was always a sweet person to work with. She is a very educated lady, a nice personality. A very pretty woman with a great dimple. She is a very fine actress. She had done a few Bengali films before, and then she made her great debut with Kashmir Ki Kali (1964). After that she did films like Anupama and Devar which proved her versatility.

Anupama received nominations in the main categories at the Filmfare awards that year, but neither Sharmilaji nor you received a nomination though you were nominated for Phool Aur Patthar that same year. Were you surprised that neither of you got the nomination for Anupama?

I have no grief over this. These are minor things. These awards pale in comparison to the love and affection you receive from the people. In a way it’s good I didn’t get too many of these awards. Aaj inpar dhool jami hoti, main guzarta hoon toh who bolte, hamare taraf dekh toh lo. [The trophies would have been gathering dust, entreating me to at least look at them.] With time all these things become redundant. What is important is what you have today.

I have spent over 55 years in this industry, but even today people give me love. You only get this love when you give it yourself. Mujhe shaurat se zyada ye chahat pasand hai [More than fame, I value this affection]. Yeh chahat dilon main ghar kar jaati hai, mujhe lagta hai maine dilon main ghar bana liya hai, yeh chahat se mujhe koi neeche nahi gira sakta [I have a place in people’s hearts, and no one can take that away from me].

These awards mean nothing. I wouldn’t like to comment much, but I know how these awards were doled out. People call me garam Dharam, He-Man, Greek god, I think these titles are more beautiful than any awards.

Recently, Javed saheb [lyricist-writer Javed Akhtar] stated that most poets praise women, but no one praises a man. Often good-looking men are called Greek gods, but Javed saheb said we haven’t seen the gods, they must be looking good, but we have seen Dharmendra. That was very sweet of him. I called and thanked him dearly. I was once counted among the 10 most handsome men in the world, but never did I gloat about it. You must humbly accept things as they come.

You did nine films with Sharmilaji from 1966 to 1975. Can you share with us some anecdotes, or a memorable moment?

Every moment was memorable. At times, I used to indulge in a bit of banter, but all of it was in good humour. Like I said before, it was a very warm environment then. Hrishikesh Mukherjee was a disciplinarian. I remember how at times he would scold us to be on time. We were to shoot a song in Panchgani, and he would shout, “Dharam, Sharmila, please report by 5!” However, after the shoot he would shower his affection too. He was such  a darling, a terrific director, one of our best filmmakers, but more importantly, a great human being.

What do you make of cinema today?

It has changed. There was no profanity in our times. The unfortunate part is that today even families watch such content. Look, I understand these things are a reality, but if you start showing them on the silver screen, it doesn’t quite seem right. Culture, tradition were really valued in our times. When we said Bharat Maa, we truly believed in it. We say it today too, but I’m not sure how many of us mean it today.

Is that the reason why you don’t do too many films now?

I have done the most number of films and given the most hits. There is a time for everyone and everything. However, whenever I have made a return, people have embraced me wholeheartedly. Be it Apne (2007), Johnny Gaddar (2007), or Yamla Pagla Deewana (2011)…. I will give more to the people. I hope to get a good script though. I love the camera. Whenever I return, people will love me dearly.

Today success is measured in terms of Rs100 crore in box-office collections. How do you see this race?

We will never want to enter that race. Only those who are good at it can enter it. Neither me nor my sons are great at business. We stick to our limitations and we expect limited things. The popularity of the star, like our Khans, is what helps their films to cross Rs100 crore. I would like to take my hat off to Ranveer Singh. I saw his film Bajirao Mastani (2015) and was very impressed. Many years ago, Kamal Amrohi wanted to make the same film with me. I also appreciate Vidya Balan. She is a terrific actress.

The films from the Deol stable tend to largely target the northern belt, which perhaps doesn’t make them quite so appealing to a pan-India audience. Your thoughts?

We may have got a few films wrong, but that is just a stamp given to us. I have fans all around the country and the globe. 

Indeed, Dharmendra's fans number in the millions, and many of them were queuing up today outside his bungalow to get a glimpse of the star. We at hope to carry forward a great conversation with him when time permits. Till then, here's wishing the great man many more such happy occasions and a long and healthy life.

Also read: Why Dharmendra the actor needs to be appreciated more