Interview Hindi

OP Ralhan: The man who first cast Kabir Bedi, Zeenat Aman

Actor, writer and director OP Ralhan, who passed away on 20 April 1997, famously gave breaks to Dharmendra and Amitabh Bachchan when they were struggling and introduced Bedi and Aman in his film Hulchul (1971). Actor Armaan Ralhan speaks about his visionary grandfather.

Armaan Ralhan and OP Ralhan

Sonal Pandya

Om Prakash (OP) Ralhan was a man of many talents. In his home productions, he would often write, direct and even act. Besides having an extended cameo in most of his films, Ralhan is known for giving breaks to many actors before they became big stars.

His grandson, Armaan Ralhan, told that OP Ralhan "was a self-made man, a dedicated and visionary actor, director, writer, and producer." Armaan made his Hindi film debut with Aditya Chopra’s Befikre (2016) in which he played Vaani Kapoor’s fiance, Aney.

Armaan recalls that his earliest memories of his grandfather were of his great sense of humour. "My mother told me stories of his struggle with surviving on bhajias and staying hungry for days and visiting studios waiting for hours to get work. He always maintained that climbing the rung of success would lead one to either being helped by those ahead and if they didn’t help in the circle of life, and if they met you again whilst you are ahead. always give them a helping hand,” he said.

Actors Rajendra Kumar and Sunil Dutt were close friends of the Ralhan family.

OP Ralhan got Dharmendra his first big hit as a solo lead, a golden jubilee blockbuster, with Phool Aur Patthar (1966). Dharmendra played Shakti Singh aka Shaka, an orphan who grows up to be a career criminal. When out to steal money from a zamindar Jeevan Ram (Jeevan), he finds that the village has been deserted because of the plague. The sole resident of the village is Shanti (Meena Kumari), Jeevan’s widowed daughter-in-law. Shaka rescues Shanti and nurses her back to health. However, rumours of their close association follow the two wherever they go.

Dharmendra in Phool Aur Patthar (1966)

Phool Aur Patthar was a complete Hindi entertainer. The film also featured a dog sidekick for Shaka, a stray named Bhairon who saves Shanti when she has been abducted. Apparently, Ralhan and Dharmendra often didn’t see eye to eye during the making of the film and the young actor considered walking off on many occasions. He was actually Ralhan’s second choice for the film after Sunil Dutt. Ralhan also acted in the film as Sadakram, leader of a gang of pickpockets.

The movie not only made Dharmendra a star, but it also established his macho man image, especially due to the now iconic scene in which he drunkenly removes his shirt in the presence of a sleeping Meena Kumari. There were rumours of the leading pair's closeness before the making of the film, though Meena Kumari was a shadow of her former glory in this film and it was roles like this that contributed to her 'tragedy queen’ persona.

Dharmendra was nominated for a Filmfare award for Best Actor alongside Dev Anand for Guide and Dilip Kumar for Dil Diya Dard Liya. Naturally, Dev Anand won for Guide.

Armaan said his grandfather gave many actors and actresses opportunities in his films. "Mumtaz did her first adult role in Gehra Daag (1963) alongside Rajendra Kumar. [In] Talash (1969) [the most expensive film of its time], Sharmila Tagore played a double role with totally varying characters. Dharmendra did Phool Aur Patthar (1966) with Meena Kumariji as his leading lady and Shashikalaji played a memorable character in the film."

Kabir Bedi in Hulchul (1971)

In the songless film Hulchul (1971), OP Ralhan cast himself in the main role of Peter with Helen as his girlfriend Kitty. Peter overhears a man, Mahesh Jetley, planning to kill his wife. He and Kitty decide to disrupt Jetley’s plan, only to discover that there are three Mahesh Jetleys. Kabir Bedi, in his first Hindi film, plays one of the Mahesh Jetleys whose wife goes missing, with Peter becoming the main suspect.

Zeenat Aman in Hulchul (1971)

The rest of film finds Peter getting to the bottom of the mystery with a lot of high jinks along the way. Zeenat Aman, fresh from her Miss India win, was cast as a young hopeful at a modelling agency where Prem Chopra’s Mahesh Jetley works. Unfortunately, Hulchul was an average hit and did not change things for either Kabir Bedi or Zeenat Aman. In fact, many aren’t even aware that this was their first film or that RD Burman was listed as its music composer for the title song.

Armaan Ralhan feels the non-musical film was a brave choice "in the era of films being made just for the music". OP Ralhan also took a chance on another young man, Amitabh Bachchan, by casting him as the main hero in Bandhe Haath (1973). It was Bachchan's last failed film before he hit the big league with Zanjeer (1973).

Bachchan got an excellent opportunity in Bandhe Haath to show off his acting chops as Shyamu, a thief who has decided to go straight. He finds his lookalike, Deepak, a poet who has a terminal illness, and decides to steal his identity. However, he doesn’t count on a dauntless police inspector Kumar who suspects the truth.

In the 1970s and 1980s, OP Ralhan made other ensemble entertainers like Paapi (1977) and Pyaas (1982) and even acted with Sir Rex Harrison, John Saxon and Sylvia Miles in Krishna Shah’s Shalimar (1978). His early films like Gehra Daag (1963) and Talash (1969) did well but his legacy, perhaps, will remain helping out Dharmendra, Kabir Bedi, Zeenat Aman and Amitabh Bachchan on their way to stardom.

Armaan Ralhan (Source: Instagram)

Armaan recounted that “Mumtazji was at her peak in her career as [Bachchan's] leading lady in Bandhe Haath (1973), [while] Sunil Dutt, Reena Roy, Zeenat Aman, Sanjeev Kumar, Danny Denzongpa [were cast] in Paapi (1977), a multi-starrer film. He had his all-time favourite actors in his supporting cast who he jokingly said were part of his dowry who consisted of Helenji, Madan Puri, Iftekar, Jagdish Raj, Tun Tun, Jeevan, Prem Chopra to name a few. He was a sincere, good friend who would help many technicians, musicians and behind-the-scenes artistes as well."

However, despite all these grand projects, Armaan reveals that one big desire of his grandfather remained unfulfilled. "His most ambitious, loved project was Ashoka The Great, which still remains to be transformed for cinema. I hope that I will one day be able to fulfil my grandfather’s dream,” he said.